Handling Project Scope Creep
We have all been there. The project is moving along smoothly when the following conversation takes place.
Now you are stuck in a potentially costly situation either in terms of financial cost if you make the change for free or reputation cost if you flat out reject the client's request. Fortunately, most the time there are steps you can take to handle this situation gracefully.
1. Lay the appropriate ground work
The best way to handle this situation is to make sure you lay the appropriate ground work long before you ever reach this point. Are you designing an HMI? Then take the time to set up a meeting to discuss the details of the graphics being used. By ensuring that everyone is on the same page at the beginning and then documenting the results of those meeting you will prevent the vast majority of major change requests and project scope creeps. Moreover, major deviations from that plan will be clear-cut change requests that they will pay you for.
One of my favorite sayings is "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now." If you failed to lay the ground work at the beginning of the project and you find yourself having to make huge changes, potentially at a loss, then make sure you lay the ground work now! Do not let yourself fall into the same mistake twice.
2. Remember they are not the enemy
Let's be honest, when the project is all but done and a huge change is being demanded for free it is hard to not see them as an opponent in the opposite corner of the ring, but they are not. Think about it from their perspective; in their mind they paid a lot of money for the system "to work." They are not thinking about the fact that someone, possibly the person making the demand, sat down with you or an engineering firm and came up with the current solution after weeks or months of research. All they are thinking about is it is "not working."
Find out what they mean by "not working", take charge in finding a solution if you can, and then present it to them. By acting as someone on their team rather than as an opponent then they are going to be more understanding of change orders.
3. Be willing to make some changes for free
This can be a hard thing, especially at the end of a project when you just want the job done, but you need to be willing to make changes when the client asks you to. No matter how much work you do up front, something will come up requiring you to make a change at some point in the project so make sure you budget for that eventuality when you make a proposal. As long as it is a quick change, do it! The continued satisfaction of your client is worth more in reputation capital than the small cost of making the change.
4. Make them at the right time
Some changes are so fast and easy, that it takes less time to make the change than it does to hear the request. For the rest make sure you are doing them at the right time. Encourage the client to make a list of changes they would like while you are deploying it when possible. This prevents endless change requests derailing your momentum and it allows the client to see how much time all the changes they are asking for will really take. Depending on the type of requests and how far outside the scope they are it might just be the difference between doing the work for free and getting paid for it.
5. Be mindful of who is asking
There is no delicate way to say this, sometimes the person with the least authority to request a change, is the person you have to sit next to for the whole project. And you better believe they have an opinion about every color being one shade too something, every position being one pixel off, and every piece of equipment needing to look exactly the way it does in the field right down to the last scratch. It is important to both be respectful to the person asking and to make sure that change request are coming through the right channel. The last thing you want is to be stuck between two opposing ideas and changing things back and forth endlessly.
Most the time this entire scenario can be defused simply by asking the individual to write down their requests. Let them know that you already signed documents stating how things should look (you did do that, right?), but you will see what you can do about presenting the list to their supervisor and getting the changes approved. And then do it! It is a novel idea, I know, but make sure that you do what you promise. It can be hard to make up for loss finical capital, but it is usually impossible to make up lost reputation capital.
6. Pick your battles carefully
No one likes a broken record and if every time the client asks you for some minor tweak you respond with, "That is not in the scope" things are going to get tense and unfriendly quick. However, there comes a point where a change represents such a huge change from what was in the scope and what was agreed that you must tell them no. Do not be afraid of it and do not be rude about it.
We hope you find these tips useful the next time you are faced with that dreaded out of scope request. Remember that Proverbs 15:1 teaches that, "A soft answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger." No matter what the outcome of the request is, a soft answer and an understanding mindset will deescalate a tense situation and someone who you are on friendly terms with will be more likely to reach a deal with you than someone you are yelling at.
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