Change is part of life. If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it's that.
For businesses and professionals alike, change orders are a fact of life. The challenge is making sure these project modifications don’t end up hurting your bottom line. If they do, you’re suffering from scope creep.
The threat of scope creep emerged more in 2020 than any other year because of the pandemic. With the major shakeup COVID-19 had on business, many people started expecting more because they were in more need.
If this hits close to home, don’t feel bad - it's a good thing in many ways, since it will help to strengthen your relationship with your clients. But in helping them, you still need to be mindful of your bottom line, and how scope creep is affecting it.
The following are 5 tips that will help stave off scope creep, while still being mindful of the needs of your clients and your mission.
Tip 1: Invest the time to properly identify the scope of the project
When you’re dealing with a project that has several layers and moving pieces, it can be difficult to define its scope, but doing so will always be worth it. It’s always better to pump the breaks a bit and make sure you’re doing something right than doing it quickly, incorrectly, and then needing to start over again.
That’s why a clear project scope is so important. Identify clear and actionable criteria as your vision for the project, and share it with your client and your project manager. Once all of the details are finalized, draft an agreement for the project. Be sure to properly notate what the project includes and what it does not include, and be sure to contact with your client all along the way.
During this process, be sure to keep this next point in mind.
Tip 2: Make sure your client understands your vision
As a professional, you’re generating interest in your company because you are good at what you do.
Clients come to you for your expertise. If they could do whatever they’re asking you to do, then chances are you wouldn’t be the one doing it.
Keeping this in mind, it's important to remember that your clients might approach the partnership without a clear idea what exactly they want out of it. Oftentimes, they just bring big ideas. Either way, they’re depending on your expert advice to guide them.
In these situations, don’t assume the client has more prior knowledge than they do. To eliminate the likelihood of scope creep, go the extra mile and invest time into helping them understand exactly what your vision for the project is. It might take a little extra time to explain, but it will save a tremendous amount of headaches down the road.
Tip 3: Talk out your issues
Chances are that your project will have a hiccup or 2 along the way. People aren’t perfect, and when projects involve multiple people, there is a wide margin for error. That’s part of business, for better or worse.
A supplier might go bankrupt. A project might go over budget. Every project presents different issues that could potentially come up, but these types of issues only become major issues if they’re allowed to fester and get to that point.
Even if it hurts or is embarrassing, it’s always better to tackle issues head-on with your client and any other stakeholders involved. Communication is key to achieving the best deliverable possible, so be sure to bring it up once you identify a potential issue.
Problems only grow over time, so take control of the situation and work with your client to resolve them before they get out of hand.
Tip 4: Train your clients
High-maintenance clients can play a major role in scope creep. When they send documents late, don't respond to questions and other inquiries or - on the other end of the spectrum - reach out to your employees a little too often, they usually don't realize it's affecting the final outcome in a negative way.
Practicing common-sense client management can usually clear up many of these client hindrances. Are they late sending you the information you need to start a project? Bill them for a rush fee. Are they calling your office five times a day? Bill them for that, too, and send it in an invoice separate from the agreed-upon project fee.
Many times you can change client behavior with one or two unexpected invoices for time they weren’t prepared to pay for.
Tip 5: Always have a back-up plan
We all need a safety valve just in case something goes wrong.
In situations where the project takes an unexpected turn, it’s important to have a contingency plan.
Sometimes twists and turns mean an agreement between you and your client that should have been possible is no longer possible, so you’ll need some flexibility… just in case.
While what this actually looks like will vary within industries and projects, identify potential alternatives that you can resort to if something goes wrong.
Sometimes a good backup plan can even relate to the original timeline of the project. If something goes wrong and there’s a chance you might not be able to deliver what you and the client discussed, be open with your client about it. Go into the discussion armed with your Plan B, and things will go much smoother for all parties!
Go Forward with Confidence
These are just a few strategic ways to mitigate scope creep and get paid for all the time you and your team spend on a project. During a pandemic, you probably feel inclined to do more for your clients who are in need. At the end of the day, however, you must balance this with maintaining your business’s bottom-line, too.