Scope creep and how to cure it
If there’s a common operational problem faced by design and professional services businesses, it’s the difficulty of completing jobs within the quoted hours. If you look regularly at these sort of businesses, it comes up all the time.
Sometimes it’s a matter of managing staff time correctly. Sometimes, it’s about quoting accurately in the first place.
But sometimes, it’s about scope creep: the tendency for a job to be extended by the client, and occasionally by staff too eager to please, to the point where the quoted price no longer covers the time needed to complete the job. When this happens, profit diminishes, and if the creep continues, it disappears. After that point, the job becomes a net cost and you would have been better off saying no to the job in the first place.
Scope creep can be a difficult one to tackle, because it’s ultimately about customer relations. The ‘look, we’re now beyond what we originally quoted on’ conversation is a tough one, and the lives of both client and supplier would be easier if it never had to take place.
Consider a few of these methods for stopping the creep in its tracks:
Have a well drafted service agreement in place and make sure it is signed by the client. This should clearly specify that you’ll charge for additional hours outside the scope of work. This is a bedrock document for you to rely on if needed.
Discuss the key terms in the service agreement with the client to make sure expectations are set correctly on both sides. Just because it is signed doesn't mean it was read.
Specifically mention in the quote what happens if the scope blows out. That way the possibility is flagged up front.
Where additional tasks are requested mid job, point out to the client that they are outside the scope of work. Do this when the requests are made, not once the hours have run out. It makes for a much easier negotiation.
Offer the client alternatives to either downing tools or charging more money. Specify what you can deliver for the original quote. Provide clear pricing for each additional element.
Maintain good client relationships in case you have to have the conversation about additional hours. Awkward conversations are much easier if you’re on pleasant terms.
Develop good time management and job tracking skills. It’s not the client’s fault if you take longer to do the work than is necessary, or if your processes are inefficient. And never, ever say these words: “well, the client didn’t know what they wanted to begin with”. It’s your job to clarify the brief and understand the client’s needs, even if they are unclear of that themselves. You are their guide through this process, not the other way around.
Get on top of scope creep before it gets on top of you! And remember, any issues involving the client are ultimately a problem with you and not them -- if they are difficult to work with then you should terminate the contract, deciding to continue on in an unprofitable and unpleasant relationship is on you.
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