The Slippery Slope of Creeping Scope

steep-slopeUncontrolled scope creep costs you money.

When a client asks you to do something that wasn’t part of the original agreement it’s called scope creep.

Some scope creep is relatively minor and doesn’t really make much difference to your freelancing business. Doing a little bit of extra work for a client can be a good way to build up some good will.

In other instances, however, scope creep can drastically increase your workload and negatively impact your bottom line. These are the cases of scope creep that can really damage your freelancing business if they are not addressed.

In this post, we’ll explore some options that a freelancer has for dealing with scope creep.

Dealing with Scope Creep in Short-term Projects

Scope creep is fairly easy to deal with in one time or short-term projects.
The key is in the wording of your agreement with the client.

Your agreement should be specific about the work that you will do and any rework that may be required. The more specific your agreement, the less likely it is that you’ll have to deal with scope creep problems in a one time or short-term project.

For example, you can limit the number of times the client may revise your work (not including revisions due to your mistakes, of course) or you can specify a date by which all requests for change must be turned in.

Be clear that anything additional or after the agreed-upon date is out of scope and can be considered a new project.

Dealing with Scope Creep in Long-term Projects

Scope creep can be tougher to deal with in long-term or ongoing projects, probably because it can creep up a little bit at a time without a freelancer realizing what is happening.

Lots of little changes can really add up!

Before you even realize it, the project has doubled in size and your pay has not kept pace.

I recently read about a freelancer whose regular freelancing gig kept expanding over an eighteen month period to the point where he went from working a normal eight to five hours to nearly working 24/7.

Handling scope creep from a long-time client can be tricky. For one thing, these long-term clients can be a freelancer’s bread and butter–a kind of job security in a very insecure economy. It’s understandable that a freelancer might hesitate to say anything to jeopardize their relationship with a client who gives them recurring work.

Scope creep on a long-term project is also harder to identify because it tends to happen a little bit at a time. While one minor little change may not have much impact on a freelancer, a dozen minor little changes can make quite a bit of difference.

There are steps that a smart freelancer can take to control scope, though.

Five Steps to Controlling Scope

Fortunately, it is possible to manage scope for both small and large freelancing projects. Here are five steps to take:

  1. Know how much time you are spending on your project–Far too many freelancers don’t keep good records of how they use their time. You won’t notice scope creep if you don’t really know how much time you are spending on a project. Even if your client isn’t paying you by the hour, you should be tracking how long each task is taking you to complete.
  2. Set a limit on how much time you are willing to spend doing extra work–Decide in advance how much extra work you will do for a client. This is a very individual decision and may vary from project to project and from freelancer to freelancer. This isn’t something you need to necessarily tell the client, just know when a little more is too much.
  3. Keep a list of changes–Even if a requested change that wasn’t part of the original agreement seems small, make a note of it. Over time, these little requests tend to build up. If you record each client request then if your project starts to spiral out of control you will have an insight into what might be causing the problem.
  4. Evaluate frequently–Periodically, compare the time that you are spending on the project to the time that you thought you would spend. If there’s a significant difference, ask yourself why. Did you underestimate the amount of work the project would require? Did the client add additional requirements to the project?
  5. Speak up sooner rather than later–If you do notice that too many changes have been made to a project, the sooner you speak up about it the better. If you wait too long to speak up, the client may believe that it isn’t a very big problem. You can say something like, “that additional step added a lot more work to the project than we thought. To do it using this step it will cost $X more.”

It’s important to note that scope creep isn’t always done deliberately. Many clients aren’t fully aware of the additional work that they are piling onto the freelancer or truly don’t realize how long it takes to do things.

If a client is satisfied with the freelancer’s work so far, they are often more than happy to do the fair thing and pay additional charges once the scope creep is pointed out. Or, they may decide that the changes aren’t really needed after all.

How Do You Handle Scope Creep?

Have you had to face scope creep on any of your projects? How did you deal with it?

Share your ideas and experiences in the comments.

Image by philliecasablanca