Change orders are something that every web agency must deal with. For those who don’t know what they are, change orders are modifications or additions to an existing project. Many web agencies also consider ongoing fixes, page additions or small addendum to a website as change orders.
Everyone has a different policy regarding change orders. Many web studios bill for these in quarter-hourly increments. Here’s how I deal with change orders at Lockedown Design.
Getting Discovery and Scope Right
If I’m starting a new project with a client, it is imperative that I understand their desired outcome for the project. This begins with discovery.
Discovery is where we work together to uncover the reasons behind the project, such as why is it important now? What is at stake if the project succeeds or fails? What does success look like? Who in the organization is pushing for the project? Who will support the project later? What is the underlying motivation behind doing the project?
By understanding the business goals of the project, and uncovering details surrounding the project, I am more likely to estimate the project scope correctly.
Project scope is the depth and width of the project. Scope can include the problem to be solved, how it will be solved, what path I will take to solve it, what project constraints and restrictions, how many revisions are allowed, and how long the project is anticipated to take.
Many clients come to me with a set of requirements in hand. I still like to go through the discovery process and ask important questions.
Discovery always uncovers details that are not contained in a requirements brief. The information that comes to light often helps me anticipate and solve problems before they surface later in the project. Undiscovered project needs manifest in the form of unanticipated questions, additional feature requests, and change orders.
By being proactive about discovery, I am able to judge the scope of the project better.
I never want to take an initial requirements sheet at face value. By being inquisitive, I can find information that will help me define an accurate scope of work.
Defining Scope To Accommodate The Unexpected
I try to be thorough in the discovery phase, but there are times when small changes are requested as the project is already in progress. My goal is to have some margin in the project, not to allow excessive scope creep, but to accommodate reasonable small changes.
A few small changes, outside of the original scope, are usually not a big deal.
Large or complex change orders should be found early, in the discovery process. When they appear late in the project, they are usually rolled into a second phase of the project. If a last-minute change order must be added to the existing scope, these are usually added at a hourly rate designated in the contract.
Clients do not always know what is a small request and what is a complicated request. This is why we go through project discovery — to get needs out in the open.
If there are excessive out-of-scope change orders at the tail end of a project, a conversation is in order. Knowing what clients are thinking is important. If the direction of their project seems to shift midstream, we need to discuss why that is happening.
My primary duty is to help clients reach their goals and make the most money possible. Sometimes that means talking them out of a bad idea; sometimes that means listening to their idea and seeing if it matches the overall project goal. It means always being receptive to what they are communicating.
What About Scope Creep?
Scope creep, for those who have never heard this term, is when the features, changes or updates grow uncontrollably during a project.
Scope creep can push back deadlines, and create friction between a consultancy and client. This is why it’s important for me to communicate and discover as much as I can about a project in the beginning stages. This is why it is vital for my clients and I to have open lines of communication during the project. My job is to lead clients towards the things they need the most in order to succeed.
But what if there are tons of change orders flooding into my inbox? What if a project is on the verge of scope creep?
As the project goes on, things that people don’t think about in the beginning tend to spring up.
The project contract should define what the project scope is, and how many revisions are allotted. But it should also address what happens if change orders get out of control.
A small amount of margin exists in each project for this contingency. A project budget to be healthy enough that client and consultancy hold no animosity over small potatoes.
After the agreed upon scope is exceeded, there are three options for change orders. They can be billed hourly. They can be put into a second phase pf the project. Or, if they are small enough, they can be carried over into a monthly maintenance agreement. Of these options, I prefer the last two.
What It Comes Down To
If I’m encountering a lot of change orders or scope creep on a project, it means we need to work on communicating better. It means I have to better analyze how I can improve my discovery process.
I try to build some cushion for unforeseen things that come up during a project. I want to be accommodating and have some flexibility. By the same token, I do not want to allow the project scope to be abused recklessly. That would be disrespectful to everyone involved.
I would rather take extra time in the discovery process and fully understand the project goals than burn extra time at the end, because we didn’t figure things out correctly in the beginning.
Project margin is there for a few small changes. A second project phase is there for large, excessive or complex changes. Maintenance agreements are there for regularly occurring small additions.