Scope creep is a supervillain that all agencies and their fearless project managers must face up against at some point. It starts usually small—offering to handle a few upgrades or throwing in a few additional hours to ensure a client is happy—and before you know it, these little favours become the expected, and your project is running way over budget.
If strong client relationships are built on trust and transparency, you could say that scope creep is often a result of mistrust and client confusion. Lessen the chances of running over budget, facing unreasonable client demands and haggling with last-minute changes by remaining vigilant with these 8 tips.
Invest Time in Planning Your Scope of Work
Skilled project managers know that managing a new project begins with creating a rock-solid scope of work. This investment in planning will help your entire team budget time and prepare for project completion.
Break down your project into its smallest parts, rather than trying to estimate time for larger deliverables. Whether you’re managing a smaller project like developing a new set of stationary for a small business, or about to tackle a massive app development project, a well executed scope of work will become your map to success.
Stick to the Roadmap
Begin your project by ensuring that your creative team is clear on your project’s mission and end goals, and are mapping their workload backwards. Your list of deliverables not only becomes a to-do list for your team, but also a checklist for your client.
An effective project sign off helps your client understand exactly what they’re paying for—meaning it’ll be easier to explain to them later what they’re not paying for, should scope creep start happening.
The way you manage client communications from day one sets the tone for the rest of your relationship. It goes without saying that communicating respectfully is a necessity, but there are times when being honest and even a little critical can work in your favour.
Respect your client’s goals, but let them know if their vision for meeting their goals is ineffective or unreasonable. You’ll prove your team’s worth as a dynamic partner in their project’s success, rather than a passive recipient of their unquestioned instructions. You’re the expert—that’s why they hired you.
Provide Project Updates
Having a shared workspace with your clients reduces the need for constant project updates, saving your entire team time. Function Point’s collaborative project management software allows you to invite clients into your workspace so that they can see project progress as it happens.
You’ll still want to provide reports on how deliverables are progressing though. If it’s your team that is missing a deadline, communicate this with your client. Transparency in your reporting builds confidence and trust.
Be Flexible, But Not Bullied
All projects are subject to some level of change, and it’s important to stay flexible. However, there’s a difference between flexing to meet your client’s needs and allowing your team to be steamrolled with new requests. All project managers will encounter a client-bullying situation at one point, but you’ll mitigate these situations by staying flexible and communicative.
Clients make unreasonable requests, but it’s not always because they’re trying to take advantage. What may seem like a simple click of a button to them could be hours of unplanned work for a developer. If your clients trust you, they’re more likely to understand that you’re refusing to increase your project’s scope for a reason.
Ensure You’re Accurately Tracking Time
One of the easiest ways projects’ budgets get blown is due to inaccurate time tracking. If your creative team isn’t accurately tracking hours, you may find you’re over budget before you’re even able to notice something is wrong.
Time tracking not only allows for project managers to guard against going over budget, but it allows clients to understand progress. If they’re aware that you’re nearing the allotted time for a deliverable, there are fewer surprises when you need to have conversations about budget increases.
Have a Process for Changing Scope
Should your client begin to push the boundaries of your scope, have a pre-established plan or policy for how your agency handles this. Communicating these policies early in the project ensures your clients aren’t surprised (or can’t claim to be surprised) later on.
Plan your approval and documentation processes for scope changes to create a paper trail, and make sure that your team follows it. You’re less likely to be stuck in a “but your designer said on the phone…” situation if everyone is on board with written approvals.
They call it scope creep because it does exactly that—it creeps up on you before you even know it. By following these tips and being prepared right from the onboarding process, you’re more likely to notice any snakes in the grass. Managing effective budgets and preventing scope creep all comes down to providing efficient budgeting, accurate time tracking, and open communication.
Function Point alleviates the chaotic nature of operating creative agencies, internal marketing teams and professional service firms. Used by over 9000 customers across the world, the all-in-one solution helps teams connect each stage of project management. Our goal is to make productivity more personable; to warm it up and give it a heartbeat..
Need to include additional tasks to your work? Learn the recommended steps for managing scope creep in the FP system.
Andy Au is the Communications Manager at Function Point. Previously, he held a number of marketing roles at Hootsuite, helping the company grow from 1 to 10 million users. A born and raised Vancouverite, he spends far too much time reading menus before ordering.