Halting Project Creep

I was party to a fascinating exchange yesterday. At the end of a meeting a company had delivered all that was required of it to signal the end of one phase of a project, allowing a pause before possible authority to embark on the next stage. This accepted delivery would also trigger a final payment.

Despite it being acknowledged that all had been provided as contractually agreed, due to some (random) buyer-side protocol compliance, a further piece of documentation was requested. Take the added time and effort to provide this, it was said, and final approval would follow.

It reminded me of so many sales tales where even though the task is properly completed, new requirements extend the job – and prolong the wait for deserved payment.

The phrase ‘project creep’ grew up to describe when thi can happen during a project. It’s where new requirements appear and the client requests them to be done. Typically, as they crop up way before any deadline, they are agreed upon (often in writing with addendums to briefs) so that everyone knows the project will extend and costings alter accordingly.

As the term suggests, such new requirements then continue to occur. The old brief ‘creeps’ upwards and outwards towards a totally different project at the logical extreme.  They tend to be relatively small requests, but the combined impact of their ‘creep’ can be huge further along the road.

When it appears right at the end of a project though, project creep can be devastating. In my experience, contracts go without amendment at this stage, Expectations fall out of kilter with realities and perhaps most crucially, one request morphs into two, three, and sometimes many more. All of which can have dramatic and detrimental effects on both parties (but alas, usually it’s the supplier that unfairly faces meltdown).

So, how do you avoid such potential destruction?

Well, one irony is that many vendors encourage project creep. A belief prevails that, managed appropriately, it can lead to more revenue and closer integration between you and your client, way less likely to be open to competitive penetration.

Yet my experience leans more towards the frustrating slippage and relationship damage that it causes. When there is an obvious and definite milestone it must be made explicit that any final task as referred to earlier will either:

  1. incur a charge (provided your legals have made you water-tight to ask for this),
  2. be provided once payment is lodged,
  3. be presented on explicit condition that funds will immediately flow upon receipt.

Of course, the likelihood is that managed incorrectly, the gap between you and your money will grow.

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