Scope creep – the horrifyingly common tendency for projects to expand past their initial bounds. How to avoid scope creep is the question brewing at the back of every freelancer’s mind while preparing a proposal template, or when first submitting a scope of work template and discussing project details with a new client or agency.
But get this:
Whether you like it or not, the truth is, scope creep happens naturally, no matter how well you manage your freelance projects.
The trick is understanding what scope creep really is, together with the strategies and solutions for working around this tendency in any professional situation. This not only increases your chances of delivering your professional project in the same budget and time frame you agreed on but will help you feel more confident in your career.
In this article, we’ll outline why scope creep happens in the first place and how you can tackle the common issue, professionally and smoothly like the prepared and confident freelancer you are.
First off, what is scope creep?
As we briefly mentioned, scope creep refers to changes in a project’s professional scope, at any point after the project commences.
The changes in scope could refer to:
While this sounds super annoying as a freelancer, especially when the client is requesting the same payout, scope creep isn’t all that bad.
Change is inevitable. However, like anything else, it’s all a matter of how you approach the situation that makes the difference.
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The majority of scope creep situations arise from clients who don’t know how to properly define their requirements. However, depending on the project, there can be a number of ways scope creep ‘creeps’ up.
Here are some primary causes of scope creep:
When your client doesn’t know the full scope to start with and/or doesn’t spend enough time gathering appropriate documents and research for you.
Assuming you know what your users need or want. Not including users in the analysis and building stages can lead to issues and/or scope creep.
If your client is new to the industry, they may guess through projects as they don’t know what to expect and plan for.
This is a common term used for exceeding a project’s scope due to the belief that these changes will increase the value.
Understanding the causes of scope creep is your first step towards mastering how to safely avoid scope creep in the first place.
Now that you understand the full scope of scope creep, it’s time for preparation.
Here’s the thing:
Every project is different because every freelance client is different (in one way or another).
While some of these tactics may work well for one client, they could be totally useless for the next. The key here is to understand all the ways on how to avoid scope creep so that you’re fully prepared for any situation this freelancing ride throws your way.
Not only that, but these tactics are great tools to have for building confidence and professionalism as well.
Bonuses all around.
First thing’s fist: be organized.
Being organized by documenting each clients’ requirements not only makes you feel great, but it is the single most important step to avoiding scope creep.
Talk to everyone involved and figure out exactly what they want from the project, then write it all down in an organized document or online tool. Also, manage potential conflicts and prioritize requirements (as much as possible).
After your document is completed, add your client and everyone else involved in the project to your online document for easy, group access.
You can also add this document to a larger project plan if you have one in motion, or consider the help of a project management tool for freelancers to keep everything nicely sorted.
While a requirements document is a great starting point, chances are, someone will want to tweak something at some point. This reality requires a change control process.
Thankfully, this process is straightforward.
So, let’s say your client or a stakeholder suggests a change. If the change is approved, then incorporate it into your group-shared project plan.
If the project management software you’re using supports a change management function, then simply use that. The trick here is figuring out who is going to review and approve any changes.
Empower a finite amount of people to request scope changes and an even smaller number to grant these wishes. Describe and document the process for receiving additional freelance invoice payments for any scope changes made after a certain period of time.
If they agree, follow our client billing guide to seal the deal.
After your document requirements are added to your project plan, you can then create a project schedule.
By using your requirements document, create a task list that shows:
This list should be written in the form of activities and tasks.
Since we now know that changes are inevitable, put some time aside for contingency. This allows for changes to be accepted in a constructive way since it’s planned and discussed up front.
There are tons of different project management tools you can use to jumpstart this scheduling process.
Encourage all users and partners to be a part of the requirements and building phase. Include their ideas and suggestions into the product.
While this happens, it’s also smart to document how everyone interacts with the initial plan.
Before the execution phase commences, make sure everyone agrees on the requirements and overall design or plan.
It’s also important to remind users or partners of the change rules: that change suggestions don’t just happen by someone liking the idea. The change must be approved by the group or designated individual(s).
As we mentioned in an earlier section, gold plating is a real and daunting cause of scope creep.
This is a tendency created by the client or agency to over-delivery the scope and create additional features, thinking it will add value to the project.
While they usually have the project’s best interest at heart, their tunnel-vision usually doesn’t account for the freelancer’s time or the project’s structure.
Prepare for gold plating by including information in the project plan about additional payment for certain types of add-on features.
When you’re learning how to avoid scope creep, sometimes all it takes is the magic word.
You have to come to the realization that there will be unreasonable requests for scope changes.
While you’re likely a rockstar freelancer, you’re only human.
Understand that not all scope changes are made equal. Any scope changes to vital path elements (areas of the project that hold up other work if not completed on time) should be allowed only sparingly…
And evaluated carefully.
If you’re not comfortable saying no… or if you’ve already said no a few times, there’s a few Plan Bs you can refer to:
While this may sound intimidating, once you nail down your own process and really understand what scope creep is and how you can avoid it, it will just become a part of your freelancing regime.
And guess what?
Scope creep can actually be a positive thing when working with external clients.
If you stay organized and use a professionally written freelance contract that includes prices of additional features, you could create new revenue for yourself. Worrying about how to avoid scope creep becomes a thing of the past.
As soon as the external client requests a listed feature, all you need to do is calculate the hours of additional work, have the client sign-off, and wham.
Freelance scope creep... reversed.
To make sure you’re super organized for this type of outcome, sign up for your free trial of Bonsai’s freelancing solutions today.
A verbal contract (formally called an oral contract) refers to an agreement between two parties that's made —you guessed it— verbally.
Formal contracts, like those between an employee and an employer, are typically written down. However, some professional transactions take place based on verbally agreed terms.
Freelancers are a good example of this. Often, freelancers will take on projects having agreed on the terms and payment via the phone, or an email. Unfortunately, sometimes clients don't pull through on their agreements, and hardworking freelancers can find themselves out of pocket and wondering whether a legal battle is worth all the hassle.
The main differences between written and oral contracts are that the former is signed and documented, whereas the latter is solely attributed to verbal communication.
Verbal contracts are a bit of a gray area for most people unfamiliar with contract law —which is most of us, right?— due to the fact that there's no physical evidence to support the claims made by the implemented parties.
For any contract (written or verbal) to be binding, there are four major elements which need to be in place. The crucial elements of a contract are as follows:
Therefore, an oral agreement has legal validity if all of these elements are present. However, verbal contracts can be difficult to enforce in a court of law. In the next section, we take a look at how oral agreements hold up in court.
Most business professionals are wary of entering into contracts orally because they can difficult to enforce in the face of the law.
If an oral contract is brought in front of a court of law, there is increased risk of one party (or both!) lying about the initial terms of the agreement. This is problematic for the court, as there's no unbiased way to conclude the case; often, this will result in the case being disregarded. Moreover, it can be difficult to outline contract defects if it's not in writing.
That being said, there are plenty of situations where enforceable contracts do not need to be written or spoken, they're simply implied. For instance, when you buy milk from a store, you give something in exchange for something else and enter into an implied contract, in this case - money is exchanged for goods.
There are some types of contracts which must be in writing.
The Statute of Frauds is a legal statute which states that certain kinds of contracts must be executed in writing and signed by the parties involved. The Statute of Frauds has been adopted in almost all U.S states, and requires a written contract for the following purposes:
Typically, a court of law won't enforce an oral agreement in any of these circumstances under the statute. Instead, a written document is required to make the contract enforceable.
Contract law is generally doesn't favor contracts agreed upon verbally. A verbal agreement is difficult to prove, and can be used by those intent on committing fraud. For that reason, it's always best to put any agreements in writing and ensure all parties have fully understood and consented to signing.
Verbal agreements can be proven with actions in the absence of physical documentation. Any oral promise to provide the sale of goods or perform a service that you agreed to counts as a valid contract. So, when facing a court of law, what evidence can you provide to enforce a verbal agreement?
Unfortunately, without solid proof, it may be difficult to convince a court of the legality of an oral contract. Without witnesses to testify to the oral agreement taking place or other forms of evidence, oral contracts won't stand up in court. Instead, it becomes a matter of "he-said-she-said" - which legal professionals definitely don't have time for!
If you were to enter into a verbal contract, it's recommended to follow up with an email or a letter confirming the offer, the terms of the agreement , and payment conditions. The more you can document the elements of a contract, the better your chances of legally enforcing a oral contract.
Another option is to make a recording of the conversation where the agreement is verbalized. This can be used to support your claims in the absence of a written agreement. However, it's always best to gain the permission of the other involved parties before hitting record.
Fundamentally, most verbal agreements are legally valid as long as they meet all the requirements for a contract. However, if you were to go to court over one party not fulfilling the terms of the contract, proving that the interaction took place can be extremely taxing.
So, ultimately, the question is: written or verbal agreements?
Any good lawyer, contract law firm, or legal professional would advise you to make sure you formalize any professional agreement with a written agreement. Written contracts provide a secure testament to the conditions that were agreed and signed by the two parties involved. If it comes to it, a physical contract is much easier to eviden in legal circumstances.
Freelancers, in particular, should be aware of the extra security that digital contracts may provide. Many people choose to stick to executing contracts verbally because they're not sure how to write a contract, or they think writing out the contract terms is too complicated or requires expensive legal advice. However, this is no longer the case.
Today, we have a world of resources available at our fingertips. The internet is a treasure trove of invaluable information, platforms, and software that simplifies our lives. Creating, signing, and sending contracts has never been easier. What's more, you don't have to rely on a hiring a lawyer to explain all that legal jargon anymore.
There are plenty of tools available online for freelancers to use for guidance when drafting digital contracts. Tools like Bonsai provide a range of customizable, vetted contract templates for all kinds of freelance professionals. No matter what industry you're operating in, Bonsai has a professional template to offer.
A written contract makes the agreement much easier to prove the terms of the agreement in case something were to go awry. The two parties involved can rest assured that they're legal rights are protected, and the terms of the contract are sufficiently documented. Plus, it provides both parties with peace of mind to focus on the tasks at hand.
Bonsai's product suite for freelancers allows users to make contracts from scratch, or using professional templates, and sign them using an online signature maker.
With Bonsai, you can streamline and automate all of the boring back-office tasks that come with being a freelancer. From creating proposals that clients can't say no to, to sealing the deal with a professional contract - Bonsai will revolutionize the way you do business as a freelancer.
Why not secure your business today and sign up for a free trial?