3 Real World Scope Creep Examples from Building 7,000+ Websites

Angry client yelling at a web designer

In my last business, I learned first-hand the problems of dealing with scope creep. My team built over 7,000 (Yes, you read that correctly) websites and often built 300+ websites per month. So trust me when I say that we saw it all when it comes to scope creep: The costs of it, hard-to-believe examples, and, most importantly, how to manage it.

I want to help teach you my mistakes, what leads to scope creep, and how to avoid scope creep.

First, before we get into it, let’s understand: What is Scope Creep?

What is Scope Creep?

Scope creep is the gradual and uncontrolled expansion of a project’s scope beyond its original objectives, requirements, or specifications. It legit creeps up on you.

Specifically, it refers to additional features, functions, or changes introduced during the project execution phase, often needing proper evaluation or approval.

Scope creep is a common problem for web developers and designers, especially when working on larger projects. It can cause delays, budget overruns, and even project failure, so it’s essential to be aware of the potential for scope creep and take steps to prevent it.

Sometimes, it’s the result of poor communication. Sometimes, project stakeholders are introduced into a project team late in the process. But most often, as you’ll see in these real-world examples of scope creep, it occurs due to a poor control process and inadequate business systems.

The word Scope Creep is highlighted with the definition underneath it

Real World Scope Creep Example #1: Breaking WordPress’s Menu System

How many of you know there’s a limit to how many pages WordPress can have in the menu? Unfortunately, due to our scope of work being non-existent, this is something my team painfully learned (it’s around 100).

See, a client refused to compromise on their vision for the website’s navigation. Instead, they wanted an extensive menu with hundreds of pages, all organized in a specific hierarchy. At first, we didn’t anticipate any issues, but as we added more pages to the menu, it became sluggish, difficult to navigate, and eventually broke down completely.

While that led to excessive work for my team, we did it anyway. But, we still eventually lost the client because we could only add up to 100 menu items due to WordPress’s constraints.

Lesson: We learned the importance of understanding platform limitations and setting realistic client expectations. It’s crucial to communicate early on about the technical constraints and offer alternative solutions that align with the client’s goals while ensuring the project remains manageable and functional

This leads me to example #2:

Real World Scope Creep Example #2: Transferring of Website Content

Oh, boy, did we get into trouble on this one. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.

The most important KPI at my previous company was how many websites we sold in a month. We charged $59/month, so signing people up was critical, regardless of the constraints in their old platform. Early on, we never cared about how many pages they had… we just assumed people had a reasonable amount of content on their website.

Reasonable, however, is subjective. For example, within short order, we encountered clients who had websites with thousands of pages, complex content structures, and intricate interlinking.

Over time, we put constraints into our scope of work and Terms of Service. These constraints included content transfer limitations, how many items were on a menu, image migration services, and other miscellaneous items that often caused our projects to go over budget.

But given our propensity to sign up customers at volume, we needed more than simply adding constraints: Our sales team needed to communicate the limitations up-front. Otherwise, we ended up with upset (and vocal) clients.

Lesson: The lesson we learned here is two-fold. One, a bullet-proof Scope of Work or Terms of Service is critical. Two, up-front communication from a sales team is vital. Your sales team must be trained in conducting thorough content audits and understanding the complexity of transferring large volumes of content. In addition, it’s crucial to assess the content migration process and set clear expectations with clients regarding any potential limitations or additional costs associated with transferring extensive website content.

a frustrated web designer in front of a computer

Real World Scope Creep Example #3: No Timeline, Budget, or Limitations

Not having a timeline, budget, or limitations on how many edits and revisions you will provide is one of the most common causes of scope creep. And if you don’t set out to manage the scope of a project before, with clear limitations on the project plan, you will end up working on the project indefinitely.

This happened time and time again in my company.

One client took a screenshot of their website, added dozens of audio annotations, and returned it to us. Multiple times. That’s when we implemented a text-only feedback method (and the primary motivation behind Motion.io’s design feedback feature).

Another client pixel-pushed for months. We had no timeline or limitations set, so why should the client? After my team went over budget in both time and emotions, I had to set limits and boundaries on what the revision process looked like and the timeline for revisions.

The lesson from this example is that setting clear timelines, budgets, and limitations is essential for managing scope creep and maintaining project control. Without these parameters in place, clients may continue to request changes and revisions without considering the impact on the project’s timeline and resources.

By implementing a text-only feedback method and establishing boundaries for the revision process, we could streamline communication and ensure client expectations aligned with project feasibility. Educating clients about the importance of efficient decision-making and the potential consequences of unlimited revisions is crucial.

Additionally, setting limitations helps protect the team from working endlessly on a project, preventing burnout, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Finally, it allows for more structured and productive client collaboration, fostering a transparent and respectful relationship.

The Common Thread: The Importance of Setting Client Expectations

The critical common thread between all 3 of these examples is setting client expectations is crucial to managing scope creep. Setting client expectations is complex; it involves communicating project objectives, deliverables, timelines, and any upfront limitations. However, when clients clearly understand what to expect, they can provide informed feedback, make timely decisions, and avoid requesting excessive changes or additions.

Setting client expectations establishes a foundation of transparency, accountability, and mutual understanding. It helps align the client’s goals with the project’s feasibility and ensures that both parties are on the same page throughout the development process.

And hopefully, it eliminates scope creep in your projects.

How about you? Can you share any real-world examples of scope creep with our readers? Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

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