Controlling Scope Creep When Your Agency Offers Website Design and Development Services

By Vsourz - 10 July 2020
Managing scope creep effectively is a key component of efficient project management. Project scope creep, left to run out of control, can impact on every aspect of delivery. It can lead website projects running over budget and missing deadlines. It can also mean that the finished product doesn’t deliver the desired quality, since one of the defining characteristics of scope creep is that it stops developers concentrating on the aspects of a project which are the most important.

The general definition of scope creep is that it involves technical changes being introduced to a project after development has started. In terms of web design, scope creep is likely to involve the client asking for new features to be added to the site being as it is being developed. These features won’t have been included in the project brief as it was originally set out by the client, and can quickly eat into any agreed budget for a project and at the same time reduce the margins for the developer.

On occasion, these changes might be a good thing, offering the opportunity for your web design agency to learn from process of delivering a project and add more value to the project. Or help your client accelerate their success. One vital skill which a degree of scope creep could enhance is the understanding of how to reprioritise as the demands of a project shift, and building that degree of flexibility into your team on a long-term basis.

Web site development scope creep might include clients asking for features such as additional pages, blogging services, social media provision and SEO services. Managing scope creep is something which every web design agency needs to place at the forefront of their processes.

Effective project management

Project management of this kind involves managing a project with the right degree of care and attention to detail from beginning to end and top to bottom. There are several steps which can be put in place for all projects in order to avoid or manage scope creep, and these should be used to create a general template. They include:

Having a full understanding of the project requirements

This may sound obvious, but that could be the reason why it may be forgotten. The specific details of a project need to be discussed, defined, agreed upon and set down in the earliest planning stages. Agree the goals and objectives, and set out the deliverables expected and what their functionality will be. Create an agreed plan which includes milestones within the project which can be placed on the timeline. If the project requirements have been discussed in proper depth and agreed, then it will be easier to deal effectively with requests for extra features at a later stage.

Having a clearly defined feedback process

The feedback process should be set out clearly at the outset of a project. Not doing so runs the risk of requests for additions or changes at random stages in the process, overwhelming the team of developers as they struggle to respond.

To stop this happening the times when feedback will be requested and acted upon should be set out in the project plan, as should the platform to be used and the identity of the contacts in your team – and the clients – who will deal with feedback.

Not prioritising immediate client satisfaction

This is a particular risk when a web development agency begins working with a new client. At this stage in the relationship, the developer will naturally be keen to impress, and therefore cement a long term relationship with the client. As a result, the natural tendency is to greet every additional request with complete positivity, agreeing to do anything and everything the client asks for. While this may keep the client happy in the short run, in the long run it will have a detrimental impact on the overall quality of the development, whilst reducing the margin your website design project is able to make.

Avoiding endless fine tuning

Having completed a project such as a web site, a talented developer may well be tempted to utilise their skills – and the skills of their team – to keep fine tuning the result, adding features which may not even have been requested by the client. The intention may well be for the client to appreciate you going ‘above and beyond’, but often such changes can dilute the projects quality and are best managed as ongoing maintenance and improvement with the clients approvals and permission.

Allowing for external factors

No matter how carefully a project is managed to avoid scope creep, there are occasions when external factors beyond the control of both the developer and client will impact. These might include a shift in the relevant markets, the emergence of new technologies or a change in the client’s business strategy. You can’t stop external factors impacting, by definition, but you can plan contingencies for the possibility of external factors, and have room for manoeuvre built into your plans.

The vital first meeting

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to scope creep, and it begins with your first client meeting. Even though a project resembles others you’ve delivered in the past, you shouldn’t simply assume the scope will be more or less the same.

By gathering detailed information on issues around the project requirements, you’ll be able to create workflows which maximise the use of your team members, time and resources. In addition to the technical aspects of the web design, ask the client about the wider business goals, as these will inform the final design more than anything else.

Bring in the members of your wider team when putting the final brief together, as their individual areas of expertise will enable them to offer hands on advice on things like delivery times for specific parts of the project. They will also spot aspects that you might have missed out, and will tell you if any details are likely to be superfluous. All of this detail can then be included in the project brief as signed off by you and the client.

Contract

The details of the project agreed with your team and the client should all be included in writing in the contract. The statement of work within the contract should list the various component needed for the project, the milestones agreed, the pricing and the delivery dates. Keep the language as clear and simple as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings on the part of a client who may not have your technical knowledge. The contract should also include a clause which sets out the fact that any work beyond the original scope as set out will incur an extra charge. Talk through the contract with the client and make sure that they grasp exactly what the details mean, and how you will approach things if they request additional features.

The review process

Despite the most careful planning, any project will unfold in a slightly organic manner. This means that it’s vital to set the review process out in detail. Without a confirmed and formal process, there’s every chance the client will repeatedly come back to you with additional requests as they see the web site evolve. As stated, it will be tempting to say ‘Yes’ to everything they ask in order to deliver a premium service, but even small changes can cause problems if they are requested repeatedly. When creating your review process, which will differ slightly for each project, consider aspects such as the number of iterations the project will have – as each revision will require input from the client – the date on which the reviews will take place and the length of time allowed for the client to respond.

The deliverables

Specific deliverables are at the heart of any successful project. You should therefore create a detailed list setting out what the project will deliver, how it will be delivered and when delivery is scheduled to happen. Many developers like to set this out in the form of a Gantt chart, which is a visual representation of the delivery process. Ensure that there is some contingency for any unexpected changes. As stated, changes can be imposed by external factors, but this doesn’t need to lead to scope creep as long as there is some slack in the system.

Prioritise

When working through the review stages of a project, make sure that you and your team identify which changes need to take priority and which will impact the most on the scope of the project. Also question which changes you can safely implement without scope creep. If any changes would expand the scope of the project, then discuss this with your client.

What all of this advice adds up to is the fact that prevention is always going to be better than cure. If you notice that scope creep is happening once a project is underway, you may well be able to speak honestly and directly to your client, but it is always better to set firm parameters going in. This will simultaneously limit the probability of scope creep, and set up frameworks which enable you to nip it in the bud. The result will be happy clients, a happy team and maximised revenues.