How to Manage Scope Creep and Keep Your Deadlines and Clients Under Control

How to Manage Scope Creep and Keep Your Deadlines and Clients Under Control

We’ve figured out what scope creep is. Now let’s figure out how to manage it properly. Our monkey figured it out as well - that’s why he’s not angry anymore.

Keeping Scope Creep Under Control

Sure, creating a well-defined project scope statement (signed off by all stakeholders), maintaining a strict schedule, and delivering regular progress reports is something you must do to diminish the possibility of scope creep. But what should you do about the times that just isn’t enough?

Involve your client in the process

This is how you prevent late (and overdue) feedback. Regular progress reports and emails will keep your client in the loop (sort of), but won’t let them fully immerse themselves in the process.

Let them get on board: introduce them to your process, and allow them to get involved. If the client has a complete overview of the entire project, you can rest assured that you will get your feedback - whether you like it or not.

Note that this approach may turn your client into an “overly eager” one. But have no fear, we got you covered - just stick with the post until the end.

Be proactive and dictate the changes to the project

By being “reactive only”, you will either create an “everything goes” atmosphere (hello, scope creep!), or end up with a client who’s unsatisfied by the lack of initiative you show.

Keep in mind that the best defense is a good offense, so maintaining a constant flow of improvement proposals is something that will keep the client occupied with your ideas, instead of giving them time to think of their own. Similarly, when you receive an unrealistic request, use your influence and provide a series of alternative suggestions - usually, the client will be willing to hear you out and go with the flow.

Create a change-control protocol

Scope change may be abrupt, but its implementation doesn’t have to be chaotic. When it happens, knowing how it will be done and by whom is essential. Limit the number of people that can request the scope change, and designate only a select few to grant them.

As clients’ additional requests are usually the cause of the scope creep, they should be introduced to the protocol at the very beginning. It will show them that neither you (nor your team) are pushovers and that every additional request comes with extra costs and delays.


Sometimes, you have to hit them where it hurts - and clients (as well as the rest of us) tend to be sensitive when money is at stake. If you get a sense that something about your client’s behavior may be off (missed meetings, unanswered emails, wildly different requests during initial briefings), do not hesitate to introduce additional change fees in your initial scope statement. For example, you can charge twice as much for each working hour outside of the project scope.

This approach has a double benefit:

  1. It will turn away clients who are not serious about their commitment to the project;
  2. It will make your client think twice before impulsively adding new requests;

Keep in mind that by implementing these tactics, you are setting yourself up for an extended preparation period. Not allowing your clients to think things through, while conditioning them with high late fees, is nothing short of unprofessional.

To summarize: Whenever you face uncertainty, don’t think twice - turn to paperwork and the initial project scope statement. If the client insists on implementing changes beyond the scope, use the change control protocol you’ve established. Just be transparent and inform them of the effects their requests will have on a project’s budget and deadlines.

Keeping an (Overly) Eager Client Under Control

The project you are currently working on is well in Q3. The client schedules a meeting. You sit down, and the first words that come out of their mouth are: “Your work has been excellent so far. However, I have an idea that will take our project to a whole nother level!”

... oh, boy... we all know where this is going…

There are several approaches to this situation, and the ones you choose can significantly depend on your attitude toward the project and the client.

Would you like an estimate for that?

This is a universal question that will help you manage a client who wants the project scope changed. You will communicate that you are ready for the challenge, but you won’t be doing it for free. At this moment, you can expect one of the following reactions:

  • Forget it, the cost is too high as it is - the client did not expect that the project scope (as well as the cost) would change with their request.
  • Sure, let’s get cracking - the client was aware that their request would change the project scope. Now all that’s left is to set new deadlines.
  • I thought it was included in the scope - a misunderstanding may have occurred. Review the project scope statement to determine if the client’s request is based on something written in it.

Whichever the scenario - the project scope statement is your best friend.

Let’s consult our initial agreement

You are well aware that their request is not according to project scope, and you are reluctant to make any additional changes or take on extra work. Reaching for the paper sends a clear message to the client that they are stepping out of previously agreed terms, and that all additional changes will affect the cost, as well as the delivery date.

- They’ve withdrawn their request? Good! You didn’t want to do it anyway.

- Are they still willing to pay for the extra cost and agree on deadline extension? Great! You’ve just landed yourself some additional work and all the profit that goes with it.

There is not enough time/money for that

If you are being limited by external factors but willing to take on the work, the best thing to do is to communicate this clearly. As time takes no prisoners (nor does it care about your workload), saying: “I don’t have time to do that”, is a legitimate excuse.

If the client insists on changing the project scope, but remains determined not to provide you with additional time and/or budget, then it’s time for a big fat NO.

I am sorry, but NO

Sometimes, it is all you can do. A flat out and straightforward NO is an option that closes doors - for you or your demanding client. Either the business relationship deteriorates and ends, or the client backs off and agrees to your terms.

Be polite to the best of your abilities, but the mere fact that you are rejecting the proposal may be considered an act of rudeness. As it relies heavily on ultimatum and compromise, saying NO should be the last option.

To Conclude

There is another way to keep your client in check, but we don’t like recommending it due to its passive-aggressive nature. It’s called a Zero Invoice. Essentially, every time you obey the client’s request and make a small alteration to the project scope, send an invoice but zero-out the cost (give a 100% discount). This action (should) make your client realize what they are asking of you, and how much of your time you are giving them for free. According to some, you should do this every time the client asks for something outside the scope.

Personally, we don’t like it. But - just like our monkey - we do like having scope creep under control.