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It’s called a SCOPE of work, you CREEP

July 17th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

OK. I normally I wouldn’t get really heavy into the terminology of the industry this early into a blog series, but I also said I would explain, in the simplest possible way, what the term means and how it relates to working with a designer. As if you couldn’t tell, the topic of this one is the bane of designers, and project managers, existence…the deadly Scope Creep.

Fair warning, I’m a little hot under the collar about this topic so this post may prove to be extra entertaining.

So let’s take a moment and clarify what Scope Creep is. Since I am going to use tools that you can easily find yourself in these posts, Wikipedia defines Scope Creep as:

“…a term which refers to the incremental expansion of the scope of a project, which may include and introduce more requirements that may not have been a part of the initial planning of the project, while nevertheless failing to adjust schedule and budget.”*

What does this mean in layman’s terms?

A client, and this wouldn’t be you because you’re too smart and have too much sense to do this, signed a contract for X, paid for X, but want Y, Z and the whole cart of alphabet, because the client “thinks” that is what should have come with the contract even though the details were very specific as to what they would get. Or, at least, they should have been.

Let me base this in a little firmer reality for you.

Go into your local fast food joint, bar, restaurant, or coffee shop and place an order. Once that order is paid for tell the cashier, waiter, bartender, or barista that in addition to what you ordered you want something else, free, because you just figured it would come with it. You’ll probably get a blank stare, a few blinks of disbelieve, and then told, promptly, that what you ordered is what you’ll get and anything else will cost more.

If you’re feeling brave and want to try that, let me know how that works out for you.

Now, there are a number of reasons this happens, but, in my experience, this tend to be one of two things:

1) A desire to get more than what the client paid for…at the expense of the marketer/designer
2) An unclear client due to a vague contract from the marketer/designer

I will be very honest with you when Scope Creep rears its ugly little head, it becomes a nightmare for both the marketer/designer and the client. The client wants what they feel they deserve and the marketer/designer wants to fulfill the contract.

Personally, do I believe you should get the full value you paid for the services you hired? Absolutely, but let me be clear I also want to make sure money, and time, isn’t being lost, by either you or the marketer/designer, because things weren’t clarified before the contract was finalized.

We, as marketers and designers, need and expect, you, the clients, to be very clear about your intentions, goals, and thoughts on this project before you sign your contract. I have heard a great phrase that kind of relates to the contract.

“Ignorance of the law does not mean the law does not exist.”

You can disbelieve the items, and schedule, you agreed to in your contract and replace it with the one you should have asked for after the contract has been signed. Well, you can…but it will cost you and there will be a whole new contract in it’s place.

Before the contract is signed, this is your time to take that opportunity to make sure you fully understand what you’re getting. For [explanative deleted]’s sake…take the time and be selfish by asking all the questions up front…not after it’s too late

Now here are some helpful phrases to keep in mind if, after the contract has been signed and work has begun, you are curious if you might be close heading down the dangerous road of Scope Creep:

• “But what I really wanted was (insert item not listed in contract)”

• “Wait doesn’t (insert unrelated item not listed in contract) usually come with (actual items listed in the contract)”

• “Well, you’re the (insert title) and I would expect you to tell me I am not going to get (insert thing that was never discussed nor could we, the marketer/designer, foresee because we are not psychic)”

And my personal favorite:

• “Oh, if you add  (insert unrelated item not listed in contract) to what you’re doing for me I’ll introduce you to the people that I know in (insert unrelated company/networking group/social group/ industry that are never guaranteed to pan out into true paid work)”

Can the fault be blamed on the marketing firm/individual or design agency/individual being unclear or too vague in their contract? Yes.

But are you forced, under penalty of cake or death, to sign that agreement if you are unclear on what you are going to get? No, but, the harsh reality, unless you get a marketer/designer who take a bit of a liking to what you do (and for [explanative deleted]’s sake don’t abuse that interest), is that you are going to get what you paid for unless you sign another agreement or walk away from the one you signed. Either way, it is a cost you could have saved by asking for clarity up front.

Sounds a little harsh I know, but I want you to take ownership, not lay the blame on someone else, for marketing and the success of your own company. After all, after the project is over…you have to be happy with the results. So why not do everything you can to make sure you start, stay, and continue to be happy about marketing your own product, services, self, or whatever widget you are trying to move.

I hope you enjoyed, or were inspired, by today’s topic, and, if you have gotten this far…thank you for reading. As all ways, if you’re so inclined, feel free to follow me on Twitter @wickedjava.

Until next time…stay wicked.


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View Comments to “It’s called a SCOPE of work, you CREEP”

  1. mcarter says:

    We, as a design firm, have dealt with this issue since we opened our doors 7 years ago. It's a difficult issue to deal with in a lot of cases. One thing is true though, it surely separates the clients you want to continue working for and those to whom you wish the best of luck in their continuing venture.

    Our company has created a project management application which is going to be released to the public in less than 30 days. I'm not going to plug it here. That would be rude. But if Michael Daughtery wants to contact me? (hint hint) We'd be more than happy to give him a personal tour.

    We built the application so that scope creep is impossible. That's right. Non-existent. We are like broken records during a project. “If it doesn't exist in the site plan, it doesn't exist in this project.” However, the trade off is that you have to invest a good amount of time working with the client to develop the site plan which becomes your contract. Not a lot of firms are willing to do this. And let me tell you, it doesn't always prevent disputes.

    We attempt to be as specific as we can be when describing project. However, there will be that 1 – 3% of our clients who will go to the 'intent' of the project rather than the project's details which were agreed to. In those instances, though the actual project maybe valuable, the disputes must be resolved. Emotionally and financially draining with absolutely no hope of any future projects from a client like that, makes the entire process an entire waste of time.

    For this reason, we choose to work with more educated clients who have a business background and clearly defined goals. They tend to be pretty savvy in the web world and appreciate thorough planning. And while their specifications document may be lacking, they show more thought and concern than the general “i just want a website like which does exactly the same thing” you get from lower balance projects from those who don't have a business background, understand marketing, and are under funded.

    Even if we find ourselves working with the latter, clear honest blunt communication, thoughtful and excruciatingly detailed planning, and ongoing client confirmed approvals during the project have providing a winning combination for our firm. For these reasons, we created an application which handles all of this and much more. It has benefited us in more ways than there is space here to write about it at the moment.

    Maybe we should change the slogan for the company to 'scope creep slayer' or something… It's a thought.

  2. fourmutts says:

    I'm just putting a proposal together right now for my first paying client and you post here has given me a number of things to consider. I think I'll discuss my initial proposal with the client, get any questions or clarifications out of the way and then amend the contract as needed to include any other work that they may bring up in that meeting. Hopefully that way I can avoid those creep issues you described. Thanks! It's great advice.

  3. fourmutts says:

    I'm just putting a proposal together right now for my first paying client and you post here has given me a number of things to consider. I think I'll discuss my initial proposal with the client, get any questions or clarifications out of the way and then amend the contract as needed to include any other work that they may bring up in that meeting. Hopefully that way I can avoid those creep issues you described. Thanks! It's great advice.

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