For designers and clients, 'scope creep' is an all-too-common challenge. Whether or not requirements and goals are firmly established from the outset, some projects grow beyond their boundaries, incorporating new concepts and forcing major revisions. This can prove expensive for both designer and client. Adjusting to changes mid-project is akin to trying to change a tire on a moving car--frustrating and difficult, with a high potential for something important to go very wrong.
What's the best way to head off scope creep before it starts? An ironclad Statement of Work (SOW), one of the mainstays of project management, can help. A good SOW clearly establishes the following things:
- Project activities
- Project deliverables
- Timelines for every major project stage
- What constitutes an 'end product'
- Number of allowed post-deadline revisions/changes
Establishing project parameters in a document signed by both parties eliminates ambiguities, along with the potential for arguments. The trick is making sure the SOW explicitly covers as many contingencies as possible. For example, what happens if the client agrees to three revisions to a logo, only to come back asking for another revamp once all those agreed-upon revisions are completed? If the client wants to continue discussing the end product after the project's completion, will they need to pay an additional consulting fee?
But it's not just a matter of writing an extensive SOW; in order to avoid scope creep, it's essential for client and designer to talk things over before the project kicks off, covering at least the following points in a positive and upbeat manner:
- How many decision-makers will be involved on the client side? (Internal disagreement on the client's part can sometimes delay project timelines.)
- Is there flexibility in the budget in case the project expands beyond its original scope?
- How many times will designer and client meet to discuss the project? (Meetings and consultations are a major time factor, which is why it's important for design teams--especially small ones that may be strapped for time and resources--to keep them limited.)
- What happens if the timeline is exceeded? Do either the client or designer have a 'hard stop' in terms of the time they can devote to the project?
Whatever the result of those discussions, make sure that any agreements end up in writing. This can help both sides manage the relationship as the project progresses through each stage. The phrase, 'It's about the journey, not the destination'' is more than a cliché when it comes to project management; paying attention to the particulars of how you will achieve the final result can spare everybody time and effort once the project is underway, and increase the design team's all-important margins.
For designers, preventing scope creep is also a matter of educating the client at the beginning of the process. What can really be achieved with the budget and timeline on the table? What sort of things will increase the costs and time-to-completion? For example, if the client wants the designer to build a huge website with video, parallax scrolling and other nifty elements, they'll need to know ahead of time whether such things are doable on the current schedule and budget--and if not, decide from the outset what needs to be cut.
Simultaneously to those client discussions, project managers should educate the design team on points such as:
- What are the deadlines?
- What is the budget, and is there any 'flex' to it?
- How many rounds of changes are involved? How long will that take before it requires additional fees?
- What if the project changes direction midstream?
- What is the 'end product'?
- What does the client expect?
- What will happen if the client asks for something outside of the project's scope?
It's important to clarify and define what are fair and reasonable expectations. While a detailed SOW and pre-kickoff discussions won't remove every uncertainty, they will likely eliminate many of the pitfalls that can cause projects to spiral out of control. Scope creep is a major issue. But with discussion and understanding, it can be kept in check.
Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For 30 years she has worked with some of the world's most prestigious corporations reinventing ways to define and express their brand. We Make Business Beautiful.