If it remains untreated it will spread.
It can even kill (profit).
If you’re new to the role of agency account manager and you’ve never heard of the term before then you had better get familiar with it because it can rise up and bite you on the bum before you can say ‘3 month review’.
According to wikipedia, scope creep is defined as:
Uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope. This phenomenon can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented or controlled. It is generally considered a negative occurrence and therefore should be avoided.
Scope creep happens when additional changes are requested by the client outside of the originally agreed project plan with no corresponding increase in the budget or change in the delivery deadline.
Scope creep can be crippling for an agency financially if the project keeps changing and the account handler doesn’t manage the situation effectively and ensure the agency is compensated for the additional work undertaken.
Agency best practice is to include in the estimate an allowance for a defined number of project iterations. If more changes occur or changes are significant then the account handler needs to request additional funds and in many cases more time to deliver.
If the agency isn’t compensated for the additional time and resources then it runs at a loss.
Imagine multiplying this scenario across all client work in an agency? The agency would end up overstretched, undermanned, under enormous pressure and unprofitable.
This is where the skills of a great account handler or project manager (depending on how the agency is structured) come in!
How scope creep happens
Here’s how it can happen:
1. The client briefs the agency on a project and gives a deadline for completion
2. The agency provides a project plan (a carefully developed written description of the project’s scope with estimated timings for each stage and costs for the work involved)
3. Client approves the plan and raises a purchase order
4. Agency and client have kick-off meeting to walk through the plan
5. Agency begins working on phase 1 of the plan
6. Agency presents the first draft layout/idea 5 days later
7. Client reviews phase 1 and shows the work to the senior client. Senior client doesn’t agree with the direction of the work and completely changes the brief to include some major revisions and additional elements. The senior client doesn’t want the budget or deadline to change. Oh and by the way, he also wants the Training & Development department to have a look at it but they’re not back from conference until a week next Thursday.
8. Newbie agency account handler goes into meltdown
How you can avoid scope creep
You can’t avoid scope creep altogether as it’s inevitable that things will change in a project.
It’s also normal for an agency to want to fulfil any requests for project changes and will no doubt make every effort to do so.
Nevertheless while there is no way to avoid it, what you CAN do is to manage the situation.
1. Agree how you’ll handle any changes before the project starts
You can ensure that you get a firm agreement with the client at your initial project kick-off meeting for the following:
- Number of iterations included in the estimate
- If any additional changes are requested they will be re-estimated at the time of the request and an additional estimate submitted for the client’s approval. Also flag up any increase in hourly rate for overtime/weekend work.
- Any changes falling out of the current scope will affect the timing schedule and therefore the agreed delivery date is subject to change
Ensure these terms are included in writing on any documentation that you give to the client too.
2. Agree who the decision makers are
Always check with your client who from their side will be the key decision makers for the approval of the work AND check that they will be available during the times that the project will need approving.
If for any reason someone isn’t available at the right time, ask the client to nominate another colleague.
This avoids any last minute client newcomers stepping in half way through to de-rail things.
If there are multiple approvers involved from the client’s side, it’s imperative that one person from the client side gathers all the feedback and gives it back to the agency in one go.
Many a young account handler has been burned (and blamed) when they are left to try to play co-ordinator for the client as well as for the agency.
Unless the account handler is based in the client’s office by prior agreement it doesn’t work!
3. Agree ways & times to communicate
Ongoing communication is vital for the smooth running of any project.
Ensure you agree the following with the client to ensure any hiccups are smoothed over quickly:
- How you’ll communicate; Landline? Mobile? Text? Email? What about if an urgent decision is needed?
- When you’ll communicate; What times are more convenient with the client? Are there any holidays planned? Who else can be contacted and what are their contact details? What about when it’s urgent?
4. Check with your internal agency team before making promises
Before agreeing to making any amends within the existing time line or within the existing budget, say to the client that you will check with your agency team and come back to them.
It’s unlikely you will be aware of the change implications in terms of time and resource required. Therefore it would be foolish to promise the client anything you couldn’t deliver as well as put your agency team under unnecessary pressure.
And finally remember to ask for a project review with the client once the project is complete to ensure you reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well.
Ask for feedback. It shows you are interested in improving the quality of service you offer and that you’re investing the time to ensure the client is happy with the service you provided.
Have you any additional points to add here regarding avoiding scope creep? Or any tales of woe at the hands of the creep? 😉