In Defense of Scope Creep

by Hal Helms

33 Reader Comments

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  1. Walt, you can get the PHP Wireframe app at It’s down the bottom of the page. The demo link isn’t working, but the download link is.

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  2. I did like the article on Scope Screep by Hal and was impressed w/ some of the “thoughts” behind the subject…

    That said I have one obvious comment—and this will surely get me stoned by CF’ers—“ahem, not everyone out there uses ColdFusion.”

    That also said, I can tell you from working w/ smaller, mom & pop clients, that as long as I’ve been fighting the use of templates and the like I’m finding more and more clients just point me to sites they like and say, “Can you do something like this that isn’t this exactly?”

    Hmmm, a lot like “…reinvent the wheel but make it look just like this wheel here but don’t do it exactly cause I want to be different…” Err, something like that I suppose is how it goes.

    Maybe I’m way off in left field here so I’m gonna shut up for the time being. Just wanted to say the article caused me to think and at the same time I realized that there are quite possibly a lot of others out there like me that lose a lot of time, and therefore money, when the client thinks they know what they like but doesn’t.

    Okay, now I’ve confused myself about what I wanted to say. Pardon the intrusion—your reguarly scheduled discussion will resume, already in progress.


    _ D.

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  3. Scope Creep never really disapears, it just changes into something else. Because once the client knows EXACTLY what he wants his site to look like and feature – he will start complaining about pixelwidths, non-standard fonts and the rest of Browser 3.X many faults.

    This is true for clients that are used to work with print. Meaning that they usussally have a pretty good idea what they want – and once that lightbulb goes on above their pointyhaired heads, they refuse to accept anything else. Try to explain why it won’t look the same in every browser; “it does in print”.

    I don’t think we can ever get around clients with little or no understanding for the diffrences between what they want, and what they need. Templates, wireframes, specifications, styleguides, contracts and note-taking will only go so far. And the expectations, or the understanding, from the client are never the same between projects. It seems futile… on a case to case basis.

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  4. I work as an application engineer for a large dutch bank and our ICT dev. dept. recently adopted DSDM, Dynamic Systems Development Method. Some of the aspects mentioned in the ALA article are integral parts of DSDM, in fact the whole method might very well apply to web design as much as to software engineering.
    Check out for more information.

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  5. Ronald mentioned DSDM ( As a consultant in business intelligence i’m used to work with the kind of clients who are described so vividly on the firts section of the article.

    I use DSDM techniques (or its principles perhaps) a lot and it gives very satisfactionary results.

    What you agree on is a fixed time and fixed amount of money for a development cycle, you prioritise needs, and then you try to get in as many ‘must have’ needs in that cycle. If time is left, you add some ‘should have’ priorities and then you deliver a working project at the end of the cycle.

    End-users are an integral part of the cycle, so the linking pin with the client is always there.

    In my experience as a consultant this avoids scope creep in its negative conotation, but is very helpful in formulating the real functional specifications along the way. The fixed time frame forces decisions.

    This is a very rudimentary description, for more information do check out http:/

    You can apply the same principles to web development projects, it is not about the development technique, but about giving answers to business needs that are hard to formulate for the client without seeing a working visualisation first.

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  6. The version of the joke I heard was:

    Q. How many designers does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A. Does it have to be a lightbulb?

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  7. It’s actually an old advertising joke.

    How many copywriters does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A: Does it have to be a lightbulb.

    How many art directors does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A: We’re not changing a damn thing.

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  8. In my experience Project Management has a devil of a time integrating Scope Creep. I agree with the author: scope creep can and should be embraced because it is really nothing more than the evolution of an idea. How many of us have worked on a “side-project” with someone that hasn’t morphed/evolved into more than we initially dreamt about? Probably never.

    As we play with the softare we realize there are data connections and paths there that were not at all apparent when we informally scoped the project out. And I’m not convinced Business Requirements Documents are any more formal than informal discussions – they’re just written down in a document and signed off by the client and product/project manager.

    Cutting to the chase: has anyone been able to, or worked with Project Management software, than can adequately reflect the important role of scope creep and integrate that into the plan? We need project plans to keep us focused and measure progress: but they can become more damaging than scope creep because they can so easily invalidate good design ideas a “scope creep”.

    Seems to me we need a better model or paradigm of project management that embraces scope creep and redefines it as scheduled development.

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  9. Why, oh why, is this craptastic forum still here?

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  10. Rather a refreshing forum style if you ask me – with some intelligent, well thought out pontificating (as opposed to the above mouth-off!)

    What I actually wanted to say was more along the lines of agreeing that its the designers, (who are not always the developers, but usually are) who need to be more responsible for leading the client – once they have figured out the reason for the site in the first place. The designer has to keep asking – does this do what we the client/user wants it to do?

    As both a client and a designer, I have seen it from both sides.. my developer did not design enough (or talk to me) before he started coding, and then, well, it was too late to do any major structural changes.. hmmph. In fact I was still tying to negotiate exactly what we were going to do – I had only shown him a 2 page graphic mockup, when he had already gone down the code road!
    (Not to mention that I found him through elance – and his English wasn’t bad for a Ukranian!)

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  11. This is fundamentally flawed. Inasmuch as change is a constant, creeping features are a fact of life. But embracing them as described results in a useful project that is years late (as opposed to a useless one delivered right on time).

    The correct way to handle alterations of scope is to reflect the change in your deadlines and costs. “We can give you new feature Foo if you want it, but it will take an additional X days and Y dollars—but if Z-Corp thinks it’s worth it, we can make it happen.”

    Don’t pander to their whims. Be open to change, but be honest about what impact their changes are having on the project—after all, they (the company employee[s]) is/are responsible for this project’s success to their manager, president, CEO, or Wall Street.

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  12. I’m paraphrasing: If the clients knew what they wanted, would they need us?

    Sure. I might know what I want in a house, but I’m not gonna build the thing. The hardest part of scope creep is getting clients to pay for it, and we (where I work) haven’t gotten that down yet, either.

    The biggest rub seems to be flat-rate bidding vs. hourly. We say we will design a site for X amount of loot and it will include Y features. As we proceed, the scope creep kicks in and next thing you know, we might as well work for free. We’ve tried getting a grip on this by using change orders, but it’s not a perfect solution.

    My thought is, if we’re going to bid a flat rate, it should be high enough to cover scope creep. Bidding jobs at an hourly rate seems to freak out the client, so we rarely use that approach.

    When I was a photographer, even if I did bid the job at an hourly rate I pretty much summed up what the project would cost—how much time, film, etc., so the client knew what to expect. Even so, there were always those clients who wanted to push it. “Say, while you’re at it, could you shoot this and this and this?” As if the extra time and material meant nothing. My pat response was, “Sure, but it will cost this much extra.” Sometimes they said OK, sometimes not, but at least we knew where we stood: No free scope creep.

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  13. This forum sucks ass

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  14. yes it does suck ass!

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  15. Kevin just ran out of the room His mom called

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  16. This forum is like writing notes on a napkin and passing it around a table. It’s a mess, and someone needs to spill a drink on it quick.

    Oh, is there any reason this article isn’t in the list of previous articles?

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  17. Hey…

    “Anonymous”, “Irritated beyond belief” and the like…

    Okay, great—we hear you think it sucks.

    We hear you think it’s a drink napkin.

    We hear you have tons of negativity.

    Great, now shut it or mention something constructive.

    What will make the “list” better? What would you like to see diff about it?

    Not my place to point this out, so I’ll move on BUT what’s your problem anyway?!

    You don’t like the list—LEAVE!

    _ D.

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  18. My apologies to the rest of the “List’ers” and to Zeldman and et. al.

    Silly me to get drawn into their “attention-grabbing” tricks.

    Love the site, love the work, love the thoughts and glad it is here!

    _ D.

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  19. …this lightbulb is best changed using Right Hand 4.7 and stepladder 1200 × 600…

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  20. I guess I missed this month-old article. Ah, well… if anyone’s reading…

    I agree with Frank Siraguso and Corporate Slave as to how to handle fixed-price bids and scope creep. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned – which may be due to general client unwillingness to accept such a thing – is a flexible scope and all that goes with it.

    That means you have to present the basics, and get them nailed down as much as possible – “here’s what you say you want… here’s what we know now… here’s what we’d suggest…” These are the fixed items. Put in a section saying “here are some things you may think about… here is some blank space for you to think (think scheduling here)… and here are our ‘final’ prices”.

    Those “final prices” follow the “final schedule” in that they’re both ranges. This worked VERY successfully on a number of projects that I’ve driven. It’s worked as an estimating tool where it was obvious that Holy Creep was going to be a factor. You have to account for your time and the client has to feel safe that they’re not going to be abused on cost and schedule. You have to let them know that X is going to cost Y and add Z to the schedule. BUT it’s all been factored in originally.

    One project showed just how good our estimating skills had gotten – came in dead center on the costs and scheduling. And that included creep. Something to consider.

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  21. please help…
    what is the meaning of scope creep?

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  22. x_ash,
    When getting clients who don’t know what they need to tell you
    what they need the result is … scope creep

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  23. “If the clients knew what they wanted, would they need us?”

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