by Evelyn Long
It’s no secret that home performance professionals need to stay within a given project's timeline to please clients. However, clients sometimes make last-minute requests that extend the task, leading to scope creep—and before you know it, the original timeline and budget are going to look quite different from the initial proposal.
Some degree of uncertainty is inevitable in an industry that must contend with materials prices, the risks of adverse weather, and labor availability. But delays caused by scope creep can be more efficiently handled by professionals with strong project communication chops. Here are some tips for preventing scope creep in the home performance industry.
Clear Project Communication is Critical
Home performance professionals can’t always account for a client’s changing whims, but they can do everyone a favor by starting with a clear plan. Start by defining the goal of the assignment, timelines, and who is responsible for what tasks. To organize these plans, create a scope of work document to walk through with the client.
It should include the following:
- Project objectives
- Payment information
- Expected outcomes
Of course, once you have a plan in place, changes are likely to occur. Clients may add a new request to the project or decide to shift gears on the ideal HVAC upgrade. When these requests come in, your team needs a system to process them quickly.
Change control isn’t just meant to juggle clients—it can help with market uncertainty, too. Industry professionals have been learning to navigate pandemic-related supply chain fluctuations for some time. Some factories are still under restrictions and shipping costs can fluctuate. These factors have caused a backlog in the current supply chain, compounding the time and expense professionals may rack up to secure certain materials.
Put a change management process in place now to help balance any combination of these issues. Every change needs to be defined, reviewed, and approved. Then, you need to clarify the impacts the change will make on cost savings and the original timeline. This creates transparency for all parties involved. So how do you get started?
How to Define Your Change Management Process
First, designate the responsible party for handling requests. The project manager—whether that is a small business owner or a dedicated role on a larger team—needs to be the point person for change management on the given project. Organization can quickly fall apart if responsibilities are unclear or scattered across a team.
Next, ensure every request from a client, subcontractor, or team member is processed via a change request form that makes it to the project manager with applicable information. From there, the manager can record their decision and either move forward with the project change or explain to the interested party why they have to sideline the request.
Next, the project manager works with the team to create a proposal for how the request will affect the scope of the project, with special attention paid to time and resources. This is also a good opportunity to highlight any additional risks or delays that could crop up as a result of the change.
Finally, with the change request processed and an action plan proposed, it’s time to get sign-off from the client. The added transparency of clear documentation and consideration can help even challenging clients see the compound effect even a small change can have on the scope of a home performance project. From there, all parties can agree on the appropriate course of action.
Tips For Efficiently Reducing Scope Creep
Is your change management process in place? Make it even stronger with a few efficiency and client communication tips that can keep scope creep at bay and projects moving smoothly.
1. Consider Digitizing Project Management
Technology can help to make tasks more efficient, and change orders are no exception. Using project management software allows contractors to stay organized and automate key tasks, including client communication and document updates.
There are dozens of popular project management software products to check out, each with various industry specialties and features. If your team is considering adopting a tool to automate client paperwork and project management, take your time to determine which features are essential and which aren’t worth the investment.
2. Clarify Change Management Steps Up Front
Without proper clarification, change requests come as a surprise for clients expecting a request to be simpler than it really is. Review the requirements documentation and change control process with stakeholders when these topics arise, and everyone will be more prepared for the final verdict.
It’s also a good idea to train your project team on the process to prevent requests from slipping through the cracks. Share the change control process and explain how it impacts them. Remind them they need to go through the formal process when approving any new changes.
This is where effective communication with coworkers, subcontractors, and/or employees is key.
3. Communicate With Clarity
You’ve processed a request, you have a proposal and you’re ready to share how changes will impact the project scope. Is it smooth sailing from here? Possibly, but you can increase your chances for a productive, transparent chat with best practices for clear communication.
Whether you meet up in-person or over the phone, express your availability for running through questions and be clear about the factors that went into the project update. There’s a reason “clear is kind” is one of researcher Brené Brown’s favorite communication tips—it can increase trust between you and your client and let them know you processed their request with their best interest in mind.
4. Learn How to Say “No”
In the analysis stage, you may find some change requests may not add value to the project. To keep things on track, it’s okay to say “no.” This can seem nerve-wracking, but start by clearly presenting your case. Let the client know how it will interfere with the budget, timeline, or resource allocation. In addition, be honest and offer an alternative solution within your delivery.
Refer back to the procedures and guidelines laid out in the scope of work document. Be clear that your expertise as a home performance professional is what’s guiding your decision making, and you can navigate a tougher conversation with authority and empathy.
Reducing Scope Creep With Change Management Systems
Scope creep is a common problem in the home service industry, and home performance professionals are likely to run into this in the course of their careers. There are times stakeholders make uncontrolled changes, leading to an extended timeline that ultimately negatively impacts both clients and professionals.
That's why it’s critical to have clearly defined goals and proper documentation in place. From there, make sure you practice transparency with your team and clients. A combination of strong systems and clear communication can make any project scope challenge something more in your control.
Evelyn Long is a writer and editor focused on home building and construction. She is the co-founder of Renovated, a web magazine for the home industry.