6 Proven Strategies To Prevent Scope Creep

Written by Tayo Solagbade

Topics: Entrepreneurship

Author note: My original intention was to get this piece published as a guest post elsewhere. And I did send it out to three different blogs (from 4th August 2012). The first replied that it was not a good fit for his blog audience. The second replied they were no longer accepting “writers”. I was still waiting to hear from the third, when I decided it would be better to host it on my own blog. I hope you find it useful, and look forward to any comments you might have. – Tayo K. Solagbade – 12th August 2012


Has this ever happened to you as a service provider? That dreadful situation in which you find yourself having to continue working on a project – without getting paid – long after you should have been done with it…because you want to “satisfy” your client?

A Sitepoint.com Buildmobile article I recently read titled 4 Ways To Avoid Scope Creep And Still Please Your Clients, discussed aspects of this thorny issue of scope creep quite well. It also reminded me of a number of similarly themed articles I’ve written in the past, such as:

a. Should You Worry If A client Says You’re Too Expensive?” – that I wrote on my website on 7th March 2009 (and later published on Ezinearticles on Dec 14, 2010).

b. The Customer Will NOT Always Be Right: Don’t Be A Victim Of Entrepreneur Abuse™!” – that I wrote on my website on in March 2006

c. Entrepreneurs Need Opportunities To Serve For A Profitable Fee – NOT Handouts Or Pity!” – that I wrote on my website in June 2006 (and later published on Ezinearticles on July 18, 2006).

The above list shows my passion for this subject. And that’s because this problem happens a lot in the society I operate as a service provider. In reflecting on the experiences I have had since writing my above mentioned articles, I realized there were strategies I had successfully developed that I could share with others.

The Sitepoint article had touched on two of them. But I saw that I could go deeper even on those, and offer ideas/tools that readers could study, and put to effective use. Plus, there were other strategies that had worked for me . What I offer in this new write-up therefore, are more specific/additional details of practical guidelines, and tools. Anyone facing the dilemma of dealing with scope creep, can reliably adopt them to “deliver quality service without tears“.

You Don’t Have To Re-Invent The Wheel

We all dislike project scope creep. But many professionals have difficulty deciding how much “extra work” to accept – without charging additional fees – from a client, outside the original deliverables they quoted against. Do you have that problem? If yes, you are not alone. As human beings we are reluctant to say “no” to others. However, that attitude can hurt your business badly, if you are not careful.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve learnt – the hard way – how to effectively handle clients’ requests that fall outside the originally agreed scope of work for a project. By reflecting on my experiences, researching the web and adapting ideas from articles, reports, forum discussions etc, I have evolved a system that now works for me.

It was however a slow – and sometimes painful – process. And if you can, I’d urge you to avoid subjecting yourself to similar hardship, by learning what you can from experienced associates, and also through articles like this one.

In the rest of this post, I discuss six (6) strategies you can use to keep scope creep at bay, based on my personal experiences with clients in a wide variety of industries (e.g. real estate, medicine, finance, hospitality, construction, travel and tourism, photography, consulting etc),

1. Agree Project Deliverables Before You Start

I typically require clients to complete an MS Excel spreadsheet “form” I created and named “Scope definition/Functional Requirements Specification (FRS)“.

Click here to instantly download a PDF sample of my Project Scope definition/FRS template that you can study. No signup is necessary.

Apart from basic client and project information that I fill in at the top, the following description appears just above the blank table to be filled in by the client (with my guidance):

===Start of excerpt====

The FRS is a detailed list – that can be ticked off by the client during program test-run – specifying what the client WANTS the program to be able to do. Preparing/agreeing a formal FRS document ensures both parties know what is expected to be in place at the end of the project. Discussions will be held with client on [agreed meeting date] to finalize. Client to review and formally sign off.

===End of excerpt====

Below that introductory text are cells into which descriptions of individual deliverables, once agreed with the client, can be typed – and numbered. A 30 minute to one hour session with the client is usually enough to fill in this document.

Once the full list of deliverables is reviewed and accepted by the client as representative of all s/he wants, I send in my estimated fees. We negotiate, and agree on a final value. Work commences when the advance fee specified on the FRS is paid.

Click here to instantly download a PDF sample of my FRS template that you can study. No signup is necessary. Later in this article, I supply details of how you can get a copy of the free and editable MS Excel version, if you’re interested.

2. Encourage The Client To Use the FRS

During project review (or as we progress), I encourage the client to run through the FRS “checklist” and tick off any items s/he confirms to have been delivered, so as to identify those yet to be done – if any. I explain to him/her that doing so will make it easy to know when ALL that s/he asked for has been covered.

Some clients – seeing that it captures their stated preferences – gladly use my FRS to check the work they hire me to do for them.

The FRS also helps me curb my excesses. Like most people who enjoy what they do, I sometimes get carried away, when I am excited about the possibilities I see in a client’s project. But one look at the FRS often reminds me to avoid over-kill, and focus on delivering what has been agreed, plus a little extra, without going overboard.

In essence, this strategy of using a Functional Requirements Specification document, can result in a win-win for both parties.

3. Tactfully Handle Out of Scope Request(s)

It goes without saying, that some clients will make extra requests that may not be covered by the agreed entries in the FRS. You should expect that – and be prepared to handle it.

Basically, if I think the out-of-scope request is not something I can do without expending quality billable time and effort, I simply put a smile on my face, and politely say something like this:

Sorry, but this request falls outside the scope of work we agreed. If you had brought it up when we were preparing the FRS, it would probably have been easier to incorporate – possibly even without any additional expense. As things stand, we’ll have to discuss doing this as an extension of the original scope. And then I’ll advise you on applicable fees.

Then we would discuss, and come to an agreement.

Now, don’t be fooled by the above statement. It sounds simpler than doing it really is. Sometimes in order to “come to an agreement” you may have to endure attempts by the client to “haggle” (and I do mean “haggle” as opposed to negotiating) over the price to pay.

If you give in, and accept peanuts to do the “extra” work, you could set yourself up to never be able to get paid better in future by that client.

Make sure you set the price high for doing any out-of-scope work. I usually start out by telling clients the minimum payment I would accept to work on basic tasks – no matter how briefly. It used to be an hourly rate. But now, it’s just a flat rate determined by my assessment of the degree of difficulty, and estimation of the potential value added (time, cost and/or effort savings) to the client’s business.

Some clients can be quite persuasive (or manipulative?). I have however found that it pays to fully inform them of how you work from the start. Later, when they make demands you know you cannot meet without requesting additional payment, you’ll be able to remind them that you told them (see code of ethics below).

When you do so, if the extra work s/he wants is really important, the client will be prepared to “negotiate” with you. If it’s just based on a whim, s/he is likely to say “Okay, let’s forget it.” And you would be better off. Free to move on and use your time more productively!

4. Use a Code of Ethics to Guide Yourself

Here are excerpts from a 10 item code of ethics that I keep reciting in my head, whenever I “smell” project scope creep. It’s adapted from that used by Pierre LeClerc, a seasoned Excel-VB developer whose work I admire greatly.

Article 1: “The well informed – and profitable client – is always right.

Article 2: If the client is not well informed, I have not done my job.

Article 4: I don’t do miracles and I know when to say “No.”

10 item code of ethics that guides me in my work - click to download PDF version

5. Learn To Identify Good Clients From “Not-Good” Clients

I prefer not to say “bad clients”. But some people do not make good clients. In your business life you will come across (for your sake I hope it will only be) a few.

And they are unlikely to respect your need to be profitable – no matter what systems you put in place to protect yourself. Some will throw tantrums. Others may go as far as trying to arm-twist or even threaten you with force, to get you to do extra work they have no intention of paying you for.

This is why you must invest some time and effort into learning how to quickly differentiate good from “not-good” clients. Fail to do this, and all the tips offered above may do you little good. I say this from very personal experience – some of which has been quite nasty. Need help learning to do that? Get in touch with me.

6. Never Sacrifice Yourself to Satisfy Your Clients

As a service provider, you are a professional. Therefore, and to paraphrase the late, legendary consultant’s consultant – Herman Holtz (author of the classic “How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant“): always act like one!

If you let clients make you jump through hoops to “satisfy” them, you do yourself major harm. For one thing, you are likely to lose their respect. And you may also go out of business.

Realize that pleasing clients in a way that causes you to become unprofitable is not a smart way to do business. Except you run a charity, your service business goal should be to make enough money to retain profits. That’s stating the obvious.

Tip: Jason Leister has the above philosophy totally “locked down”. For instance, in a past issue of his Art of Clients newsletter, he warned service providers against getting afflicted with the “Messiah Syndrome“. I define this as the harmful mental state in which you forget to look out for YOUR own business interests, in a bid to “save your clients” from the “dangers” your expert insight reveals to you. I suggest you sign up for Jason’s newsletter. He offers unbelievable value with amazing regularity.


You can easily utilize the above strategies without offending. If any client takes offense, it will most likely be because s/he is a “not-good” client.

When I notice any signs of a “not-good” client before I take on a project formally, here’s one phrase that usually instructs my next line of action: “Flee from all appearances of evil.

If you think that’s extreme, believe me when I say it’s not. Some not-good clients can go to extremes to have their way. And if they have money, power and/or influence, you could really be in for it. It’s better not to start anything with them at all.

NB: If you’d like to have the editable MS Excel version of my Functional Requirements Specification template, subscribe to the mailing list on my blog, and I’ll send it to you.

Got Comments?

What experiences have you had with project scope creep? Do you have any tips or perspectives you can add to the above? Share your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!


[IMPORTANT: This blog's contents are being updated following the transfer to www.tayosolagbade.com from my former domain - Spontaneousdevelopment.com. As a result, some parts of it may not work properly for now. Quick Tip: If a link contains "spontaneousdevelopment.com", simply change it to "tayosolagbade.com" - and it should work. This applies to article links as well as image links. Work continues to update the links(in over 500 articles). Tayo K. Solagbade.]

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