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How to Minimize Scope Creep

Use Structured Project Planning to Stop Scope Creep at Your MSP

The following includes a brief recap of Moovila’s recent webinar, which can also be found on-demand

Scope creep is destructive to any project. It can be hard to prevent, though, because the catalyst often happens long before you know there is trouble.

According to the Project Management Institute, scope creep happens when extra features or requirements are added to a project without addressing how they affect time, costs, and resources. Maybe it started with a small favor. Weeks later, though, things are spinning out of control.

How scope creep starts

“At its core, scope creep is a misunderstanding,” explains Bucky Jobe, VP of Operations at Moovila. “It happens because your expectations are not aligned with the customer’s. Maybe you failed to define and review what would be accomplished in the timeframe for the cost.”

“Other times,” says Jobe, “the problem lies with a customer who hasn’t communicated their expectations.”

“Usually, though,” says Jobe. “It’s a combination of these two things happening simultaneously.”

Scope creep can be devastating but if the catalyst moment is managed well, according to PMI, it can also be an opportunity.

The devil is in the (lack of) details

“A lot of times we see unclear expectations happen early in the sales process,” says Jobe. “The sales team doesn’t communicate the customer’s needs to the solutions architect and project manager who then don’t outline expectations to the customer.”

“A lot of MSPs present a scope with a fee and little detail,” says Louis Bagdonas, Senior Program Manager – MSPs at Moovila.

This leads to misunderstandings.

“If you don’t have a scope of work that includes every detail, it is hard to explain the limits of the project or put together a schedule,” he says. “That schedule – and the milestones along the way – need to be clear to everyone.”

“Often, a customer will call, and the MSP sends over a scope for signatures,” agrees Jobe. “But we have seen customers have success by taking the time to talk over that scope of work – line by line – making sure the customer understands it and that the MSP understands the customer’s needs.”

Turning confusion into opportunity

“They are hiring you for your expertise,” says Jobe. “You may find, in that discussion, an understanding of what they need that they might not have arrived at on their own.”

You might discover they need more work than they realized, which not only lets you build it into your scope and prevent scheduling problems later but also expands the client’s service contract.

Once you have defined the project and made the details clear, appoint someone to hold everyone accountable to the scope – as well as delivery dates and task completion. “Without someone constantly striving to assign tasks, push toward goals, push tickets onto specific engineers, and hit deadlines,” warns Bagdonas, “scope creep will take over.”

If you have these pieces in place, it is easy to identify change. Everyone knows – your team, the customer, the project manager, and the project management tool – what is included. So, everyone can see when something is not.

That leaves the question: Is the change significant enough to change the project?

Define what creep means to you

A client asking a technical question in the elevator probably doesn’t trigger a change to the project schedule, price, or delivery date. But adding, say, an Amazon MRP installation to a project that was scoped as only Amazon ERP likely does.

But where is the line? When does a small favor become scope creep?

“Relationship building work is valuable” says Jobe. “But if you don’t document it and make it clear how much of it you are willing to do for free and when you will charge for it, it will become death by a thousand cuts.”

“You need to define what scope creep means to your organization,” agrees Bagdonas. “Is it one hour? Ten hours? One dollar? $10,000?”

Design your scope change strategy

Once you define it, come up with a clear change protocol and make sure everyone knows how to implement it.

Do they call a meeting? Loop in the project manager? Does the PM rescope the original project or spin up a new one?

“That change-control process doesn’t only apply to things that are billable or material changes,” says Jobe. “It governs anything that is outside the original scope, anything that requires you to revisit the plan.”

Maybe the change is extensive enough to warrant scoping a new project for it. Maybe it adds a few days to the current one. If you have the tools to easily make those changes – or quickly scope a new one –communicating the new expectations to your team and the costs and schedule to the client should be simple.

“It is good for your customer relationships if you bring them into these conversations,” says Jobe. “This kind of transparency creates trust.”

Clear expectations + an accurate plan = higher margins

Once you have tamed scope creep, the next step is to making it an opportunity is to do a project post-mortem.

“This is the single most important step toward improving profitability,” says Bagdonas. It helps you iterate towards efficiency. “We have seen MSPs who put a review of the project in as the last task,” he says. “Everyone sits down to discuss and document what went well, what didn’t, and what everyone learned.”

Done well, this will improve your processes. “Compare your plan to what happened,” says Jobe. “Was your budget over or under? Were your timeframes on target?”

The answers will show you where you can tighten things up, when to raise prices, if you can offer discounts, and much more.

Connect with Moovila’s project management experts referenced here on LinkedIn: Bucky Jobe and Louis Bagdonas. You can learn more about Perfect Project and its integration to ConnectWise PSA on the Perfect Project Marketplace page.