Avoiding revisions and Scope Creep – How to get productive about it

February 28, 2018
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Not everyone enjoys confrontation. I certainly don’t. Even if you’re fine with confrontation you ideally don’t want to confront your client about the number of revisions they’re making or the additional work they’re adding to the scope of the project. Excessive revisions and scope creep can sometimes cause a little friction.


If you’re working on a project that’s artistically stimulating for you then chances are you won’t mind revising designs. Even if the client does want to make several small changes. Chances are if it’s your dream project, you likely won’t need to make that many revisions.

However, planning ahead to reduce the number of revisions just makes good sense. It saves you time and makes your project timescales more efficient. The knock-on effect being slightly faster projects, which means you can take on more projects. Clients may also want to rave about how efficient you were. That makes for a great review, which can attract more clients!

Planning ahead to reduce revisions of designs doesn’t have to be negative either. You’re not trying to stop the client from getting what they want. You’re just trying to make the project run smoothly for everyone.

Scope Creep

Scope creep is a different animal. If you have projects lined up with several different clients then a scope change can cause problems. You want to keep to your word for all your clients. If the scope changes enough that it’s going to change the planned finish date (I’ve had this happen – luckily I didn’t have a client lined up immediately after) then three things can happen. First, you could be working on two projects at once, trying to keep to both client’s timescales. Second, you may delay starting on the next project to finish the current one. Third, your current client will have to wait until you have time to complete their project with their new scope (assuming the scope change is mission critical).

Preferably you don’t want to be involved in one of the above three scenarios.

Thankfully, there’re some proactive steps you can take to reduce the chance of scope creep and excessive revisions.

The first meeting

Short tip; make sure you write down, in as much detail as you can, what’s discussed in this meeting. It can help with scope creep by making sure you know exactly what the client needs and wants early on, so there are no surprises.

When I first started having conversations with clients it’d be more of an informal chat and I wouldn’t write that much down. We’d end the meeting, the client would want to take it to the next stage (so this is the time I’d want to create the brief/customise the contract and get it agreed with the client). If I didn’t have clear notes about what was happening then I’d waste some time going back and forth, perhaps having more follow-on meetings than were necessary. Being detailed from the start has helped me avoid any scope creep a few weeks down the line when the client could say “oh what about this thing we talked about in that first meeting?”.

It’s helpful to ask your client to create a mood board too, perhaps with something like Pinterest. The client may explain in words what they’re looking for, but a picture speaks a thousand words. It can mean the difference between two revisions or 4 revisions if you’re clear on their vision from the outset.

Sharing your project steps and timescale with the client

Sharing your project steps with a client early on is just common sense. You want them to know where the project is going to go and when they’ll be asked for feedback on designs.

I’ve found that when my clients are aware of what stage we’re at and that they’ll be asked for feedback soon, they’re better prepared. This can mean they’re more likely to give detailed and/or constructive feedback which can get you closer to the final design in less time.

Sharing your project steps and timescales can prompt clients to mention some functionality/addition they need but had forgotten about. It might only be a small addition but everything helps.

I’ve written an article on the 6 steps web designers take. I share a timeline like this with my clients so that they’re informed. If they want some more information I’ll sometimes send them a link to that post.

Contracts – A great scope creep/revision dampener

There’s another Design Range article about some other benefits of using a contract here. It can be scary at first to use a contract. However, there are a wealth of benefits some of which are laid out in the aforementioned article.

Relevant to this topic, a contract can help with both scope creep and number of revisions. It informs and prepares your client about your process for changes to the scope and revisions.

Despite most preconceptions, a contract doesn’t have to be hard to read and written in Latin. Although it feels like most companies think they should be.

You can set out your terms in easy to read language and include what’s necessary for you. I won’t go through detailed instructions on what to write for a whole contract. I’m not an expert in contract law after all.

Okay, so I’m using a contract. Now what?

Set out the number of revisions your typically allow for a project. Also set out what the scope of the project is.

For the revisions, you could add that although you set the number of revisions allowed by the project budget/timescale, depending on the circumstances you can be flexible.

When writing about the scope of the project, you might want to be a bit more specific. You can write how small additions to the scope will likely be fine. But if any scope change/addition changes the timescale or amount of work required then you may need to re-quote or adjust the price/timescale to fit.

If your schedule tends to be projects back to back you can even specify that if the additions change the timescales too much that you’d need to quote for the additions but complete the project to the original spec. Then book that client in for your next free project slot a little later when you’ll be able to complete the additions. (Assuming the additions don’t render the original project unusable of course).

What I use

I use a variation of the Contract Killer template from stuffandnonsense.co.uk which you can find here. You can get started with that template, and it’s written in fairly friendly language. Their “Changes and Revisions” section is the applicable part:

“We don’t want to limit your ability to change your mind. The price at the beginning of this contract is based on the number of weeks that we estimate we’ll need to accomplish everything you’ve told us you want to achieve in the project scope, but we’re happy to be flexible. If you want to change your mind or add anything new, that won’t be a problem as we’ll provide a separate estimate for those additional weeks.”

In the version I use there’s a helpful FAQ section at the bottom. It covers “What happens if I want to add some features to the website while you’re building it?”. It says:

“Whilst we like to be flexible and responsive to your needs, we also like to deliver what we promise within the time frames and budgets we have allowed. If you ask us to add new features to your website while we are building it, will most likely ask why? Then, if we all agree that your new request will help us achieve our objectives then we will be more than happy to oblige. If your new feature is something you would like to add to your website but is not directly tied to your original objectives then we will suggest to schedule it for a second iteration of the website once it has been launched. This will require a new proposal.”

Adding some detail about revisions

Depending on what you want to set regarding revisions, simply add a paragraph to the “Changes and Revisions” section like:

“We typically factor in time for 3 rounds of revisions for any project. We usually don’t need more than that as we organise design submissions to you efficiently so you have time to provide full and constructive feedback. Plus our discovery meeting and preparation stage designed to ensure we’ve got everything we need to create your vision.

Should the project need more revisions to the designs we will always try to accommodate them. However, if it impacts the project timeline we may have to discuss any additional costs that arise. Just as with changes to the project scope we’ll discuss everything with you openly and before we proceed with any additional work.”

Simply add some basic information about your process. To be sure the client has read through and understood it you can go over the major points in a follow-up call.

Organising design submissions to avoid excessive revisions

Being organised in the right way when sending/presenting designs to your client can help a great deal.

You always want to present your designs in the right way regardless. Things like focusing on why you chose certain elements/colours/fonts help. Also, how your design relates back to the original brief and how it will help get your message across to their customers. These might be a given for you, but it’s always worth revisiting your strategy.

When I’m presenting a design for their website I usually expect some revisions. I minimise the revisions by presenting the designs to the client as usual (whether in person or by Skype and sharing my screen etc.) but then also leave the designs with them until the next day. By doing this you’ll give your clients time to gather their thoughts and provide well considered and constructive feedback.

When I first started out I’d tend to want to collect the feedback there and then, straight after I had presented the designs. I thought that would speed things up as I’d be able to act on the feedback right away. Actually, it had the opposite effect. It meant the feedback I was working on wasn’t complete. When I went back with further designs, there was more feedback and changes to make. This added more time to the project timeline.

In conclusion

Proactively managing scope creep and the number of revisions is important when it comes to controlling project timescales. By following the steps above, you can make a big difference to scope creep and excessive revisions.

You may still need to talk to clients about the number of revisions they’re making or additions to the scope. By following these tips you can make that a much smoother experience. By informing your clients you can get proactive and productive on scope creep and excessive revisions.

Scott reads, writes, and enjoys bouldering in his spare time. Plus, he crafts beautiful, functional, optimised, bespoke WordPress websites that make a difference for his clients. He's also an advocate of accessible, functional design in all its forms. He'd love to hear from you on Twitter.
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