How to Avoid Scope Creep With Your Marketing Projects

If you have worked in the project management or marketing arena for some time, then you are likely familiar with the term ‘scope creep'. This ominous topic is the focus of today's blog, and a challenge close to my heart because I have experienced scope creep, for lack of a better term, ‘creeping in' with almost every client relationship or project I have been a part of since my career began.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term or need a refresh, let’s take a moment to define what we’re talking about before diving in.

Scope Creep is defined by Techopedia as, “a project [or campaign] that has seen its original goals expand while it's in progress. As the term suggests, scope creep is a subtle process that starts with small adjustments and ends up resulting in projects that take far longer to complete or even fail before they are finished. Even if the project completes, scope creep can result in final deliverables that look nothing like what was originally envisioned. Scope creep may also be called creep of scope.”

As you can see, or have experienced before, when scope creep starts to occur it becomes extremely important for the team managing the project to pull it back on track and get key stakeholders on board with the original goals, instead of allowing the team or client to focus on every ‘shiny object’ idea that comes along. As an owner of a content marketing firm and a veteran marketer, I have often felt that my entire job consists of bringing the focus back to our goals and continually staying vigilant to avoid scope creep.

Avoid scope creep and see results!

Avoid scope creep and see results!

So, with that in mind, let’s discuss how your brand can avoid this dreaded occurrence to keep with your overall marketing goals and finish the projects you or your team start with focus, ease, and efficiency to see successful results.

Clarify, clarify, clarify!

You may feel that your team understands the first set of tasks needed in a project, the full project plan is evident, they have established a timeline, and will find the desired vendors with ease, but don't be fooled. Lack of clarification is the most common mistake made in the management of a marketing project. And by clarify, I don’t mean spew a bunch of information and never stop to ask questions. What I mean is that you, dear project leader, need to go into any campaign, project or initiative with the assumption that no one you are working with knows what steps to take. This way you won’t leave out small but essential details that could be crucial to a project completing with success or veering off track.

Rockstar Tip: In most projects that we lead for clients at Summary, we start with a discovery meeting. This meeting occurs after we have already established the parameters, needs, timeline, and approval for any given project, but the purpose of the meeting is to introduce all team members to each other (clients and vendors included), establish the project goals and timing, introduce stakeholders and most importantly, provide ALL PROJECT CLARIFICATIONS.

Stay in charge.

Really--I’m not kidding here. Some of the biggest and most difficult learning opportunities I have experienced in my career have come from losing authority with a client or within a project, and then quickly seeing scope creep occur, but having lost my place as the project leader, not having the ability to get things back on track.

Losing your authority as a project leader can happen for many reasons and is extremely common. So if you are in this spot right now, don’t get discouraged. In this section, I will address that piece along with HOW losing authority happens so you can catch it ahead of time and stay in charge!

  1. Appointing another leader - Delegation is a huge part of successful project management, but it can also turn into a significant liability if not managed sensitively. How Does this happen? Most often the leader of a team or project loses their credibility and the ability to stay in charge when they take themselves out of the loop. I have one main rule in my firm, “you need to work independently of me while simultaneously keeping me in the loop.” The point? Make sure you know what’s happening on your team or with a client throughout the life of a project. Whether you do this by asking to be copied on every email, or by attending every meeting, there are lots of ways to stay in charge, but once you lose that place, it’s hard to get it back.
  2. Choosing an inexperienced point person - While as a manager it may seem like appointing an inexperienced point person to lead a project is a perfect opportunity to let them shine, I urge you to tread lightly and stay engaged. Depending on the importance of the project, mistakes made by someone who ‘just doesn’t know’ will only reflect poorly on the leader of the project or campaign.

  3. Waffling on your decisions - It is not that you can’t change your mind, but if this becomes a common theme, or starts to negatively affect your project, your credibility and authority will suffer. Soon, others will start questioning your ability to do your job, and that is a leading cause of scope creep.

Of course, there are other ways that you can quickly lose charge and see the start of scope creep, but these are some of the leading causes based on losing charge.

Don’t jump the gun.

It is so exciting and fun to launch a new project, especially if it is your brainchild. But the actual enemy of successful project execution is lack of proper planning. I am a serial entrepreneur, and also an idea person, so this cautionary warning is one I’ve definitely overlooked in the past in favor of kicking off a project, or client relationship and getting started! If you don't put together a timeline and strategy for all known variables you and your team may encounter, it becomes super easy to be distracted, lose motivation, and veer off the path of your plan quickly--leading to the ultimate and most destructive result of scope creep, the UNFINISHED PROJECT. Get more tips on kick-ass project planning, here.

Know what you don’t know.

Excuse me while I get introspective here, but I love the quote, “to know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge”, by the great philosopher, Confucius. This concept has proven itself true over and over again in my professional life. When I was younger and less experienced, I thought I needed to know everything, otherwise, my boss or client wouldn’t take me seriously or believe that I could execute my work with care and precision. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best comparison I can think of is a teenager coming home drunk from a party, stumbling, reeking of alcohol and then trying to tell their parent that they are in fact sober. The parent shakes their head at the poor demonstration of ‘sobriety,’ right? A more experienced leader, client or any other stakeholder is going to very quickly see if you are truthful regarding what you do and do not know throughout the lifecycle of a project. The secret is this; you come across as wiser and more credible if you say, ‘I’m sorry, I am not sure how to answer this valuable question or concern about x, y or z. Let me find out and get back to you.’ Admitting what you don’t know buys you time and shows your humility--which is most often more respected than your ego. Boom. Credibility earned, and scope creep avoided.

Don’t overlook little compromises.

Many of us are people pleasers, and if you want to be likable and diplomatic in your business, pleasing your clients, team, and bosses will be a big part of your overall success, but that does not mean that you should be a ‘yes’ person only. Those who always say ‘yes’ to every request without thought and analysis end up compromising left and right. Over time these little compromises lead to big shifts in your business and marketing strategy. You make wake up one morning, walking into a meeting and realize you don’t know the project any longer. It’s veered so far off course that it’s now something different--and likely problematic for the overall organizational goals.

So there you have it. Don’t let these cautions about avoiding scope creep scare you. The truth is, if you are a leader and a project manager, scope creep will occur at times in spite of your best efforts. Don’t lose your nerve or focus when this happens, just put on your grown-up pants, admit were mistakes or change in scope occurred, get back on track or move on! Challenges like scope creep are all part of the beautiful journey that is what makes a great marketer, manager, and boss. Enjoy the ride!

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