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Have you ever committed your time and energy to a project? Only to discover your responsibilities are growing far beyond the initial requirements? “This isn’t what I signed up for,” you think to yourself. “If only I’d known what I was getting in to.”

You have experienced scope creep, and whether you run into it in your personal or profession life. We all fall victim to it at one time or another.

When left unattended, scope creep in web design, as in any business, causes stress and costs time and money. The solution? Learn how to identify and attend to potential scope creep situations immediately. You will improve communication with clients; keep your web design projects on track. And may also turn a potential project management problem into a new business opportunity.

What is Scope Creep?                     

Scope creep is a project management term applicable to just about any undertaking in work or life. It results when the magnitude of a project exceeds or creeps past the boundaries of its original goals and objectives. It has a few aliases, including mission creep and requirement creep.

Characteristics of Scope Creep in Web Design

Scope creep takes on many different appearances depending on the nature of your business and projects. For web designers, clients often want to add additional features to their original request. As they learn about them from colleagues or when they visit other websites. Some of the common forms of scope creep include:

  • Fresh images on each site visit
  • Unlimited image slideshows
  • Page counters
  • Web copy and content
  • Additional pages
  • Blogging services
  • Social media account set up and management
  • Periodic updates
  • SEO services

These are things that many clients may assume are included in designing or redesigning a website. While these features and services can certainly be offered to your clients, be very careful about casually adding them as the project progresses.

Instead, identify each one in the early discussions with your clients. If they want these services included, add them to your contract or project agreement. Be very specific; if you offer periodic site updates, how often is “periodic”? Most importantly, list them as individual items on the quote and charge for them.


While scope creep may appear in a variety of forms according to the business and project, these three causes of scope creep are common to all businesses and industries, including web design.

  1. Poor communication between designer and client: A client may not be able to clearly tell you what they want because they simply don’t understand what you can do for them. Use probing questions to determine the priorities and goals for their website, what their budget is, and when they want it completed. Help them figure it out by showing them your portfolio (or at least a few other sites you have designed), providing them with a range of rates, and giving them an idea of how long a simple or more elaborate website design would take to complete.
  2. Lack of organization during project completion: Scope creep can magnify a disorganized web design project as it eats up additional time and resources. Knowing exactly what is to be completed, by whom and when keeps designers and clients on track.
  3. Lack of a detailed contract or agreement: It is much easier for your client to slide in a few extra project requirements if nothing has been identified and agreed to in a written contract or agreement. It is much easier for you to communicate fees for extra work if you can point out that the work is outside of the agreed upon deliverables.

Impact of Scope Creep on Web Design Projects

Scope creep has many negative results. An increased workload can lead to stress for the design team and a decrease in the quality of work. The added work either pulls you away from work for other clients, or forces you to pay wages to a subcontractor to complete the extra tasks. In some cases, it means going back to make changes to work already completed.

Unless addressed by the designer, scope creep means spending more time doing more work but not making more money, thereby reducing profits. It is also more difficult to meet project deadlines, and the added stress can lead to strained relationships with clients and between members of the development and design team members. At its worst, scope creep results in project in-completion and failure.

How to Avoid Scope Creep

Clear communication, organization, and planning at each phase of the project can greatly reduce the negative impact of scope creep on your next web design project.

Set clear expectations with your client before the project even Begin: Expectations of deliverables, timeline and financial arrangements should be clearly defined prior to starting work.

Get it in writing in a formal contract or project agreement: Include as much detail as you can here. Items may include design, development, number of pages, number of revisions included, and any web copy or graphic design work.

Identify and agree to a specific completion date for the project: This is critical as you can refer back to it if your client wants to add more to the project, particularly if they are on a tight schedule and have been advertising the date of the launch of a new business or redesigned website.

Define, assign and schedule deliverables: Use a PERT chart or Work Breakdown Structure. PERT charts were originally created by the United States Navy in the 1950s to deal with the organization of large-scale projects. A WBS chart format provides a high-level overview of project tasks and deliverables. They are both useful in creating visual representations of your web design project, and help identify each task for completion.

Set a scope creep allowance: Plan on a few extras to creep in to your project, and allow for these both in your budget and timeline. Pay careful attention though, as often it is a collection of small requests from web design clients that can add up to a painful scope creep experience.

Scope Creep or Business Opportunity?                

Scope creep isn’t always a bad thing. Expanding the scope of a project means more work, but it can also mean a further business opportunity. Again, communicate clearly with your client. Let them know if you can accommodate their requests, and how fulfilling the requests will impact the budget and project deadline.

Say something along the lines of “Sounds interesting. I’d love to help. Now if you can just give me a few more details, I’d be happy to work out a revised budget and timeline.” Don’t forget to factor in the effect that taking on this new work will have on your other clients and projects, particularly if you are a small design shop.

Take some time to evaluate your last design project. Did your client have requests that you simply completed as part of the original contract? If so, what effect did this have on the project deadline and your profit? Once you become familiar with identifying typical scope creep scenarios, it will become easier to manage them, turn them into business opportunities or avoid them altogether.

This article was originally published in 11 October 2017. It was most recently updated in November 28, 2022 by

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