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Scope Creep: Are You Extra-Creative or Just Really Disorganized?

woman holding lightbulb, having an idea.

If you’ve ever organized a project or site for a client (you’re here, so we’re pretty sure you have), you’ve hopefully also felt the thrill of the “lightbulb moment”. 

You know the feeling—you’re racing through assignments, inspired, with lightbulbs of ideas flashing one after another in your head like the Ferris wheel at a state fair. You have ideas for spinoff projects, additional features, the next phases, and more. You’re rocking and rolling.

When you’re really right-brained or passionate about your projects and clients, this happens often. And of course, your clients appreciate this enthusiasm and passion for their projects. But sometimes you can be passionate to a fault. 

You see, those blazes of passionate, project-related glory, if not monitored carefully, can lead to scope creep. 

What is Scope Creep?

According to Wikipedia, scope creep “refers to continuous changes or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope, at any point after the project begins.” If you’ve got those Ferris wheel lights flashing in your head and you act on them, that’s scope creep.

Wikipedia goes on to say that scope creep in itself is not a bad thing; however, left uncontrolled, it has the potential to derail projects and leave clients frustrated and waiting on their original task. 

Here’s an example: 

boxes of vegetables

Your client, a farmer, gives you the task of sorting radishes and carrots into two separate boxes. Instead of simply doing what you’ve been asked, you try to expand on radish characterization by grouping carrots by color and size. You even come up with the schematics for a new radish-and-carrot collection and cleaning machine. 

Everything you’ve devised for the farmer is innovative and helpful in the long run. But he initially asked you to simply sort radishes and carrots. You spent two weeks implementing a new process without completing what was asked of you.

In the end, you feel underappreciated for your brilliant ideas, and the poor farmer still doesn’t have his root vegetables sorted, boxed, and ready to go. 

Now, everybody feels rotten.

woman with head on computer

Disorganization Red Flags

While it can sometimes be tricky to determine the direct causes of scope creep (other than a proactive mind), there are many red flags that can help you determine whether your brilliant ideas are teetering on the edge of the scope-creep category.

Loose ends everywhere

Creative minds often produce new ideas faster than the old ones can be processed, organized, and completed. What’s more, those ideas often come as chain reactions in the middle of other tasks. This is both excellent for a project and deadly for its completion.

If you’re sitting surrounded by a pile of great ideas that lack dotted i’s and crossed t’s, you might be looking at a scope creep situation.

Pushing back deadlines to include new ideas

As in the farmer example, projects have expiration dates or at least ideal timeframes (for the client and for you) for completion.

An occasional extension is understandable and part of working in a field where there can be many complications. However, multiple extensions for “exploring possibilities” could threaten both the project and your agency’s relationship with the client.

No clear trajectory

There are highways leading straight to a destination and roads that wind through the mountains with no clear destination. If you hope to deliver a project in a timeframe the client also considers acceptable, the last option is not the choice.

Low output-to-idea ratio

Creativity is absolutely imperative for creating a project that stands out from the crowd, but your ideas can’t be too much larger than the work you have to show for them. 

Don’t leave clients wondering what they’re paying for—even Bach and Beethoven had to produce compositions on occasion.

man looking at multiple screens

Ideas for Keeping Scope Creep from Lurking Onto Your Projects

There’s no reason to feel attacked—projects and ideas get out of hand, especially when they’re in the hands of creative minds. However, there are many ways to ensure that you’re both producing work for your clients in a reasonable time frame and adding your own creative flair.

Define parameters early

Remember our friend, the farmer? He wants his carrots and radishes in the right boxes, and he wants it done by next Saturday. 

No matter how you get it done, establish from the beginning that the vegetables will be in the boxes by next Saturday. If you can do this a) before the deadline and b) at or near budget, even better.

Regular client communication 

Besides an initial meeting to establish parameters, make sure that your client is well aware of what’s going on. Run ideas by them so they can see what you’re doing and even hold you accountable by asking questions about your progress.

And remember—a small deadline extension is okay, but multiple deadline extensions are risky.

Embrace creative detours—in a separate folder

No client on Earth (at least, that we’ve heard of) will take offense to someone taking an active, creative interest in all of the possibilities for their agency. At the end of the day, though, they have a need, and it needs to be filled.

You most likely know better about all of the tricks and possibilities for site-building and management than your client does. You could probably build the greatest site this world has ever seen, given an infinite amount of time.

But like the carrots and radishes, your client has an infinite amount of ripeness, or in this case, patience. 

Keep those extra ideas tucked away—they’re valuable! You can dole them out gradually, teasing the client with upgrade possibilities after the project’s first iteration has been delivered.

Appoint a project manager within your team (or outsource the duties)

There’s nothing like accountability to keep even the most creative person vaguely on track. 

If you’re struggling to deliver your projects on time, ask someone on your team to help keep things moving forward, ask questions, and maintain deadlines. That frees you up to be your creative, potentially-disorganized self.

If you’re a one-person team, consider using project management software (check out this article for some ideas and opinions) or outsourcing your project management (ask us about it!)

Even if you’re a micro agency with multiple employees, a third-party service eliminates any hesitations your staff members might have facing you.

More Creativity, Less Creep 

There’s an art to finding your ideal creep-creativity balance and constructing optimal output. It takes practice and maybe even a little discomfort. 

Adjusting our mindsets to put deadlines and clients first, above our own desires, is an important skill set. It’s worth the effort for longer-lasting client relationships and the chance to create true works of art further down the line.

Remember, though, to never lose sight of the principles and creativity that make your agency shine! 

(Just don’t let those vegetables rot in the meantime.)

For more ideas on how to minimize scope creep and keep your clients happy, check out this super-informative webinar we held recently with Perfect Evolution founder Marcus Ohanesian.

And for more ideas, commiseration, and encouragement about scope creep and all other agency-related topics, come join us over at our Digital Agency Owners Facebook group. It’s a fun place for people who love getting things done(and those who want to learn)!


Abigail Brooks Santana

Abigail Brooks Santana

Abigail Brooks Santana is a Dedicated Copywriter with GoWP who loves to work with words and challenging ideas! Abigail is a native of Montgomery, Alabama, but now lives in the Portuguese countryside, where she and her partner breed and train Lusitano horses.

You’ll be joining a community of highly-vetted digital agencies and web professionals with one common goal — growth! Learn more. 


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