Project Management

Sometimes, Keeping the Project Moving Requires You to Gently Tell Clients 'No'

Reader Resource

Position yourself for growth in 2017—join us live at the Entrepreneur 360 Conference in Long Beach, Calif. on Nov. 16. Secure Your Seat »

It is possible for something to be too good or complete.

Consider, as an instance, how difficult it is to eat just one potato chip. You take a bite, and before you know it, you’ve eaten half the bag. In the startup world, it’s hard to fathom how making a great product better can threaten its success, but scope creep does just that.

Scope creep is when small additions (such as new features) are added in a product. Although they seem harmless and usually bring value, deviations from the minimum viable product (MVP) can derail the project’s timeline and budget.

Related: 3 iPad Apps That Make Project Planning Easier

During a recent team brainstorm, a lot of the generated ideas happened to be outside our client’s core business offerings. Managing the great ideas was very important because they could have easily turned into scope creep.

With the right focus on the business, the team was able to capture and organize these ideas without getting distracted by the upcoming release. Once the app had been released and the team could gather users’ feedback, the team members could take the time to improve the product.

By sticking to the core business features, the team made an app that was a huge hit and featured by Apple. It broke all kinds of records for the client’s business, and my team is now able to start iterating with those crazy ideas.

Form partnerships to combat scope creep. Fortunately, scope creep is avoidable, but it usually involves what we jokingly refer to as “dream-crushing.”

The companies we work with are always bursting with innovative ways to improve their apps, but it’s our job to help them identify the most important aspects we can deliver on in the MVP and revisit other ideas in later iterations. Now, we force ourselves to be realistic, which means avoiding deviations from a project’s original focus.

Saying “no” can be hard, and it only works when you think of your client as your partner. This means establishing an environment where your client is comfortable coming to you with problems and trusts that you will deliver a great product.

Developing a partnership immediately establishes a more equal and open relationship, which improves the project in three ways:

  • It frees you to focus on user-specific goals. Business goals for an app usually include increasing profits and growing the client’s customer base, while users only care about the experience. Acting as a partner allows you to bridge these goals and create a product that satisfies client and user needs.
  • It improves communication. Establishing a partnership instantly brings a new level of mutual respect to the conversation, which means both parties are less likely to stray from the original plan. Better communication puts the client at ease and helps team members understand which tasks have the highest priority.

  • It allows you to set realistic expectations. Remember what I said about dream-crushing? Preventing scope creep means you’ll have to say “no” to some things, and partners are more willing to accept that than clients.

Related: You're Hired: A Project Management Primer

Once you have a solid partnership in place, here are three things your team can do to focus the project and avoid scope creep:

1. Work in one-week sprints. These are part of agile software development and a method Zappos uses to launch big projects without overwhelming team members. Your project manager decides what can reasonably be accomplished within a week and periodically picks items off the backlog to work on.

2. Hold brief but frequent meetings. Meetings often get a bad reputation in startups, but gathering with your team frequently can keep a project on track and resolve issues quickly. Daily standup meetings allow team members to share what they’ve accomplished (keeping everyone accountable), and bi-weekly retrospectives allow the team to share the successes and struggles of the project.

3. Be open and transparent. Always make sure you and your partner are on the same page about the vision and scope of the project. We’re not interested in a big reveal at the end of a project. Our partners always know exactly what to expect because they’ve been involved every step of the way.

Realizing that you can’t immediately put every great idea into action can be discouraging, but focusing on the core features of your MVP will yield a stronger end product. Document new ideas, but don’t let them draw attention away from the original vision. When you’re realistic, focused and treat your clients as partners, you can create a finished product users will love.

Related: Three Tips for Boosting Productivity With Project Debriefing