How We Minimize Scope Creep

Keeping Customer Requirements in Check

Any consultant who’s managed projects for more than a year has run into scope creep.  You have a proposal that defined what you’d do for the client along with the associated fee.  That proposal became a contract.  Now you’re working on the project and the client asks you to do something you think is outside of the scope.  They think it’s included in the scope of the contract.  Or they think the extra work is no big deal and you should be able to do it without charging them more.

What should you do?  You need to explain your position, identify what was in the scope, how this extra work clearly wasn’t included and ask for more money.  Of course, you’ll need to eat the cost if the scope was vague and you can’t demonstrate this is extra work.

Is this the best situation?  Absolutely not!

The much better way is to make sure you defend against scope creep so it doesn’t come up.  In our case, our clients are buying a Traffic Impact Study for their development – not six intersection counts, four sets of forecasts, and five runs of a micro-simulation.

Attached  is one of our typical proposals.  Sample Spack Consulting Traffic Impact Study Proposal

It clearly defines that the client is buying a Traffic Impact Study.  Here are its key features:

  • Description of the development
  • Proposed study intersections
  • Proposed study periods (p.m. peak hour, a.m. peak hour, and/or Saturday midday peak hour)
  • Proposed study horizons (year of full occupancy, 5 years after, and/or 20 years after)

While short, this proposal clearly states the locations we are evaluating and the time frames for that analysis.  There’s no gray area of dispute if another intersection gets added to the scope.  And there’s no fluff or extra wording that could be misconstrued into something else.  Short and to the point with definable actions.  This scope has also been reviewed by multiple agencies in our region. When possible, we also try to confirm the scope with a key review contact, so we know it will cover their expectations.

If you are very experienced in your region, you can probably develop the above scope on your own that will satisfy the reviewing agencies.  To be 100% safe, we recommend you confirm the scope with the reviewing/approving agency (or agencies on a larger project) before submitting your proposal.  Send them:

  • Draft site plan and location map
  • Preliminary trip generation
  • Proposed study intersections
  • Proposed study periods (p.m. peak hour, a.m. peak hour, and/or Saturday midday peak hour)
  • Proposed study horizons (year of full occupancy, 5 years after, and/or 20 years after)

Ideally, you get the reviewers agreement on the study intersections, periods, and horizons as these are the factors that drive the fee for the traffic study.  This should eliminate them asking you to change any of these items once you submit your study for review.  But even if they do ask for a change, it puts you in a much better negotiating position with both the reviewer and your client.

Sometimes, your client will push a very aggressive deadline that doesn’t give you time to coordinate with the reviewers.  In those cases, we include an extra amount in anticipation of having to revise the study as part of the review process.  We also warn them that the compressed deadline means we don’t have time to coordinate the scope with the reviewing agency, which means we are at risk of significant comments that could drive extra costs.  Translated – they should anticipate a change order for approximately 25% of the fees.

In the past couple years, the tools we use now make scope creep less of an issue.  Tweaking the trip distribution or trip generation is a minor effort with Vistro.  We don’t ask for a change order when it comes to these revisions.

It’s pinning down the study intersection and study periods that are the bigger deal, but even adding those in is less of a big deal now that costs for turning movement counts have been cut in half by the COUNTcam and COUNTcloud systems.  So while we always guard against scope creep, the combination of technology and tools for our profession now allows us to complete changes more easily and efficiently, translating into us asking for additional fees on less than 5% of our projects.

What are your best practices for handling scope creep? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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