Scope creep: What it is and how to avoid it
Scope creep? Say what?
Scope creep is a term, made famous by software development teams, that describes a situation where the a project’s delimitation leaks outside its original boundaries.
With the 1099 economy (outside the US: that means contracting) taking hold in most industries, as freelancers we have to be more vigilant than ever in protecting ourselves. Scope creep has been present in Hollywood since it began, but today, with our handy guide, we want to help you avoid falling foul of this insidious practice.
Have you ever found yourself:
- writing endless revisions for scriptwriting jobs?
- being asked to do dozens of edits on a video?
- having to supply limitless talent picks for casting?
- creating seemingly infinite looks for a wardrobe job?
- going into overtime on a non-union shoot and not getting paid?
- being asked to produce more publicity than initially requested for PR?
- having version after version of music cues requested?
If you’ve experienced any other scenario where you are being asked to produce more work than you originally agreed to for no extra pay, that’s scope creep.
How to train your clients and avoid scope creep
Just like your family pet, clients can be trained to treat your time, expertise, and collaboration with respect. However, they need to establish good habits from the get-go or they might go potty on the carpet.
Here is our step-by-step guide to staying in scope and getting happy.
- Try to understand your client’s vision. Make sure you can achieve it with their budget and time constraints. Create a realistic schedule, budget, and project scope document that you all agree to.
- Agree on the deliverables before you start a business relationship. If you hear phrases like “I’ll know it when I see it” or “just keep throwing ideas at me,” alarm bells should be ringing. The issue is that clients are usually dilettantes at best. They probably don’t know what they want, so you’ll have to spell it out. Create a definitive roadmap of assets before you agree to anything.
- Once you have your scope defined, get legal. Do you remember how we advised you to lawyer up in our creative partners guide? If you have representation, get them to share your boilerplate contract (which of course includes itemized deliverables) with your new client. If you don’t have a regular lawyer, then you can get great contracts online from companies like Law Depot. However you do it, make sure you’re protected before you enter into any client/creative relationship.
- Be vigilant. Getting into the habit of saying no to extra requests from the beginning of your relationship sets a great tone for the rest. If they want that extra service regardless, feel free to put a price on it. You may be surprised at how much respect you get, and how willing clients are to pay for great service.
- Use a project management software system such as Trello or Wrike, so all parties can keep track of a project’s progress and development.
- Never forget that you can simply say “no.” Even if you have a price tag attached to a certain scope change, if you’re just not feeling it, or simply want to complete the project as early as possible, go ahead and (politely) decline. It’s very empowering to set proper boundaries.
- Remember: every time the scope creeps, money is coming out of your pocket. Once you start saying yes to activities outside the original agreement, it can be very tricky to get the relationship back on track. If you are going to let a request fly, then stipulate explicitly that you are doing so as a goodwill gesture and illustrate exactly why this request is outside the scope that was originally agreed upon.
- Tell your client exactly what you think. If their ideas are not practical, simply tell them that. If they insist on going ahead, bill them for it properly.
- Make sure you get any and all scope changes, addenda, and additional services in writing. Making a clear record of all the scope alterations will help you tally the project’s development and stay on track and in the money.
We hope this guide helps you to keep your projects in scope and your client relationships on track. We’d love to hear about your experiences with scope creep and your tips for avoiding it. Comment below, or drop us a line.