If you have ever renovated your house, you have probably dealt with this topic before. It happens with websites all the time and it is bound to happen given the nature of the beast. So…

What is scope creep?

Scope creep is when you have a deal to deliver a certain set of expectations for a certain amount of money in a specific time frame and then the deal changes. Let’s use a painter as an example.

A painter looks at a room that needs to be painted and charges a set amount for their time and says he will be there Tuesday. Client agrees and the painter shows up for work. Some examples of scope creep would be.

  • An additional or different larger room needs painting and the client expects the price to be the same
  • After painting the room, the client decides they would like a different color and wants you to redo it for free.
  • Client also wants nephew taught how to paint so he can “help”.
  • Client expects the paint to be included for the painting fee
  • Years later the paint has faded and client expects a fresh coat for free.

Sounds a bit ridiculous right, but you wouldn’t believe the things we have tried to have pulled on us over the years. Once quoted a woman for an 5 page site (after she loved the design work), she came back with 40 pages of content and said we had to enter it all for the same price or she would sue us. Had her lawyer write up a letter threatening to sue for a quarter million due to lost business on her startup selling project management pdfs. Ahh memories…

Is scope creep bad?

Just to quickly clear up the typical stigma around scope creep before we go any further, but it isn’t always a bad thing . We know more about things each day as we work on them and hindsight is always 20/20. It is okay for new ideas to happen and to guess what a loose idea will cost up front is almost impossible. Sometimes our clients set out on a direction, we bring some clarity to their idea and they end up in a completely different place than where they initially intended to go and are thankful to us for helping them correct their path.

Why does scope creep happen?

There are many reasons, but here are a couple.

  1. We don’t have crystal balls to look into the future – Quoting up front on loose ideas is basically trying to guess the number in your head.
  2. Websites are complex – there is more than one way to do things and once you see something in action you might change your mind.
  3. Some people are cheap – Some people try to get as much for as little as possible. You can’t negotiate with your gas tank when it’s out of fuel but sometimes people feel they can brow beat more time out people which often makes the relationship fall apart.
  4. Some people are chatty – “I just thought I would call you as it is easier for me”. Unless you budgeted for lots of hand holding, this too would be considered scope creep.
  5. Some sales people will say anything – “Of course that’s included”. If they only say yes and never say no, be wary.
  6. Some deliverable not clearly defined upfront – “I just assumed all the latest technology was included”. Best to not assume.
  7. Sometimes things change – Crazy huh, but it happens.

How to avoid scope creep with a website

After many years of dealing with websites, applications and more, the only way to fully avoid scope creep from a development perspective is to have every single page designed in advance (likely in Adobe XD) and have all the content finalized before we quote on it. Since this scenario is practically intangible, we try a different approach.

How we manage scope creep?

We often have our clients come to us with the overall jist of what they are looking to accomplish, but they don’t have the full picture. What they do have is a timeline and a budget. We help them get their idea out of their head and onto the internet by selling them a block of time and then we work it off. We aim to deal with all the must-have items first and keep the nice-to-haves if we have time. If we run out of time, they can push the other items to a phase 2.

A compliment a client recently paid me was “I am okay with the idea of uncertainty when it comes to this stuff. Well with Simon anyway”.

By our offering our services by the hour instead of a fixed fee it enables our clients to be more flexible and allows us respond to their needs, instead of spinning our wheels trying to estimating time on every little thing and slowing down the process with change orders.


So that is what scope creep is.

  • If you are someone buying services, unless you fully trust the person, make sure to get your must-have items in writing before signing off
  • If you are selling services, unless you fully trust the person, be upfront about what you are offering and what you are not.

But in both cases, just assume some scope creep is going to happen. Instead of avoiding it like politics and religion at family Christmas dinner (my family didn’t get that memo), embrace it as simply part of the process. Hope this helps and you now feel better about the scope creep in your own life. Thanks for reading.