It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday. Against your better judgment, you decide to open your inbox. Your eyes land on the bold letters of the latest email; ‘URGENT: ProjectX feedback.’ As you quickly skim across phrases like “Don’t like the font, use Times New Roman… Too corporate looking… Change the entire graphic,” you can’t help but think that you are now working on version 10 of the same project. You’re Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. Only rather than reliving the same day, you’re reliving the same project over and over again.

Continuous changes and revisions often lead to scope creep, a project management term that refers to when a project’s scope grows beyond what was originally outlined. Apart from being frustrating, scope creep can jeopardize a project’s budget, timeline, and professional relationships. However, there are three simple ways designers can reduce scope creep. 

1. Communicate clearly and ask questions

In my experience, successful projects begin by clearly identifying all the components needed to meet the project’s objectives. Even before a creative brief* is drafted, freelancers should have a face-to-face discussion with their clients to ensure that they are on the same page when it comes to:

  • Project objective and summary
  • Deliverables (what is included and not included)
  • Requirements
  • Timing (key milestones and dates)
  • Budget
  • Key stakeholders 

For example, if a project requires photograph assets, do not assume that your client will know that stock photography is an additional cost. 

It is important to ask questions, especially when it comes to the project’s “why.” Your client’s answers may reveal alternative solutions that better achieve their objective. Once everything has been captured, draft the creative brief and provide your client with an opportunity to discuss it with you prior to signing. Your client may prefer to review it on their own time and email a signed copy. Both options are good as long as everyone has the same expectations and all outstanding questions have been addressed. 

2. Make sure you have buy-in from the right people

Along with communicating clearly, it’s important to communicate with the right people. Project stakeholders** are any group of people who are impacted by the outcome of the project. Therefore it’s safe to assume that they are the most likely to implement changes if their needs aren’t being met. Not surprisingly, they are also the ones who determine if the project is a success. To ensure a seamless process, make sure you validate all stakeholders at the beginning of a project. It is important to provide your stakeholders with updates as the project progresses. Shaken confidence felt from the stakeholder, could easily lead to endless revisions or worse, abandoning the project entirely. First step is to ask, “Do I know who the stakeholders are and do I have their buy-in? If not, how am I going to spread awareness about this project?”

One could argue that this may be beyond your accountability as a freelance designer. However, by recognizing and communicating with important stakeholders right away, you may save yourself from having to hit the restart button on a project. 

3. Outline your change controls and stick to them

Endless revisions: the definition of scope creep and the introduction of project disappointment. No, I’m not exaggerating. Having been both the designer implementing the change and the one requesting the change, the process around how to manage changes is vital for both parties. A great process generally follows the same principles, which are:

  • A single point of contact on both sides (the revision giver and receiver)
  • An agreed-upon number of revisions or increased rate on any additional revisions that exceed those outlined in the creative brief. This may not stop the change requests outright but it may deter them. 
  • Understanding what is an important revision and what is not. For example, replacing the wrong company name in a report is an important revision. Replacing an image with another one that’s nearly identical is not important. 

Overall, revisions are part of any project. However, by following the three tips listed above, you can save yourself from reliving the same day/ project over and over again.