The 7 Deadly Sins of Scope Creep

The words "scope creep" strike fear into the hearts of freelance designers, writers and clients alike. "Just one more little thing" becomes a cascade of new tasks, none of which were included in the original project goals, plan or budget.

Scope creep is an inevitable factor in business dealings because even the best-laid plans can't predict every eventuality. Here are the seven deadly sins of scope creep, as well as some suggestions on how to prevent or manage them.

Sin #1: Lack of clear upfront direction. The best way to stop scope creep is before it happens. Whether it's part of a legal contract or a less-formal written agreement, your Scope of Work (SOW) language needs to be flexible while covering the basic goals and procedures of the project. In initial discussions with your client, you need to make sure you prepare for a variety of contingencies, which leads us to …

Sin #2: Failure to communicate the implications. With the SOW dialed in, get agreement upfront on the consequences (deadlines and financial) if tasks are added. A wider budget range going into the freelance project can help cushion any potential expansion.

Sin #3: Being too eager to please. You want the client to like you, so you do everything he asks. The problem is, in attempting to be a superhero, you put yourself in a bad position and, worse yet, you set a precedent. When an out-of-scope request comes in, you need to gain insight into what it's supposed to do. Is there another way to accomplish it more easily or cost effectively?

Sin #4: Fighting scope creep when it's actually something else. If additional work is something that will ultimately benefit the project, it's not necessarily bad, nor is it technically scope creep. When targeted results are not met, additional work may be needed to meet expectations. As long as you're being compensated properly and given enough time, consider it part of the project evolution.

Sin #5: Allowing too many cooks into the kitchen. Once a project gets under way, realize that other stakeholders (e.g., legal, IT) may want a vote in the process. Again, this comes down to the bulletproof SOW ­– and conveying to the client the importance of adhering to the agreed-upon approval processes.

Sin #6: Overlooking usage issues. This is actually more insidious than pure scope creep. For example, after a brochure is designed, the client requests the final electronic file and takes it in-house or to another vendor to modify the content for another purpose. Since it is technically an illegal use of intellectual property, you need to take prompt and decisive action, starting with a polite request to either compensate you or cease using the materials; the next step would be legal action.

Sin #7: Letting scope creep drive you crazy. If you're working on complex projects, scope creep comes with the territory, and some clients (and vendors) are more susceptible to it than others. On occasion, you may incur self-inflicted scope creep if you let perfectionism get the better of you. Sometimes you'll even experience reverse scope creep, which occurs when a client takes away parts of the freelance project that were initially agreed upon, making the project less profitable for you. Whatever the case, keep your cool and recognize that circumstances, people and needs change – sometimes in ways that couldn't be anticipated, but always in ways that you must figure out how to manage.

No matter what the source or outcome, your ultimate goal needs to be resolving the natural tension in an equitable way in order to ensure that all parties believe they've received fair treatment and good value. As they say in the mafia movies, "It's just business."

BurickGuest contributor Eileen Burick is the president and CEO of Burick Communication Design. Visit her weekly Briefcase Blog at