The Scope Creep Post You MUST Read for 2016

Posted by · July 18, 2016 3:15 am

Special thanks to Jason Long, CEO of BrainLeaf for the submission.

Project scoping. It sounds like a lot of tedious work on the front end of your project, doesn’t it?

Well, I’m here to tell you: save yourself a load of stress and spend extra time by scoping.

Sure, you can move forward without scoping out your project. But when you hand over the finished project to your client and it’s not what they expect or your client requests an unexpected change that will affect your time AND the budget, you may find that laying out a specific, thorough project scope could have made these issues nonexistent.

When Expectations Aren’t Reality

Simply put, if you don’t scope, you create a slew of expectation management issues, meaning you as a designer or developer have one project outcome in mind while your client envisioned something completely different.

This can come in a variety of forms:

  • Your client thinks the project “should” be something it isn’t or do something that it doesn’t.
  • Your client wants to add more features or change something entirely.
  • The project takes longer than you initially told your client.
  • You feel as if it’s your responsibility to eat the cost and take care of the problem since you didn’t properly explain the scope in the first place.

Each of these issues could be easily avoided by properly explaining to your client what your building, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and what your deliverables are.

“I feel like it should…

In the world of interactive design and development, there is only what a product does and what it does not do. The best thing you can do for yourself (and your client!) is to explain EXACTLY how your design works, exactly what each feature does, and how long it will take to accomplish this.

And beware the comparison “should”. You know the one. “It should work like (insert name of well-known program with a giant budget).” Unless your client is very well-versed in design and development, they likely don’t know how much time and money it takes to make high-budget programs work. So no, your $5,000 budget will not allow you to build a program like Facebook or Google. Sorry about it.

However, if you don’t scope out your project, your client may expect the impossible from you. If you didn’t scope, that’s on you in the eyes of your client.

Your client dictating each and every step along the way only leads to scope creep.

The Extras

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. “Wouldn’t it be great to add a Twitter feed to the homepage?” or “Can we add another page for contact info?”

If you’ve scoped your project properly, these requests can go one of two ways:

  1. You’ve already thought about these features and they are included in the scope.
  2. You’ll continue to work with the client (and get paid for the extras!) because you’ve scoped your work and the client acknowledges that any last minute add-ons will take more time and budget.

Now, this is not to say that you can’t be flexible with clients. But I would advise you to choose those moments carefully.

If a client requests a change or add-on, make sure to re-scope it immediately. Not doing so can only lead to more expectation management issues. The better your client understands the costs and time of the requests, the better for both of you. So when your client starts asking you what is taking so long or where all of the money is going, you can point to the client-approved, re-scoped documentation.

“But isn’t scoping complicated?”

Not really. In reality, scope is just a detailed explanation of your work. The more clearly you write it, the better. If you think you’ve explained it well enough, explain it more. Believe me, it’s better for you and your client.

There are a lot of variables that go into design or development work. When I do a scope of work for a website, I like to write out every page, every section, every sub-section, etc. and have the client sign the document before ever starting on the project. I’m not saying that there is no room for agile development and that everything has to be a waterfall, but you need a place to start.
It’s just like building a house; you need to architect your plans and map everything out before you start building.

“But I’m a Designer!”

Yes, you are a designer. But you’ve sold your services for money, which now makes you a professional. And as a professional, there are certain expectations in place for how you interact with your clients. You’re now obligated to make sure your client is well aware of what you’re offering them and what they are getting. You may not think it’s your responsibility to scope the project, but you took the job, so it’s your obligation to make sure your client knows what they’re getting before they pay you.

It’s Important.

The reasons and challenges above are why we built BrainLeaf. Before we built this system, we had failed time and time again at scoping our work because it was time consuming, and really, no one wanted to do it. We needed a system that would be fast and easy to use for all of our team members, and would allow us to build and reuse complex scopes of work and information architectures for multiple clients. We needed something that would be as clear for clients as it was for us. After way more work than we had ever expected, we now have a system that works well and we hope that you too will find as much use in this system as we have.


About Jason:JasonLong
Jason Long is the founder and CEO of Brainleaf and an Information Architect and Managing Partner at CodeWright. A self-professed serial entrepreneur, he is always interested in new businesses, new ideas, and new ways to change the world. He has over 15 years of experience in design and development and has served in a variety of different roles ranging from designer to Information Architect to CEO. He spends most of his time focusing on the build and development of new ventures while trying to travel the world.

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