This section is about managing scope (defining scope is covered under Planning - Briefs and Planning - Project Plans). Specifically, this section is about scope creep which occurs after a project has been kicked off.
Be especially wary of scope creep in an in-house role. In-house creative teams are, in the best way, on the same “side” as their “clients.” As consequence, you aren’t charging your “client” for a specific scope of work. So when the scope changes, there aren’t any consequences for the “client.” If you don’t accept the changes, then you look like you’re not a team player. Let’s figure out how to avoid that.
What is Scope Creep?
Scope creep is when a project gradually expands beyond its original deliverables, boundaries or objectives and often without proper documentation, management or control. It is usually done without considering the potential impact on the timeline, budget (which doesn’t usually apply in-house), quality of work, or overall goals of the project.
Scope creep can occur due to a variety of reasons, most notably: unclear project requirements, inadequate planning, poor communication or a lack of stakeholder engagement or influence.
Unfortunately, the creative team is usually the last stop in the long line of any go-to-market plan so there’s never a lot of flexibility. Essentially, you get squished.
The Impacts of Scope Creep
An impactful change midway through a project usually doesn’t restart the project, which means it also doesn’t restart the review and approval process. For all intents and purposes, you now have a moving target. There will always be an initial scramble as you work to understand the implications of a change of scope, and here’s how things can be affected.
Timeline - You need to figure out what completed work is still viable, and what new work needs to be added to your project plan. Then, do what you normally do–break it up into manageable tasks, run the timeline back and see where things aren’t lining up. Did you build padding into the original timeline? Good thinking. You just used it.
Budget - If your client is paying for the work, then an expansion of scope will trigger a change order which comes with a cost. Likely, this wasn’t accounted for during original budget planning or contract signoff, so this usually blows the budget.
Quality of Work - With timing and resources constrained, unfortunately what also has to give is the quality of the work. With more to do on an accelerated timeline, the team won’t be able to put in the time and effort into each phase or deliverable as originally planned. Alternatively, you can pull in more resources, but that leads to opportunity costs (see below).
Opportunity Costs - Other projects in the queue might have to shift out or be paused completely. Make sure that your requestor understands they are cannibalizing other projects. Also ensure you are communicating to your other stakeholders that your team’s priorities have changed. Do your best to work with them on any flexibility they can offer.
Goals of the Project - With a change in scope, sometimes also comes a muddied change in direction. Without going back and re-vetting the brief, the objectives of the project can become diluted or skewed.
Morale - Scope creep will undoubtedly require an extra effort from your team. Either long days or evenings and weekends will crop up. If your team already completed work and that has to get thrown out, morale can start to take a serious hit. A team sprint once in a while (i.e. a couple times a year) perhaps comes with the territory, but when the team is pulling long weeks, week after week, you’re going to start seeing issues with retention.
What To Do
In summary, scope creep can be a draining exercise on the team. No one likes to scramble on projects so avoiding scope creep, or managing scope creep as best you can, will be integral to maintaining your and the team’s sanity.
How to effectively manage the different personalities you'll encounter on your team and how to set them up for success.
How to spot the difference between
good and bad feedback, and how to guide it.
Learn to identify the types of difficult stakeholders and how to proactively manage them.