Do you know what’s worse than a project that never starts? The one that never ends! A quagmire project is the stuff of service provider’s nightmares – countless back-and-forth e-mails, ever-changing requirements, the potential for streams of complaints from all sides, and unpaid invoices.

With every passing day and missed deadline the tensions rise. Both the service provider and the client wind up dissatisfied with each other and with the end result. This is bad news all around, isn’t it?

What complicates this situation is that most Virtual Assistants do not have a formal project management background and are largely unprepared to deal with this situation. On the other hand, VA's are exceptionally client-centered and have a hard time drawing the line between responsive customer service and scope creep.

Yes, the never-ending project situation has its own name. Scope creep is a slow and uncontrolled change in project requirements that negatively affects the entire project. In other words, your client requests new or different features or services without adjusting delivery deadlines and/or budget. And in your very real desire to be helpful and keep your client happy you may find yourself knee deep in what we call “Customer Pleasing Scope Creep” meaning that you want to please your customer or client and are reluctant to say no to a change in the project requirements.

Scope Creep is not only inevitable; it’s natural

The simplest and most direct way of preventing scope creep is by establishing a rate structure that provides a disincentive for the client to fundamentally change the project. This means that it is the Virtual Assistant’s or the project team leader’s responsibility to let the client know that the request change is considerably different from the requirements approved during the project scoping process. At this point the client needs to be presented with options and explanations of how these changes could impact the budget, timelines, and resources. It may well mean that the project needs to be re-scoped and you should not shy away from this.

Another less intrusive form of scope creep is that if the client’s request takes only a couple of minutes to implement, many Virtual Assistants tend to do it free of charge since it may take longer to open your client management system and log the quick project in. The problem with this is, if you do enough of this type of free work those few minutes can add up to an hour or better at the end of the month and you have just given away your time, your expertise and managed to lose money doing it.

The Solution

Making minor adjustments in the project is a normal part of doing business and can actually present a great opportunity to make a project more robust. But the question remains, what is scope creep and how do you control it?

Scope creep is the pejorative name we give to the natural process by which clients discover what they really want. Fortunately, there are several effective ways to diminish or at least manage scope creep.

  1. Ask the client for clear project description – it’s no secret that clients might have only a vague idea of what it is they really want to accomplish by hiring a Virtual Assistant. It is especially true for more complex or technical projects such as a WordPress installation. It is very likely that at the beginning of a particular project your client won’t be able to put their finger on exactly what they want, although they will be able to tell us quite politely what they don’t like. I suggest that you schedule time with your client on the phone and record that call so that you can have it transcribed. Without these notes it can be surprisingly easy to forget the specifics of the conversation. These notes can be a daily reference point that will guide both you and your client to a successful project conclusion.
  2. Define in-scope and out-of-scope tasks – when developing a quote or discussing potential project with a client, clearly define what’s included in your rate and what would cost extra and require extra time. Include rate break-down and scope definition in your contract or work agreement.
  3. Work with the client to develop a project plan – what gets done, how it gets done, when it needs to be done and the resources you need to get it done. This is the best time to discuss with the client what their current systems and future needs are.
  4. Stick to the plan - do you frequently add nice little (or not so little) extras to the deliverables? Do you pride yourself on overdoing things and delivering more than what the client originally asked for? It might sound counter-intuitive, but this practice of delivering more than what’s specified in the original plan, or gold-plating, is a bad idea. It increases your costs and potentially reduces the quality of the project. But here’s the sad thing –frequently the client will not view your nice little touches as necessary or valuable.
  5. Ask questions – there is no such thing as over-communicating. Unclear about the requirements? Ask questions early and often. And if you would like to do some extra work for your client, let them know what it is you would like to get done and how it would impact the deadline and the cost. Do not proceed without their approval.

It’s impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of scope creep. Even the best-defined and the most-carefully laid out projects might end up dragging on. In this case, the only thing a Virtual Assistant or Web Developer can do is to reduce the impact of the changes.

Scope creep can be a minor annoyance or a major disaster depending on your ability to recognize it and manage it. For that, you must plan for scope creep and be prepared to handle it. Building some slack into the project, especially if you haven’t done much similar work in the past is important. Making minor adjustments in the project is a normal part of doing business and can actually present a great opportunity to make a project more robust.

Another must is to establish a way to manage client’s change requests by inserting appropriate clause in the work agreement and developing a simple change form with cost and time estimates. The bottom line is that scope creep is just one of the many challenges you can count on facing. Even if you follow the mitigation strategies outlined above, it will happen sooner or later. By properly planning and preparing for it, you can make it less of an ordeal for both you and your clients. And that’s a real value-added service.

**You have permission to reprint in your publication or to your website/blog any articles by Denise Griffitts found on this Website as long as Denise Griffitt's name and contact information is included. Denise Griffitts, Virtual Assistance Industry Expert,, info @, 888-719-6711.

Author's Bio: 

Denise Griffitts is the CEO of Denise Griffitts Companies , the umbrella brand of profitable websites committed to helping others around the world understand how to leverage technology and the internet to earn more time and make more money.

Denise is a nationally recognized virtual assistance industry expert, thought leader, VA coach and mentor. She is also a web developer and serial online entrepreneur who believes that any person with the knowledge, skills, ideas, drive and the ability to mobilize resources can create a high impact business.

Her companies include Your Virtual Assistant , a leading multi-VA firm, Your Office On The Web , a website and design company specializing in WordPress Platform website/blogs and the Virtual Assistance University , a leading provider of training and coaching for Virtual Assistants.

Denise can be reached toll free at 888-719-6711 or by email at info @