sticky notes for project scoping

Project Scoping: The Roadmap for Clients and Agencies

Projects can get hung out to dry for many reasons: Time management, budget, resource challenges, poor communication — and the list goes on.

Enter the project-scoping process: Friend to agencies and clients alike, yet often skipped or rushed in the dash to get the wheels spinning.

Clients need scoping because that roadmap ensures that the agency partner has a path and a plan to deliver an end product that matches goals.

Agencies need scoping because an effective scope and its related visioning and planning elements help the creative team stay within cost and ups the likelihood of an on-time delivery.

The question is, what does a successful project scope need?

Realistic timelines

Beyond the obvious “we don’t want to miss deadlines or skewer the budget” reasons for why an agency should communicate realistic timelines up front, there are unique circumstances in every project that will make or break a successful, on-time delivery. However, those can be corralled with the following, set-in-stone elements of a well-designed project scope:

  • Internal and external approval processes with a concrete plan for how timelines should shift if an external approval is late.
  • Clear milestones set in stone for final deliverables in each phase, with timelines for revisions, meetings and internal Q/A (without this, external revisions will take MUCH longer than planned).
  • Adequate time built in for development Q/A and deployment (the tendency is to rush this step — don’t).
  • A finite number of revision rounds and what is included in each to avoid scope creep.

Client and agency must agree to hold each other’s feet to the fire on delivering a realistic timeline at the project’s beginning. Not only will it keep both teams honest, it will give each group a roadmap to help manage internal expectations and keep everyone engaged throughout the project.

Input from everyone involved

I’m a big fan of having an internal scope meeting early in the process, preferably prior to delivering a project estimate. On the agency side, the goal is to get project management, account management, development, design, content and strategic teams in the same room to identify an accurate technical scope and cost estimate.

On the client side of the fence, the meeting provides ammunition to gain buy-in on the project, as an accurate, detailed scope will help articulate the value to company decision-makers so they can realistically understand the ROI.

Goal alignment

At the end of the day, both client and agency should be empowered to focus solely on the collaboration that leads to good work. To do so, it’s imperative that both parties have the same end goal in mind from the get-go.

With goal alignment in mind, here are a few tips to help keep everyone’s eye on the ball:

  • Get both teams in the same room to discuss goals early in the process so that the scope reflects both the end outcome and how to get there in the most cost-effective way possible.
  • Go through a formal approval process (if applicable) of the project strategy so that your goals have legs to stand on.
  • Define what’s not within scope and communicate the process for addressing scope creep (extra rounds of revisions, supplemental creative content development, etc. to be billed at an hourly rate following project completion)
  • Establish regular project check-ins to discuss status, communicate any challenges and what you (or the client) need to keep the project moving.

While a scope won’t bulletproof a project, it will help both parties fence in potential pitfalls and create a roadmap to a successful completion. The point isn’t to lean on the scope to ensure mistakes don’t happen; it’s to ensure that everyone knows how to get back on track when they do.