6 Tips to Handle Scope Creep (from my dog, Fanny)

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If you struggle with scope creep, this solo episode is for you. Today I bring you 6 of my best tips to handle scope creep, plus a cameo from Pi, my current favorite AI.

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6 Tips to Handle Scope Creep (from my dog, Fanny)

My dog, Fanny, loves loves loves people – other dogs, not so much, except when she’s at her doggy camp. She’s a completely different dog there. I get pictures of her playing and scampering and swimming with more than 30 other dogs at a time. (Fanny is the black/white dog on the right. Here she is with her bestie, Champ, both sitting very nicely.)

But when we are out walking in the neighborhood, I have to be alert, constantly scanning the horizon for other dogs, so that I can interrupt and intercept the lunging and barking she would otherwise embarrass herself (and me) with.

When I manage to do this, when I catch the moment and speak up, essentially telling her to sit and then giving her a treat, she’s an angel. The other dog passes by without incident and they sometimes even tell me she’s a very well-trained dog! (Little do they know…)

This is how I think about scope creep.

You must be ready to seize the moment and speak up.

And with alertness and preparation and practice, you can be!

You know how scope creep happens, right?

The client asks for “one more little thing.”

It seems harmless enough. You do it, and don’t say anything.

Before you know it, there are multiple “little things” and you find yourself with a project that’s gone off the rails.

This happens all the time – to veterans and newbies alike, believe it or not! Even to me sometimes!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Today I want to talk about what scope creep is, how to spot it, and what on earth to do about it!

Pi, what is scope creep?
Scope creep is when a project's requirements or goals expand beyond their initial scope, resulting in increased costs, delays, and complexity.

Scope creep happens when you’ve agreed with your client on a project’s parameters, and then your client asks for more.

A few things to know about scope creep:

✔️ It can start very small. If you were designing a logo for a client, and they said, “Hey, can you also design a website for me too?” – you wouldn’t just throw it in, right? You’d say, “Yes, of course. I’ll put together an estimate.” Unfortunately scope creep isn’t always this straightforward. It’s blurrier. But if you’re tuned in to yourself, you’ll hear that little voice inside your head – or you’ll feel a blip inside your stomach – when it starts happening. Pay attention to that.

✔️ It can leave you feeling resentful, but probably not for the reason you think. The thing that leaves you feeling taken advantage of? It’s not actually your client who’s taking advantage. It’s you. You betraying yourself by not speaking up, by saying yes to the request and then feeling resentful. Most of the time, the client has no idea this is even happening!

✔️ It’s unavoidable. Even if your contract covers every little detail you can think of, scope creep can still happen. Because things are constantly changing – have you noticed? – and we cannot anticipate everything or predict the future.

Also true? Scope creep can be handled, on every single occasion, with clear communication and good timing!

Scope creep happens in a moment, and if you’re not awake and ready to interrupt and intercept – you might miss it, as well as the opportunity to address it. That’s what will make things significantly harder in the long run.

I see two types of scope creep.

  1. When the actual scope starts to expand. This happens when more tiny projects or little extras get added along the way – an extra web page, an extra product, a bit of micro-copy.
  2. Boundary or parameter-oriented scope creep. This happens when the client needs more hand-holding, more meetings or asks more questions than you anticipated – which happens most often with a new client you’ve never worked with before.

Always remember: clients aren’t trying to take advantage.

Most of the time, your clients aren’t trying to take advantage of you. They have no idea they’re creeping.

When I’m the client, I am not keeping track of the original plan – all I know is that I need this thing done.

You know more about what you're delivering than your client does. The clear line you see is actually fuzzy to your client. They don’t know the difference between a web page and a landing page; they might think they are the same and therefore cost the same amount. And if you don’t tell them, then they’re operating under false assumptions – and can we really blame them? Remember who’s been hired as an expert. (You!)

No matter how the scope creeps, or how clueless your clients are, it’s your responsibility to speak up. Scope creep puts the pickleball in your court, folks. The outcome – good or bad – whether this project goes sideways or not, is in your hands. And there’s plenty you can do about it.

Here are my 6 tips for handling scope creep:

  1. Communicate clearly in advance what’s included. Be as specific as possible about what your engagement includes, as far as deliverables, meetings, revisions, communication preferences and access, etc. But keep in mind: just because it’s clearly defined in the contract doesn’t mean the scope won’t creep, in reality. It also doesn’t prevent unwritten boundaries from being crossed.
  2. Include a scope creep clause in your contract. It may read something like this: "Projects may begin to shift and evolve as we dive in. Any adjustments will be negotiated separately from this agreement in advance. Should the scope begin to creep, I will let you know as soon as possible and discuss associated fees up-front before embarking on additional work."
  3. Put a wedge in the door, verbally. This has to happen early: in your discovery call, when you’re presenting your proposal in real time (which I highly recommend) and/or during the kickoff call. Don’t assume they read (or remember) what’s in the contract. Plant these seeds verbally, so that they know if the scope creeps, here’s what is going to happen. This way, everyone is definitely on the same page about the possibility, and you don’t feel unduly stressed later when it’s time to bring something up. (This can also give the client a comfort level knowing they won’t be taking advantage of you.)
  4. If you decide not to charge extra, use scope creep as a friendly warning. Sometimes we rationalize a client’s ask and think, Oh, that’s not a big deal … I’ll just do it. Even if you decide to – and that’s fine – you have to communicate about it so the client is aware: “Normally this would be an additional fee, but I’m going to throw it in this time.” Otherwise, things can get out of hand, quickly. This approach can be especially useful when a detail was clear in your mind, but wasn’t on paper. You can say: “Forgive me for not sharing this sooner, but normally only two meetings are included in my projects. I’m not going to charge you for the extra meetings we’ve already had, but if we need more moving forward, I can price them out separately.”
  5. Be a shepherd (like Fanny). Even a respectful client who has read every word of your contract is not keeping track of things the way you are (or should be). That’s your job. The client may or may not remember what is included, or what you’ve agreed to. It’s up to YOU – in that moment – to say: “Oh, that’s not exactly what we agreed to! So let me think about how we can integrate it, and what the cost would be.”
  6. Seize the moment, and speak up. The scope starts creeping. The elevator door is closing, and you have to jump forward and stick your hand in. Be prepared with language in advance…when I see a dog across the street, I have to take action immediately. Otherwise, there will be a lot of barking!

The moment is quick. And if you’re freaking out, it will be hard to handle scope creep diplomatically, or at all. As always, the secret to a successful business is clear communication.

Practice saying this out loud, so when it happens, you’re ready!

Repeat after me:
"What you’re asking for wasn’t included in our original scope. I’m happy to put together an estimate. (Or: My rate for that is $X.)"

Pi: Do you have any tips for handling scope creep?

Absolutely! Here are two practical tips for handling scope creep:
  1. Set clear boundaries and expectations: Establish a detailed project scope at the outset, including specific deliverables, timelines, and milestones. Communicate these clearly with all stakeholders and emphasize the importance of adhering to the agreed-upon scope.
  2. Implement a change control process: Create a formal process for requesting, evaluating, and approving changes to the project scope. This could involve submitting change requests in writing, assessing their impact on cost, time, and resources, and obtaining approval from relevant stakeholders before implementation. 

Things are constantly changing, so build in the “wiggle room.”

There are so many unknowns, and so many shifts in every aspect of life, that we have to be flexible – and also have the skills to handle surprises without compromising our boundaries. Some of my clients like to plan for scope creep from the get-go.

You can add a monetary “contingency” – say an extra 10% of the fee – to your contracts. It’s there to dip into if and when a shift in scope does arise. That’s the wedge in the door that will make it easier to speak up because you’ve already broached the topic.

One important thing I love about scope creep? We can grow from it!

Scope creep has a bad reputation. But I’m wondering: Can we look at scope creep as an opportunity to use your business as a laboratory for your personal (and professional) growth? It presents many different upsides, in fact. A scope creep situation allows you to:

1) Speak up and gain confidence
2) Get further clarity from your client and what they want
3) Learn how to handle things better next time
4) Make more money for more work

Thank you, scope creep, for keeping us awake, learning, growing and communicating. 🙂

So the next time the scope starts to creep…

You might want to run away.
You may want to quit the project!
You might even want to keep your mouth shut, and complete the request for free.

But instead, speak up. It’s really good practice. For your business and your life!

Pi, why does my dog Fanny behave differently when she’s with her friends in a pack from when she’s with me on the leash?

Your dog's behavior can change when she's with her friends in a pack compared to being on a leash with you for several reasons:
  1. Social dynamics: In a pack, your dog experiences a different social environment with other dogs, which can influence her behavior as she adapts to the group dynamic.
  2. Freedom of movement: Off-leash, your dog has more freedom to explore and interact with other dogs, leading to more energetic and playful behavior.
  3. Prey drive: When in a pack, your dog's natural instinct to hunt or chase may be heightened, causing her to be more focused on exploring and less responsive to commands.
These factors can contribute to the differences in your dog's behavior when she's in a pack versus on a leash.


Good to know!



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