Scope Creep, Boundaries and Business

by Vicki Flaugher


As a consultant, I find that much of my time spent in business is about drawing boundaries. If I set a project based price, which I typically do, I have to drive to the original project deliverables and protect against what project managers call scope creep.

Scope creep is when the encompassing goals of a project – that could be a writing assignment, a web redesign, an office re-do, or even your overall job requirements – begin to broaden outside the original agreement. It could be something as innocent as “Hey, while you’re at it, could you also give me these XX figures too?” to something larger to “We want to add on 4 people instead of just 2 – it’s just doubling up what you’re already doing right? It’s nothing – you’re doing the same thing, just add a few zeros.”

Whether you’re a consultant or an employee within a larger firm, scope creep can be infuriating in business, but it’s your job to set the boundaries. Most people are not particularly aware of what they are asking for – they hired you as a specialist for a reason, right? Sometimes it takes some education, sometimes it takes some conversation, and sometimes it takes just saying no.

Here are some suggestions as to how you can minimize any negative effect on you:

1.  Work to be clear upfront and set expectations.

Do your best to talk through the exact report, task, product or service you will provide. Include realistic dates for delivery and stay in touch with everyone involved. Know going in what might be a stopping point and be sure to make everyone aware of the parts of the project that are most crucial, the deal stoppers for all the other tasks.

If, like me, you set project rates, include approximately how many hours are included in that project and tell your client upfront how many physical meetings, phone calls, and extra support hand holding that includes. Also communicate how long those meetings will last. And, to cover any last minute requests, include an al a carte overage charge schedule, so that if they want more meetings, they can pay for them. Do all this going into the project, not in the middle or later at invoicing.

2. Speak up and push back.

Don’t think a person realizes what they’re asking for – they probably don’t. And, if they do, they may fully expect you to push back and challenge them. Compulsive negotiators – the type who always, no matter what, think it’s their job to negotiate anything presented – are accustomed to that game. Play it skillfully. Some people will always ask for more. Personally, I try to weed those people out ahead of time and not take them on as clients, but if you didn’t or your industry is packed with them so you can’t avoid them, then it’s your responsibility to speak up and push back.

If the new requests impacts the schedule, say so. If the new requests takes more hours than the original method, say so. It’s their project, you can let them choose. If they want a delay and they feel their request is required, then that’s their choice to make.

What you don’t want to do is nothing. You don’t want to volunteer to absorb the costs. You don’t want to agree to be part of a project where you don’t mention how the changes impact the quality and then end up with a hot mess that you’re ashamed to put your name on. What you don’t want to do is say nothing, the schedule slips, the budget flairs and you get blamed. Speak up and push back!

3. Get it done

If you dawdle in your project completions, of course more stuff is going to get piled on top of you – time is marching on! Create a project plan with small enough milestones that you can complete something, “put it to bed” so to speak, and move on to the next thing. Not only does this help create urgency, but it also makes it very clear that you are going back and doing rework if you have to go back and add work to that task. If all of your milestones are huge, it’s easy to lose motivation, lose momentum, and have additional requests placed on your work. Chunk it down small enough to have completions and large enough to not make managing the project itself another full time job.

Managing scope creep in your business is about managing expectations. It’s also about being confident enough in what needs to get done and when to take a stand when it’s necessary. Always remember that you have to put your name on the project when it’s through. It’s the only way to build a business through referrals and it’s the only way to build a portfolio of work. Stick to your guns, make choices based in reality not ego, and understand that scope creep is a natural phenomenon of the job. Deal with it and you’ll be fine.

Together, we are stronger!

Vicki Flaugher is B2B social media & online marketing implementation specialist by day, karaoke singing joy freak by night. Enjoy travel, creativity & those crazy interwebs.

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One Reply to “Scope Creep, Boundaries and Business”

  1. Vicki Flaugher

    Thanks for including my post on your new site. It looks fabulous! Congrats, Melissa – well done!

    Vicki Flaugher

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