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How 7 Web Design Professionals Keep Projects Within Scope

by Crazy Egg Experts

My wife does it to me all the time.

We set out to paint the living room.  While we’re at it, we might as well paint the hallway right? Heck, if we’re going to do the hallway, we might as well repaint the bathroom too.  If we are going to get all the painting stuff out, we might as well do the master bedroom.  And wouldn’t it be fun to change the look of our daughters room?

Ugh.  It’s called scope creep.  And, while it may eat up a lot of my Sunday afternoons it can also eat up the profits in a web design project.

We asked our Crazy Egg Web Design experts how they keep web design projects within scope.

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The best way to protect any project from getting out of scope is a clear and concise contract/proposal. Contracts need to communicate exactly what will be done for various circumstances. Setting boundaries and expectations is the name of the game. Our project managers do a great job of setting expectations and being clear with our customers and clients on day one. Here are some of the clauses and information we communicate in our contracts that have helped us tremendously:

1. Explain what is not included when applicable and appropriate.

2. Setup hold fees for times where there are no appropriate responses.

3. Explain exactly what happens when out of scope tasks are requested.

4. Explain process for adding-on work to a current contract.

We are very proactive with clients during their projects and have weekly status updates that involve feedback and participation. Documentation goes a long way when keeping true to contract requirements and clarifies many questions for customers when things change – as they do frequently. There is nothing wrong with doing a little extra at no charge, but please make this clear with your client and set a precedence for how, why, and when you will do it. You don’t want to set the wrong expectations for free work at all times.

Honesty, transparency, and consistency are traits that help us the most at SimpleFlame.
~ Cesar Keller, SimpleFlame

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One of the most helpful techniques is to create a comprehensive wireframe of the site. This way your client knows exactly what you are proposing before you get too far into graphic design or development. It also helps clients understand why any additions to the wireframe can lead to changes in proposed costs or deadlines.
~ Shane Adreon, The Loud Few

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Common techniques to protect myself from web projects getting out of scope are to address in the contract or proposal how many revisions are to be allotted. By establishing this up front, you put the authority in your hands, preventing the client from coming back to you when something needs updated. It’s also important to set deadlines and dates for various stages of delivery, letting the client know that milestones depend on the client’s approval and delays on their part will affect the overall timeline. In your contract you can also include in your ‘Terms and Conditions’ any fees that will be accessed from either party for delays in getting materials to each other.
~ Stephanie Hamilton, Stephanie Hamilton Design

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Documentation is key. Whether you have a client or you work for a big company, documentation and making that documentation available to your client/company is essential. Keep functional requirements and timelines in your document. If it helps, also keep a to do list in it with name of the person who is working on each item and the name of the requester for that item. It helps everybody stay on the same page, and you can make note of when scope or requirements are modified.
~ Lara Swanson, Dyn

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This is a lesson most freelancers and new business owners do not fully understand or prepare for until it happens. The most important part of scoping a project is to ensure you very clearly understand and define what you will be doing for the client and what you will be delivering. Rather than scoping in something like “we will build a photo gallery solution for the client,” be specific about the functionality of the photo gallery solution: “the photo gallery will support up to 50 images, allow the user to upload up to 50 jpg, gif, png images, and will include thumbnail navigation as well as left/right arrows.” It may take longer to write proposals when you’re specifying all the details of each part of the project, but in the long run, the details will keep you from losing money and respect.
~ Chris Wallace, Lift

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Make sure that you began the project with a clear scope. If a project calls for custom work of any kind, we start with a paid evaluation. If they won’t pay for the evaluation, that’s our first red flag and we just saved ourselves a lot of pain. With a paid evaluation complete, though, we have a thoroughly and carefully developed scope (its hard to make a clear scope when you’re also trying to sell the project and you haven’t seen a dime yet) and a high likelihood that we’re going to get the project. Then, as the project moves forward, the scope is in place and can be referred back to with confidence knowing that planning work has already been done and it’s been done right.

Also, communicate – a lot. Make sure the end of the project clear and that the client knows what to expect and when to expect it. If you’re sending the invoice on the 20th right before the project goes live, let them know a week before, and then another week before that.
~ Jonathan Wold, Sabramedia, LLC

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Clearly define your scope in your work statement or bid. That way you have something to refer to as you as your client continues to ask for changes. Make sure to address:

– How many design concepts are you going to present. What happens if they don’t like it. How many minor revisions do they get?

– How many pages will the site have? Will it have the same experience on a mobile device and on older browsers? Which browsers will you support?

Also address how changes will be estimated and billed.
~ Brian Schwartz, Spoke Marketing

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What methods do you use to keep web design projects in scope?  Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy of rsgranne

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  1. Jack Bremer says:
    October 21, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Wow, this is a brilliant article and set of recommendations from real developers and project managers, thank you! Have noted some of these down to add to our processes.

  2. Robert Taylor says:
    October 21, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I run a software company so am more involved in software than design but I think the same principles apply.

    When designing a solution, you are naturally in a positive frame of mind. If you make beautiful designs, your clients will be in a positive frame of mind when reviewing the designs. Even looking at wireframes, the client is looking for what works rather than what doesn’t work. I think this is where the problems start.

    Scope creep arises later down the line when the client finally properly engages with the design and starts to see what’s wrong with it.

    In his book, “The Art of Software Testing”,Glenford Myres defines software testing as follows: “Testing is the process of executing a program with the intent of finding errors.” I think that’s the attitude to adopt when reviewing your proposed solution with the client.

    Try to pick as many faults as you can in what you have done. Try to identify the inherent constraints within your solution and highlight these to the client to confirm they are acceptable. Think of some scenarios or use cases that might break your solution.

    Get your client into the right frame of mind by telling them you feel you have come up with a pretty good solution but you need their help to find what you have missed. Make it clear that this is a bug-finding exercise.

    This process may identify some new requirements that you feel are out of scope, but if you are going to have an argument about scope, this is the best time to have it.

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      October 24, 2011 at 8:41 am

      Robert, excellent advice. The common thread that runs through everyone’s answer to this question is COMMUNICATION with the client. Thanks for this comment!

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