October 17, 2020

Reader question: “How do I avoid scope creep on a value priced project?”

Fellow list member Jonathan Quaade wrote in to ask (shared with permission):

Hello Jonathan

Thanks for your daily emails and help setting a young designer/developers like myself onto the right path! I had a question –

How do you avoid scope creep in a project that has been priced according to value?

I’ve priced according to the clients business objectives and essentially the business objectives are the deliverables. However, if the client asks late in the project for e.g additional web pages or a custom search bar, how should one handle that conversation if you think it would help you deliver to business objectives but is making the project unprofitable?

Thank you so much!



I can’t quite tell from this message if JQ is conflating objectives with outputs (i.e., “business objectives are the deliverables”), so just to be clear for everyone’s benefit:

Here's a list of deliverables:

Now here's a list of business objectives:

Notice that the deliverables (aka outputs) are things and the business objectives (aka results) are changes.

Once you know the desired business objective, you do your best to keep everyone laser focused on reaching it.

If the client requests something that is unlikely to contribute to the desired outcome, you shouldn’t do it. Not because “it’s out of scope”, but because spending time and money on distractions will jeopardize the success of the project. It’s in the client’s best interest for you to say no to distractions.

If on the other hand, the client’s request will likely contribute to the desired outcome, then you’ll want to do it because it means you can declare victory sooner. The sooner you finish, the more profitable you’ll be.

One last thought...

If you are able to keep the client focused on the desired outcome, and you still feel like you’re losing money because it turned out that it was more work than you expected, then your price was too low in the first place.

If you doubled your price, I doubt you’d still feel like an additional web page here and there was losing you money.

Of course, the client might not have agreed to a price that was twice as high, but that’s a different problem.



P.S. For more detail on managing scope on value priced projects, check out this episode of Ditching Hourly