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Keep Scope Creep From Being Bad for Business

Planning a business project is tricky; sometimes they stick relatively closely to the plan you created, while other times they seem to develop another head and go careening off in unexpected directions. You already have to deal with project planning and management within your business, and it only gets more complicated when you bring in freelancers. Whatever kind of work you’re looking for, you want to avoid scope creep as much as possible.

What Is Scope Creep?

If you’ve ever worked in project management, you’ve probably dealt with scope creep. If you haven’t, a quick overview: scope creep happens when the original parameters of a project grow, but the deadlines and payment don’t change. Mention scope creep to a freelancer or a project manager, and be prepared to watch lips curl. You might even get a horror story or two.

How Scope Creep Negatively Affects Projects

The reason freelancers don’t like scope creep is obvious: if they agree to a flat rate for a project, and the project grows significantly without their payment also growing, they don’t feel like they’re being paid fairly for their work. But some freelancers choose not to say anything because they don’t want to alienate a good client, or risk not getting paid for the work they’ve already done. Scope creep isn’t good for the businesses receiving the work, either, for several reasons.

  • Freelancers have multiple clients.

Most freelancers allot a certain time window to each project they take on. A good freelancer is able to estimate how long a project will take, and therefore agree to reasonable deadlines with a certain number of customers. If your project starts expanding, the extra work will end up in line behind other client deadlines.

  • The deadline will likely move.

Because a freelancer has multiple clients, they might not be able to complete extra work by the original deadline. Let’s say you need the first piece of a project before you can move to the next stage. Every subsequent deadline after that has to move, too, to give people down the project line enough time to finish their work. It can become a logistical nightmare very quickly.

  • The project might grow past your freelancer’s expertise.

You hired a writer to write 2,000 words for your blog, then realized you needed 4,000. That’s still in the writer’s area of expertise, so you can amend the situation to continue working with that writer. But what if you hired a coder to work on your website, then realized you need custom graphics, too? Many web designers have some graphic design experience; unless they have a portfolio you really like, it makes more sense to find a graphic designer with work you admire and hire that person to do the graphics.

What Can You Do to Avoid It?

Someone holding a pen signing a contract.

Image via Flickr by Informedmag

Project growth is sometimes inevitable, and freelancers understand that business needs will change. As long as you set down guidelines beforehand, you and the freelancers you hire will be able to deal with growing projects in a way that works for you both. But don’t ask them to do more than the originally agreed upon work without discussing new payment and new deadlines.

  • Define the scope.

The most important thing is to outline the scope of the project in clear terms. You need to know the project goals, the schedule, the work that should be done, and how the result will look. That way you, your hired freelancers, and your employees know what to expect, when to expect it, and how much it will cost.

  • Put payment provisions in contracts.

Let’s look at copywriting as an example again. Many writers work either for a cents-per-word rate, or flat fees based on the scope of your project. Agree upon the flat rate or fee for the work you need your freelancer to do. If applicable, cents-per-word does have the advantage of partially preventing scope creep. If you ask for more words, then the writer charges for those extra words, too.

Writers also expect that you’ll have comments on their submitted drafts. So, when writing up a contract, agree upon what kind of revisions, and how many, you can ask the writer for without paying for a rewrite. Instances will pop up that neither of you expected, so having a good communication channel open between you is key.

  • Be flexible with deadlines.

When facing a project that’s growing into more than you planned, be prepared to be flexible with deadlines. Freelancers have other clients, other deadlines, and a finite number of hours in the day. But, you also don’t want to get a product someone stayed up late at night, downing espresso, to finish. You remember high school and college. The papers you turned in after an all-nighter were never as good as the ones you gave yourself time to work on.

So, create a second deadline for the extra work. You get what you originally ordered when you need it, and the freelancer has a reasonable amount of time to finish the unexpected tasks.

  • Hire more people.

You can’t always predict what you’re going to need at the end of a project when you begin that project. Say you initially wanted four blog posts a month, which one writer can easily handle. But your following has increased so much from those four, you want to up it to a blog post every day, plus custom tweets and Facebook statuses. Instead of throwing this at one writer, hire another one to take on some of the work.

  • Start new projects.

If the original scope doubles in size, the changes should be their own project. You can hire the same freelancers you’ve been using to complete the new project when the first one is finished. Or, you can hire new people to complete the new project simultaneously.

When a project changes, it doesn’t automatically fall under the scope creep umbrella. Trying to get that bigger project done in the same amount of time with the same budget? That’s scope creep. Avoid it, and you’ll receive better work, and have better relationships with your freelancers.

About the author

Alexandra Shostak