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How to Handle Scope Creep: 5 Scripts You Can Use Now


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This guest post by Justine Smith originally appeared on the Freshbooks Blog on July 16th, 2015

YHow to Handle Scope Creep: 5 Scripts You Can Use Nowou find yourself in the middle of a project, completely overwhelmed by the copious amount of client requests. It feels like you’re drowning, and the entire project is sinking along with you.

In the midst of your despair, there’s good news: you can stop it.

Most of the time, these feelings come from a sneaky little thing called scope creep. I can’t even begin to count the times it’s happened to me. And if you’re reading this article, then I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Today, I’m going to share five scripts that I’ve developed while struggling with scope creep. I’ve found that they’re very effective when explaining the situation to clients.

  1. Stay Vigilant from Day One

You’ve gotta learn how to outsmart scope creep.

As a project manager, I’ve got to handle scope creep at every turn. It requires saying yes or no as soon as a request comes in. Getting into this habit can feel pretty daunting at first.

In my freelancing days, scope creep really creeped me out. I’d just take on the bit of extra work in fear of losing the client if I said no. That’s a dangerous game to play, trust me. You’ll end up overworked by trying to accommodate dozens of small tasks that add up to a monstrous headache.

Next time a client sends a request and you need to say no, use this script:

“I’m sorry, but I’m not able to add in that feature/component/service based on the scope of this project. Would you like to setup a time to discuss expanding our project scope and budget to accommodate this new feature?”

  1. Offer Logical Solutions to the Problem

I’ve found that scope creep rarely happens in huge leaps. It’s the little requests here and there that add up. And clients will keep making requests until you say no. Can you really blame them? Who wouldn’t want to get every ounce of work they can for the money?

That’s why project management requires such diligence.

If you’re diligent, it may mean that you find yourself saying no more than you’d like. And if you’re anything like me, you hate saying no.

So, instead of a downright refusal, I oftentimes take a roundabout approach to scope creep. The approach looks something like this:

“Our current agreement is for [current terms] at [agreed cost]. From what you shared, you’d like to add [scope creep request]… I’d be willing to do that for [new cost based on additional request]. Or if that’s outside your budget, we can just stick to our original terms.”

  1. Always Refer Back to the Project Requirements

Now, this requires actually outlining project requirements in the beginning with your client. I’ve made the mistake of working without project requirements clearly documented. And it’s a mistake every time.

At the beginning of each project, I take time to clarify goals and objectives. This is the initial planning stage. And it saves me from a huge headache down the road.

It’s important that I balance my timeline, bandwidth and resources against the project’s complexity. This helps me define the functionality of specific deliverables. Deliverables get broken down into tasks and milestones.

Ultimately, this sets clear expectations of what I deliver in a project.

But despite my efforts to outline everything, scope creep still happens. And sometimes, it’s easiest to simply point clients to the documented project requirements. Here’s a script for that scenario:

“I’m happy that you’re so excited about what I’m doing that you want to add more. Unfortunately, what you’re asking goes outside of our original project requirements. I’ve attached them to this email for your convenience. Should we discuss expanding the budget and project requirements? I’d be happy to meet with you later this week.”

  1. Develop an Approval Process for Scope Change Requests

Like I said before, I’m not a huge fan of saying no. As a business professional, this made my life pretty difficult for a while. Some days I felt like the only word I used all day was no.

It left me feeling pretty discouraged.

And then I realized that I shouldn’t feel so much pressure about making this decision. In fact, I shouldn’t feel any pressure at all. Like every other aspect of the project, it’s my job to manage, not execute.

That’s when I realized the power of a project scope change management process. I don’t use it for every decision, because there are some things that require an easy yes or no. But I use this system when it comes to larger requests. And it works like a charm.

Now, a client or client manager comes to me with a scope change request. Instead of feeling the pressure of making a yes or no decision on the spot, I use something like this:

“Thanks for sharing this great idea. I can see why you’d like to add it into the project. Something of this magnitude needs to get the approval of our project sponsor, though. I’ll need to pitch the idea to him. Please shoot me an email back with the following information: the new capabilities/functionality, the business value of the change, and any consequences that could occur if we don’t make the change.”

  1. Protect Yourself from Gold Plating

Gold plating happens when you continue to work on a project or task, even though you’ve already met the outlined requirements. I’ve done this before, and it comes from a good place. But you shouldn’t keep working past the scope you’ve discussed with the client.

That’s right, scope creep doesn’t just come from clients. You and I can fall victim to it too.

I once worked with a marketing team that never had a dedicated project manager. It was up to the team to work together and get things done on time. As you can imagine, it became a nightmare.

But out of all the issues, gold plating caused the biggest issue. Developers ran wild making big promises outside the scope of the initial project. At the end of the day, the business took a turn for the worse. Why? Because the project wasn’t profitable due to the extra time spent gold plating.

If you run a team, you must teach them how to manage project scope. Here’s a simple script to combat a team member that’s easing into scope creep:

“Wow. It looks like you’ve been hard at work. I appreciate your diligence to this project, it’s very encouraging. Now, this may seem silly, but please don’t go above the call-of-duty too much. It’s important that we don’t stretch outside the bound of our initial project requirements. (If you haven’t seen them yet, I’ve attached the document for you.) Again, thanks for all your hard work. You rock.”

Those are five scope creep scripts you can use today. As project managers, freelancers and business owners, it’s important that we manage this important aspect of business.

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