Project managers would cease to exist if managing client expectations and project scope wasn’t so vital. However, ensuring a project stays on schedule and within budget requires dedicated effort. In professional IT work, client needs often change and expand unexpectedly. The difference between a successful project with satisfied clients and an unsuccessful one with unhappy clients usually hinges on correctly managing out-of-scope work. 

What is out-of-scope work?

The discovery and documentation phase at the beginning of a project defines responsibilities, timelines, and deliverables. Anything outside that agreed-upon scope falls into the “out of scope” category. For example, if all parties agree to a cybersecurity assessment, but the client asks for the MSP to tackle an SQL database server installation weeks later, that work would be out of scope. 

When additional tasks and deliverables get added to the project’s scope without corresponding increases in budget or time, the term “scope creep” gets applied. While scope creep is common in most IT projects, handling it effectively can keep a project on track. 

Why do projects often go out of scope?

Projects go out of scope for one or multiple reasons. The root cause of what drives this can come from: 

1. Changing client needs

Clients might realize new needs or opportunities as the project progresses. Outside opinions, such as investor influence, may also affect a client’s request. 

2. Poor initial planning

Inadequate documentation for requirements or goals can lead to misunderstandings and underestimating the total cost.

3. Ambiguous requirements

If the project scope is not clearly defined and communicated, the client may assume that the work covers specific tasks that actually fall outside of scope. 

4. Over-promising

To win client pitches and projects, some IT professionals promise more than they can deliver within the given timeframe, skillset, or budget. As actual development starts, the project quickly goes out of scope because they failed to account for all of the tasks involved in delivering on that promise in the scope of work.

5. Evolving technologies  

New technologies frequently emerge, prompting clients to request additional changes to keep up with trends, such as incorporating an AI module that didn’t exist when the project’s discovery phase occurred. 

6. Inadequate change management

Small changes can accumulate without a formal change management process, leading to significant scope creep.

How to avoid going out of scope

Out-of-scope requests cannot always be prevented, but handling them correctly can prevent a project from succumbing to scope creep.

  1. Clear engagement terms: Ensure your contracts and SOWs clearly define the project scope, deliverables, timelines, and costs.
  2. Regular communication: Maintain open and frequent communication with your clients to manage expectations and address any concerns as they arise.
  3. Detailed project planning: Spend time on initial planning to accurately and thoroughly identify all necessary tasks and potential challenges.
  4. Formal change management: Implement a formal process for handling changes, including using change orders.

In particular, establishing formal change management expectations and processes can set an IT team up well to handle out-of-scope requests. While it can seem easier to handle each client feature inquiry as it comes in, relying on predefined outlines and templates will help guide team members through these situations smoothly. 

Learn more: What Is “Out of Scope” and How To Avoid Out of Scope Work in Your Next Project

What to do when clients make out-of-scope requests 

Though each unique request will likely have nuances that deserve attention, a systematic change management process sets the foundation for handling out-of-scope requests. 

1. Acknowledge the request 

Avoid simply saying the request is out of scope–this can seem abrupt or abrasive to the client. Instead, acknowledge the client’s request and demonstrate a willingness to discuss it. This approach shows you value their input, are open to accommodating their needs, and are working towards the same objectives. 

Example response: “Thank you for reaching out about [REQUEST]. I’d love to help. However, [TASKS] are not included in our current contract and scope of work. Are you free in the next few days for a meeting to discuss the details of your request and explore how we can best realize your objectives?”

2. Schedule a meeting 

Arrange a meeting to discuss the details of the client’s request. This initiative helps the client feel heard while allowing you and your team to understand what the client wants fully. Make sure to discuss: 

  • The specifics of the new request
  • The impact on the project’s timeline and budget
  • Any additional resources or skills required

Perhaps the client’s request is in scope, and they simply struggled to explain it well. If the request remains out of scope, then the meeting provides an opportunity to elaborate on why.

3. Draft a change order 

A change order is a formal document that outlines modifications to the original contract or scope. If the IT professional can accommodate the client’s out-of-scope request, such as an additional firewall installation, the change order serves as a basis for what that will entail. The document should include: 

  • A description of the new request
  • The impact on the budget and timeline
  • Any additional costs or resources required
  • Aligned expectations on deliverables 

 

Sometimes, new work can get slotted into the existing project. Other times, the requested change is extensive. Determine if updating the scope is necessary for the next launch or if it can begin afterward. Document the agreed-upon path in the change order. Should questions about this new scope of work arise, the change order serves as a source of truth for reference. 

4. Get client approval 

Ask all parties to review and sign off on the change order document. Ensure the client understands the implications of the changes, including any additional costs and extended timelines. This act clears up any confusion and gets everyone on the same page about when and how the work will occur. 

Example response: “After discussing your new request, we’ve prepared a change order that outlines the updates to the project scope, budget, and timeline. Please review the document and let us know if you have any questions. Once approved, we can proceed with the updated scope of work.”

5. Update project planning documentation 

Once the change order is approved, update all project documentation to reflect the new scope. This may include adjusting previous discovery documents, project milestones, planned sprints, and allocated resources. Communicate the changes to your team to ensure everyone is aligned.

How to bill for out-of-scope work

Adjusting billing for new project work is crucial for IT professionals, MSPs, or VARs.  Without this step, accommodating the client’s request can strain your resources and impact your profitability. Discuss the following points with the client before agreeing to incorporate out-of-scope work so they understand the billing implications while your team remains fairly compensated.

1. Billing rates

Define your billing rates for the additional work. This could be on an hourly basis or a fixed project fee. The model for this can differ from the initial contract, potentially resembling a support plan billing program. The key is to outline the expected costs and payment schedule so the client can make an informed decision about the new scope. 

2. Use charge orders

The importance of change orders bears repeating. The change order document should outline every aspect of the new initiative. This written record helps resolve any future confusion or misunderstandings, ensuring all parties have a clear reference.

3. Invoice clearly 

Provide detailed descriptions on the invoice and specify what each payment covers. This transparency builds trust and offers the client an itemized record of the work accomplished, aiding in tracking project progress. Invoice the client promptly for the new scope of work to avoid any later confusion.

Out-of-scope requests for IT project management 

Handling client requests for out of scope of work is unavoidable for most IT professionals, MSPs, and VARs. Doing so effectively can prevent the IT project from becoming unmanageable while creating a good client experience. Understanding the reasons behind scope creep, implementing strategies to avoid it, and managing out-of-scope requests when they arise ensures that your projects stay on track and your business remains profitable.

Clear communication, detailed documentation, and a formal change management process are vital to successfully managing scope changes. Using these tools and techniques, you can accommodate client requests while protecting your time, resources, and bottom line. Embrace the change order process and turn potential challenges into opportunities for growth and improved client relationships.

Using SOWs and CPQ for out-of-scope requests 

A client might simply need an estimate to gauge whether or not they’d like to proceed with their new feature requirements. ScopeStack’s CPQ software quickly generates an accurate and detailed estimate to share with the client. If the client agrees to the work, this estimate can be added to the change order document, outlining the task and deliverables. The detailed task list includes all necessary work, so there won’t be any forgotten requirements. Additionally, our range of SOW templates can save your professional IT team even more time by removing the need to create one from scratch. 

Let’s discuss how a CPQ tool designed by IT professionals can improve your estimating and change management processes. Contact us to learn how ScopeStack can benefit you.

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