Have you ever had a project and thought it would take no more than two weeks to complete. But then four months later, you are pulling your hair out and begging for it to just end! Welcome to the world of scope creep. It is not a fun world to visit. And if you design and build websites as a service, chances are very high you’ve been there. 

But scope creep does not need to happen. I am here to tell you, through proof of experience, that it is possible to eliminate scope creep from your workflow.

First, What is Scope Creep

When I started freelancing building websites, I had no idea what scope creep was and never heard of it before. It wasn’t until I shared with another web designer about a project I was going through that it wouldn’t end. I listened to the empathy in her voice as she started talking about scope creep and her experiences.

The Scope of Work, also known as SOW, defines the requirements and deliverables for a project that is agreed on by the client and web designer (or other service providers). Scope creep is a term used when a project’s requirements increase past what was initially agreed on. Often, this is due to clients requesting additional work and changes throughout a project.

Here are some common causes of Scope Creep in web design projects.

  • Clients changing their minds midway through a project.
  • Clients asking for additional work that was not stated at the beginning of the project and not in the contract or agreement.
  • Clients not providing content and assets on time, causing the project to delay and having to update their sites at a later time.
  • Clients not communicating. Again causing a delay.
  • Clients requesting multiple revisions.

How To Prevent Scope Creep In Web Design Projects?

We have all been there and have felt the pain of scope creep. The stress, frustration, and burn out. But it can be cured! 

First, we need to stop blaming the clients and take accountability. Yah, there are ‘difficult’ clients that will push the scope, and some push harder than others. But it is up to the designer or developer to keep the project on course. I look at every challenging project with scope creep as an opportunity. That’s where the growth happens. When a project goes sideways, there is a cause for it, and I like to look and think, ‘How could I have done things differently?’ And after enough learning experience (two straight years of scope creeping projects), I finally figured out how to keep a project on track and avoid scope creep.

There are three main areas to look at – communication, setting expectations, and project management.

Communicating Scope of Work

Communication is the key to preventing scope creep. There must be open and transparent communication from both client and designer.

By creating an open dialog from the beginning with your client, this allows you to be able to articulate about the project. Especially when they start to take you off course. If you haven’t been talking directly to your clients and doing everything via email and texts, this makes it challenging to speak up when the scope is pushed.

I understand, not everyone feels comfortable engaging with clients. Including myself. I’m naturally an introvert and had to walk through the uncomfortable feelings until I got comfortable. One way to help in this area is to think of it as a mindset change. Instead of being an order taker, start looking at yourself as your client’s partner. And when you talk with them, speak like you have a partnership. 

Communication should be very clear about the scope from the beginning. Before taking a new project, there’s the consultation and discovery phase. Here we determine the size of the project and the overall scope. Then once we have a full understanding and can give our cost of the project, we create a contact as our agreement and outline the scope in the contract. One thing I like to do is go over the scope in the contract with the client to make sure they understand our agreement.

Communication should start early and be clear. It should be established from both sides. Also, always remain professional, positive, helpful, and assertive. Stand by your processes and agreement, but don’t be rude about it.

Setting Expectations

This is where we define the scope. Be very clear in what you will be delivering. The client should have a clear understanding of your process and how you will manage their project and what deliverables they will receive. Do not over-promise when trying to win the project.

“Under promise, over deliver.”

– Setting reasonable expectations

When I was new, one of the biggest mistakes I made was promising the client everything. I was so eager to get the job I would try to please them by always saying yes and what I thought they wanted to hear. It was like a website buffet! Whatever they asked for, sure, I can do that! And what this did was lead the client to think everything they are asking for is no big deal. Ultimately, no matter how much extra they asked for, and I did for them, it was never enough and sometimes impossible to please.

Setting realistic expectations from the start of the project allows the client to have a full understanding of how the project will go and what to expect. 

The best way to set expectations is in your proposal and contract. What changed for me was when I started to detail the scope of work and list all deliverables, describe our process, and the order in which we will execute the deliverables and add a detailed timeline to each step in our process. This has allowed our clients to know exactly how their project will go.

Project Management

Now that there is open communication between the client and designer, and there is a detailed outline of the project, let’s keep it on track. 

The most crucial goal here is to keep the project on the timeline. The moment the timeline is broken, the gates to scope creep open. The project loses momentum, and the client has more time to think of new ideas and changing their minds. And that is how most scope creep starts.

By having a set timeline and a step by step process, we have specific dates we are aiming at. And we do this together with the client. 

Again, let’s go back to the contract and agreement. If you have a timeline set with specific dates for each step of your process and the initial launch or completion date, the client has a mapped out overview of their project. One thing we do as well that has been working for us, we started giving dates of payments, including the final payment. 

And here’s a useful tip, give yourself extra time, so there’s some type of cushion. If you feel the project could be completed in two weeks, create a timeline for three weeks. Even if the client pushes to have it as soon as possible, add the cushion. 

What about content and images?

The most common challenges for web design is scope creep and collecting content. And the two are connected. If a client takes forever to provide content and images, this prevents a project from completing on time. Also, while the client is taking weeks or even months to collect content, this opens room for the client to think of new changes, wanting extra revisions, and to start picking apart the work you have done. AKA, Scope Creel Hell!

So if we know collecting content and images is such a challenge, let’s address this from the very beginning and put a process together specifically to solve this problem.

You can communicate this with the client at the start and let them know how your other clients have struggled in this area. Then offer them solutions. 

We offer our clients three solutions or choices.

Option 1 – Set a timeline when content and images must be delivered. If they are not provided by the due date, and we have to add them at a later time, there will be an additional fee. We charge this fee because late projects conflict with our workflow. And more than likely, we will have to make changes in our schedule, which cost us time and money.

Option 2 – We can provide a copywriter and photographer. This will help the client focus more on their business and take away the pressure to do it on their own.

Option 3 – This has been working best with us lately. Since we use Elementor to build most of our sites, teaching clients to add their own text and images has been quite simple. Instead of collecting content, we develop their website, so it is ready to go with placement for content and images available. We leave instruction in the content to let the client know what to write there. We have training videos and offer a one on one training session to help get them started. This allows the client to add content on their own time.

It’s best to offer these options at the beginning of the project. And make sure to add in the contract.

Prepare for scope creep.

Get ready for it and have a process put in place when it comes up. The thing is, it is absolutely exceptional for a client to ask for additional work. We don’t want to limit our clients. It’s their website and their business. If they have a change in mind or want to go in another direction midway through the project, it’s ok. We never want to be super rigged and uncompromisable.

If a client wants additional work or to make changes, there’s no problem as long as you have a process in place for these situations.

Let the client know how much it will cost and what happens when they want to ask for extra work or to make changes. And this goes back to your contract. Add terms and conditions for additional work, changes in scope, and extra revisions. This helps the client to make decisions more carefully and keeps you from doing free work.

Another thing to consider is the timeline. If the client asks for too much extra work, of course, that will throw the project off schedule. And this is where project management needs to come into play. If the client asks for an excess of additional work that will conflict with the timeline, it is best to stop the project, come up with a new schedule, and additional costs factoring the change in timeline plus the new scope of work when adding charges.

What to do when a client wants to go outside of the scope?

If everything above has been done, it should be easier to go back to your agreement. Refer to the agreed scope of work. And let your client know it is ok to make changes, but it will cost. And then again, go back to your agreement and show what it will cost and how it works for adding additional work.

Unfortunately, we have to go through projects with scope creep to learn what needs to be ironed out in our processes. But once you have clearly defined process in place, you will have everything you need to make sure you are covered and no longer doing weeks or even months of work for free again.

I hope this article helps. If you have any comments or questions, drop them below.