Identify and Resist Scope Creep in Web Design Projects

By Lisa Lopuck

When clients first come to you to design or redesign a website, they often don’t know what is possible with web technologies. They don’t know what you can and can’t do — or how much anything really costs — so they don’t ask for it in their Request For Proposal (RFP). After a project is under way, however, and clients start to see the site take shape, their eyes tend to grow wider and wider with all the cool possibilities.

As clients become familiar with the web-development process, they may often ask you to throw in an extra Flash movie here, a personalized greeting there, and all manner of extra features to liven up the site. In web-design circles, these little additions to the project are called scope creep. If you give in to these little client requests, the scope of the project can slowly creep upward, getting bigger and more costly until you’re basically working for free — or worse, going into debt!

Identifying and resisting scope creep whenever it happens is critical. Aside from losing your shirt financially, scope creep causes two other huge problems:

  • The ripple effect. Although a change may seem small at first, you must look at how it affects production of the rest of the site and the ongoing maintenance of the site. Sometimes, just by changing one little thing, you break something elsewhere in the site because it was never planned for in the first place. Or you cause unforeseen technical or customer-support issues in the future. For example, adding customer ratings and reviews requires a live human on the client’s end to moderate and respond to the incoming data.

  • Production inefficiencies. Because scope creep can come at any time in the web-design process, you cannot implement the new feature without causing production inefficiencies. Adding a new feature midstream causes the team to stop what it’s doing, redo tasks already completed, and refocus on the addition. From start to finish, midstream changes take more time to implement than they would if they were in the initial plan.

Still, scope creep happens — and because you’re the customer-service type, you find it tough to say no. Here’s how to manage scope creep gracefully:

  • Get everything in writing. Before you begin work on a project, make sure that your proposal clearly states the scope of the project — what you’re including, what the client must provide, and what the project does not include. Also make sure that your sitemap is detailed enough to show how all the proposed content works together.

    If everything is in writing, no one can question what was included in the original deal.

  • Share the budget ramifications. When a client asks you to insert a little something in the site, say, “Sure, I’d be glad to! Let me come back to you with what that would cost and how much time it would add to the project.”

Sharing the realities of an expanded budget and time schedule often quickly turns a client around. If your client decides to move forward with the addition, at least you and the client have clear expectations about how it impacts the project.