What Is Scope Creep (And How To Avoid It!)

Even experienced contractors can suffer from scope creep in their projects, but what is this thing and how to avoid it?

Scope creep is the cause of many ruined projects that leave clients unhappy and hurt your reputation. The worst part is that this creep can happen slowly and silently, leaving you in a terrible situation that’s hard to recover from.

But what exactly is scope creep and how can you prevent it from plaguing your projects?

This is a complicated topic to unpack, so let’s break it down bit by bit. By the end, you’ll know exactly what scope creep is, what can cause it, and how to avoid it.

What is scope creep?

Scope creep is defined by unplanned changes that exponentially prolong and complicate a project that was otherwise accounted for.

The main problem is that although the project continues to expand, the budget and deadline often don’t. Now you have a project that’s way more complex than planned with a near impossible deadline to deliver, which may result in delays that won’t make the client happy.

Worse, the project you assumed would be done is now bleeding over your other commitments.

From here on out, it’s a snowball.

You may suffer delays, going over budget, working longer hours, and having to deal with unsatisfied clients all the way through.

Typical causes of scope creep

The thing about scope creep is that it’s subtle at first.

That’s why it affects even experienced contractors every now and then, as they have to constantly watch for the signs:

Miscommunication. Whether it’s between you and your team or you and the client, miscommunication has the potential to cause scope creep. This happens because misunderstandings can lead to delays or more serious mistakes that eat away at your budget.

Bad management. All the major causes of scope creep have to do with bad management. Delays, mistakes, poor planning, and so on.

Last-minute changes. Clients that always seem to change their minds last-minute are common causes of scope creep, especially when the changes they want go against what was planned. You may fumble to please your client, but it can hurt the project in the long run – even more so when the client realizes you’re willing to readjust on their whim.

Unfocused feedback. Feedback needs to be precise. When clients give you uncertain or unfocused feedback, don’t assume anything. Ask questions and try to figure out exactly what they want before proceeding, otherwise you might commit to the wrong plan.

Insubordinate team. Nothing ruins a project faster than people making decisions and changes without consulting first. 

How to avoid scope creep

Most of the usual tips related to good project management go a long way in preventing scope creep. Now that you know the causes, you should focus on getting better at leading a project with confidence.

Learn to manage multiple projects. Dropping the ball on a project often leads to compromises in another. Contractors must learn to handle multiple jobs at all times!

Use technology. Apps and mobile devices offer massive advantages for contractors. Handling finances, taking notes, presenting documents, video calls, you name it. Embrace the power of technology to make your life a lot easier.

Help clients visualize projects. To prevent unfocused feedback and last-minute changes, make good use of technology to help clients see their projects before completion.

Get better at communication. Learning to listen, follow-up, and speak clearly are crucial skills in this business. The better you are at it, the less likely your projects will go south.

Choosing clients

Anyone who provides a service will tell you that some clients just spell trouble.

In some cases, the client isn’t the problem, just their project. As much as the money sounds good, you can tell from a mile away that it will clash with your current goals and in that case, it’s better to let it go.

Choosing clients isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Learn to say “no” and save yourself for the projects you know you can deliver with confidence!

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