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How To Avoid Scope Creep In WordPress Projects

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My first few website projects as a freelancer were riddled with scope creep.  It wasn’t the client’s fault.  It was my inexperience both as a business owner and project manager.

The word “creep” says it all.  It slowly edges into prominence if you are not paying attention or haven’t laid a proper foundation.

What Is the Scope of a Project?

The scope of a project refers to all the work required to complete the project.

I recommend you break the project work into manageable chunks containing individual tasks, goals and deliverables.

You should have a “Scope of Work” (SoW) document that you can share and get agreement on with the client.

What Is Scope Creep?

Scope creep happens when changes are made to the project scope of work, during the development phase, without implementing any proper change control process.

In practical terms, the original outcomes of the project change, which usually means adding new or changing existing functionality.  That requires more time using the same resources, which extends the project schedule and throws the whole project off the rails.

Scope Creep Example In a WordPress Project

I’ve created many client subscription websites. An excellent example of scope creep is not identifying and defining the membership levels at the beginning of the project.

Thinking about how members will access content midway through the project is a recipe for scope creep and project delays.

Yes, this happened once, and it was entirely my fault.  I had to buy and use a different membership which cost me several weeks of additional development work. A painful lesson to learn!

Scope Creep Wapuu
Scope Creep Wapuu – image source: wapu.us

What Causes Scope Creep?

  • Poor planning – Scope creep is inevitable if a project is poorly planned without considering all aspects of the deliverable.
  • Poor communication – Clean communication between clients and other project team members is essential. If anyone is out-of-step, they can easily misinterpret critical requirements.
  • Poorly defined project scope – If you haven’t properly defined the scope of work for a project and had it greed with your client, it leaves an avenue to sneak in changes and additional features. 
  • Too many micro revisions – Be on the lookout for clients asking for too many minor revisions.  If a client continually asks for multiple revisions to small project areas, it’s a red flag 🚩that the requirements haven’t been adequately thought out, leading to scope creep.

Where To Expect Scope Creep

  • Planning Phase – when you are in your planning phase, mapping requirements to goals, it’s easy for “suggestions” and “ideas” to leak into the project.
  • Client Communications –  whenever you are communicating something with the client (especially by email), it’s easy for them to follow up with a “what about” reply.
  • New People Get Involved – Whenever a new person joins the project after the initial planning phase has been completed, there’s a chance they will bring new ideas to the table.
  • Mid-project – By now, the client has likely seen a few iterations of your work, and they’ve had time to think about what else could be added to make it “even better”.  This is the mid-project blues.
  • Project Finalisation – This is the last few weeks before the project is wrapped-up and delivered, and the client is preparing themselves to use the final product.  Has anything been missed that would prevent them from achieving their goals?

How Can Scope Creep Hurt Your WordPress Projects

As a freelance WordPress designer or developer, when working on projects, you have to rely on your experience to estimate how long a project will take to complete.

If anyone starts to change agreed requirements or adds new requirements, your estimate of time and resources will change and probably not for the better.

More work with the same resources equals less profit for you.  The worst-case scenario would be a project that makes no profit at all.  If you’re rolling your eyes just now 🙄 thinking that can’t happen to you, think again.  I know freelancers to whom this has happened.

How Scope Creep Can Damage Your Client Relationship

Once project deadlines start slipping due to scope creep, and you’re too busy implementing changes and new features to meet goals, your trust with the client will start to nosedive.

When trust erodes between you and your client, communications usually increase, questioning your actions and overly critical of your deliverables. That’s not a good place to be in.

The client may lose confidence that you can successfully deliver the project, which could ultimately lead to the project being cancelled or, in a worst-case scenario, being sued for breaking contractual obligations.

Just one negative Google review can hurt your chances with prospects and proposals.

9 Strategies To Avoid Scope Creep In Your WordPress Projects

Before you work on wireframes or type your first line of code, get your head down and plan every step of the project.

You’ve already sat down with the client in person or on Zoom and engaged in a detailed discovery session, plucking out their key requirements and goals for the project, so you have all the information you need to plan the project.

1. Get Everyone Involved

The very first thing you need to do is get all key decision-makers and stakeholders together.

You need everyone that has a key interest in the project to get their take on the requirements, objectives and goals of the project.

This is a super important task and should not be missed out.  Bringing in a key decision-maker mid-project will open up scope creep and derail your project.

It may be difficult for larger organisations to coordinate everyone in a single meeting, but it is vital to ensure this happens.  If they are genuine key stakeholders, they shouldn’t mind coming together to discuss the project and ensure its outcomes are correct and of value.

You want to make sure these people attend your kickoff meeting:

  • Your primary client liaison
  • The person who ultimately signs off on payment to you
  • The heads of the departments you are working with
  • Client project manager (there may not be one)
  • Graphic designer (this may be you)
  • Developer (this may be you)
  • IT or support staff (for access to internal systems, deployment and ongoing support)
  • End-user representative (perhaps the department head will cover this)

Note: some people may step across several of the above roles, some may not be needed, and you may be taking the role of the designer or developer.

2. Document Key Requirements and Goals

The project’s key requirements, goals and objectives must be documented and available for client review and approval and the broader project team.

Everyone should be on the same page about the project objective and requirements.

Make sure you assign a version number and a last modified date or enable revision/edit tracking to see document changes.  You want to ensure that the document’s correct version is available to the entire project team.

3. Create a Change Control Process

Some aspects of the project will inevitably change throughout the project timeline. Change is OK as long as it is captured and controlled in a process (change enablement).

It’s the non-controlled changes that end up as scope creep!

Your project management software may come with a change control process.

At the very least, you want to capture the change request separately from the current requirements, review and discuss the change with the project team and assign it a status which could be anything from the following list.

  • New
  • Pending
  • Assigned
  • Rejected
  • Phase 2

To fully assess a change request, you should be capturing some important information, such as

  • Summary
  • Requestor
  • Attachment
  • Description
  • Priority
  • Impact
  • Urgency
  • Change type
  • Change reason
  • Change risk

I’ve used Jira, Asana and even Trello to control change requests during a project.

4.  Create a Clear Project Schedule

This is where you should use proper project management software to create a clear project schedule with resources, tasks, dates, goals and milestones.

I flip between Jira and Asana for project management, depending on the type of client I work with.

jira Roadmap
Jira Roadmap View – source: atlassian.com

I find Jira works best with engineering, medical and fintech clients, and Asana is good for all-around project management.

Both software come with access to Gantt charts and Kanban boards.

asana timeline
Asana Time Line Chart – Source: asana.com

5. Define and Document Project Scope

A clearly defined Scope of Work (SoW) will help stop scope creep.

It would help if you clarified what is in and out of scope for the current project.

This should have been decided in the initial meetings with all the key stakeholders.

Everyone should understand that a change to the scope of work will likely incur project delays and additional costs.  You can also add that line to the document!

Letting clients change the scope of work mid-project is the number one way to run your project off the rails.

6. Agree on Project Schedule and Scope With Stakeholders

Once you have the project schedule and the scope of work clearly defined and documented, you must get it agreed upon with the key stakeholders.

You may have to communicate with the project team and iron out any last issues and misunderstandings to agree.

Your scope of work and project schedule should be included in your contract along with other items such as costs and terms and conditions.

The contract can be digitally signed, making it easier and quicker for all parties to participate.

7. Project Management Methods

The waterfall approach is the most popular project management methodology used by WordPress freelancers.

The stages of Waterfall project management generally follow this sequence:

  • Requirements
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Construction
  • Testing
  • Deployment & maintenance

Progress flows in one direction, like an actual waterfall. 💦

This can work well for very small projects, but for large projects that span months, the general downfall of this methodology is the need for regular communication, review and feedback from the client.

In this methodology, the freelancer disappears for weeks during the construction phase and then presents the finished project to the client.  At this point, the client usually notices discrepancies between the requirements and the deliverables.

That could cost weeks of wasted development time and strain the client relationship.

I use an agile methodology for managing projects.

Agile project management is an iterative approach to managing software development projects that focuses on continuous releases and incorporating client feedback with every iteration.” – from Atlassian.com.

Features are bundled up into smaller releases called sprints which the client gets to review and provide feedback on.  This methodology is ideal for catching misunderstandings and issues before they snowball out of control.

I use a Kanban board to easily display the current status of the project work to my team members and the client. Both Jira and Asana can produce Kanban boards.

asana kanban board
Jira Kanban Board – Source: atlassian.com
asana kanban board
Asana Kanban Board – Source: asana.com

There are many project management methodologies other than Waterfall and Agile.

8. Communicate Clearly and Often

Regular and clear communication between yourself and your client can help to quickly clear up any misunderstandings about implementation.

If you have to assume something that you don’t have data on at any point during development, that is the best time to reach out to the client for clarification.

I’ve been using Slack for the past few projects to communicate directly with the client and a weekly email summary of project progress.

Real-time communication may not suit your situation or the client.  I also give them access to my project management software so they can comment on task items.

9. Include Time For Project Management, QA and Testing

You must ensure you include time in your project schedule for overall project management activities such as communications, issue resolution, testing, debugging and quality assurance checks. 

As a general rule of thumb, I allocate 10% of my estimated project build and delivery time to project management.

If you don’t add time for project management, milestones can start to drift, and communications with the client may dry up while you struggle to juggle your time and resources.  That can quickly leave a route open for scope creep.

Conclusion

Follow my nine strategies above to help avoid scope creep in your WordPress projects and let me know in the comments if they helped.


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