What Is Scope Creep — And How To Keep It From Extending Your Projects

By Chelsea Williams
Senior Copywriter
Sep 14 2022 read

You’ve landed a big new client. Your team is excited to show what they can do. They prepare a quote, the client signs off and the project management phase is in full swing.

A few weeks in, your project manager discovers that the team missed a few task deadlines. They get things back on track internally, only to realize later that the source of the delay was an ad-hoc request that the client only communicated verbally. To satisfy this extra request, the team pushed the agreed-upon deliverables back. 

Because there was no clear change control process in place, the client assumes this is how communication with your team works, and it happens a few more times. Ultimately, the project is delayed by two months, but you can’t pinpoint a singular reason. The client may not be thrilled with the timeline extension, and your team feels confused about how things got out of control.

It’s a classic case of scope creep.

You’d imagine most businesses leave this trouble behind as they mature, but data shows that’s not the case.

PMI reported in 2021 that, in the 12 months prior, 34% of projects globally were impacted by scope creep and only 55% were completed on time. Those two stats are undoubtedly correlated, as unforeseen scope expansion frequently causes projects to extend beyond the original timeline.

Let’s review why your professional services business could be experiencing scope creep and how to prevent this common problem in the future.

Top Causes of Scope Creep

While the way your business manages projects may be unique, there are some factors that tend to result in uncontrolled scope expansion no matter the industry, client or type of work.

Scope creep often happens in circumstances characterized by:

  • A lack of clearly defined project deliverables and deadlines
  • Unclear employee utilization data that doesn’t reflect actual effort and time
  • Misunderstanding about the profitability of each client and type of work
  • An abundance of internal miscommunication and inefficiency
  • Excess ad-hoc work being completed without proper documentation
  • Inaccurate budget tracking
  • A failure to set healthy boundaries with clients
  • Inadequate or disjointed software tools

Steps for Sticking to Project Scope

Addressing each of the above causes is important, but the reality is that they’re all intertwined. It can help to have a simple review process to start with, then branch out to address each related element as needed.

1. Lead With Details

If your business doesn’t already have a thorough procedure for transitioning clients from signing a quote into actively communicating about a project, it’s time to establish one. Creating a work plan — sometimes referred to as a statement of work (SOW) — for each client is key. Templates and legal requirements vary based on your industry and the services you provide, but one factor should be consistent: the level of detail included.

Even if defining every small thing you’re promising to a client feels unnecessary, it’s a “better safe than sorry” situation. You’re protecting your time and money by overcommunicating from the get-go.

PRO TIP FOR BETTER PROJECT PLANNING: Use templates! In Accelo, estimates and project plans are templated similarly and connected to projects, so the transition from sales to client work is a breeze, no matter how you prefer to create work plans.

Accelo's project templates provide customization to fit your workflow and simplify your project planning.

2. Follow Through With Internal Workflows

Clients may not see what happens behind the scenes once a project has begun, but any inefficiencies or missteps will impact the relationship and potentially reduce its lifetime value. Sending the client a plan isn’t enough to ensure your team accomplishes it.

The solution: clear, documented workflows. Specifying the steps and assignments that make up each process your team executes will not only help you hold your staff accountable, but it can prevent misunderstandings and unintentional oversight.

HOW TECH CAN HELP: A smart tech platform replaces manual steps in your workflow with easy automation. Accelo users love our “Convert to Project” button! In one simple step, you can turn a quote that your new client accepts via the client portal into a project. The platform can automatically build out task assignments and carry over budget details from the sales process, too — you just have to pick the start and due dates to get rolling on client work. 

Quotes in Accelo's Sales product allow users to convert approved quotes to new projects.

3. Revisit Contracts and Service Packages 

Perhaps your business has grown, but the way you engage clients hasn’t. When are your team’s boundaries often violated? Which deliverables are frequently delayed? Are there any services that aren’t profitable anymore?

It might be necessary to rework what you’re promising to avoid the scope creep you’ve been experiencing. That could involve adjusting contract or proposal language, repackaging services based on market demand or brainstorming a new direction altogether.

IS IT TIME FOR A NEW SALES PROCESS? If you don’t enjoy serving clients like you once did, it could be time to pivot. But how will you sell a new service? It can help to tighten up your sales journey first, using more than a basic CRM. Managing sales in Accelo gives you the visibility and data you need to see how prospects respond to new offerings.

Accelo's Sales dashboard provides full visibility into your sales process.

READ NEXT: 5 Quick Tips to Improve Your Sales Process

4. Seek Recurring Work

Recurring work is one of the best sources of revenue security for service businesses. You should aim to have as many clients on retainers as possible. 

If you approach the transition from one-off work to ongoing work carefully, it can present an opportunity to correct and prevent scope creep. Use this period to discuss budgets and communication protocol and redefine each client’s expectations for future work.

A MODEL FOR INCREASING RECURRING WORK: How a successful marketing agency has used Accelo to transition one-off projects into recurring work for 10 years

Scope creep isn’t something you have to accept as a service professional, but you might need some support so it doesn’t become an unhealthy pattern for your business. Schedule a demo of Accelo to identify ways to limit its impact.




About the Author


Chelsea Williams is Senior Copywriter at Accelo, where she shares unique insights with service professionals and tells user stories via blogs, eBooks, industry reports and more. She has over 15 years of B2B and B2C writing experience — primarily in tech, sales, education and healthcare. Chelsea is an AWAI-certified Master Copywriter trained in brand storytelling and microcopy.

Schedule a Live Demo
Tailored to your business All questions answered
Request a Time
Accelo uses cookies to give you the best possible experience - by clicking 'Continue' you agree to our use of cookies. Refer to our Privacy Policy for details. Continue