Alexandria Hart, founder of Good Joo Joo, joins us to talk scope creep: what it is, how to avoid it, how to course correct when it happens, and how to leverage it into a conversation around extending an SOW.
Hi folks. My name is Kevin Dunn and welcome to Agency Unfiltered, a biweekly web series and podcast that interviews agency owners around agency operations, growth, and scale. Nobody knows how to scale agencies than those that are already doing it and they're happy to share an unfiltered look into what has worked and what hasn't. Joining us today, Alexandria Hart, the founder of Austin, Texas based agency Good Joo Joo. We talk scope creep. What it is, how to avoid it, how to course correct an engagement when it happens, and how to turn it into an opportunity for an extended SOW. Get better at saying "No" starting today by listening to Agency Unfiltered. Let's go!
KD: Alex, hello, thank you for joining us today.
AH: Hi, thank you for having me.
KD: Yes, we're very excited to get into this top specifically. Scope creep is pain many, if not all, agencies feel, experience, and struggle with—so I'm very interested to hear what you have to say on the topic. Maybe the best place to start, how would you define scope creep? It's something we all talk about, but how would you actually define scope creep?
AH: Yeah, I mean anything that's out of bounds, right? Like if you have mastered the art of the scope of work as an agency, freelancer, provider, whatever it is that you're doing, things should be very detailed and very clear as far as what's provided. So scope creep is when there is an assumption made on behalf of the other party, that something's included when it hasn't been previously discussed or outlined. Someone can come to you and say like, "Hey, we need this thing. "We'd like to talk to you about providing it. "I realize these are additional services." And start a BD conversation. Scope creep is when you're just like, assuming it's gonna happen even though it's not in writing or out in the ether anywhere.
KD: So I think it comes down to your point, statement of work. And if it's in there, it's not scope creep, if it's outside of there, it's either a biz dev conversation or it's scope creep.
AH: Yeah, you're out of bounds.
KD: You're out of bounds.
AH: Out of line.
KD: Now would you say that scope creep is one size fits all or are there different types of scope creep that you've experienced? Are there distinctions? What are all the different shapes and sizes of scope creep that you've seen?
AH: Yeah, so many, right? It depends on your client persona and the personality type of who you're dealing with. We have clients that can get easily distracted, see kind of a shiny thing, it's kinda like a kid in a museum and you have to divert their attention to what isn't breakable or what is most important. So I definitely think there's that. It can also be a symptom of them not feeling supported in a particular area. Whether it was us that's supposed to provide it or someone internal, another agency. So there's a lot of opportunity if that happens to be the case. Just say, “hey, what's really going on here?” And kind of like unsurface that. And then there are people who make a practice of it and get away with it and you kinda gotta like be firm and shut it down quickly so it doesn't become a recurring issue.
KD: It makes sense. And I think we'll get to, you said shutting it down, we'll get to that in a second. But before we actually get to the practice of shutting down scope creep, what have you seen as like the biggest ramifications? If this isn't a problem that you prioritize and aim to solve, what do you think it'll hurt most at the agency?
AH: Yeah, well it can hurt your relationship, obviously. At the end of the day, as Masheeza says, everybody just wants to feel seen and heard. So scope creep is a symptom again of like, your client not feeling supported in a particular area, you obviously want to have that conversation. Shutting it down has to be done in a very strategic way so that you know, potentially if they need additional services in the future, they're still willing to come to you and not just, "Oh, Alex and Good Joo Joo aren't willing "to do anything else to help us." That's pretty bad.
KD: But that's not always the case, right? Because you mentioned there's scope creep but then there's a potential business development conversation. How do you make that distinction between the two?
AH: Honestly, it varies a lot client to client. And some of it I think has a lot to do with time that you've been collaborating and we have minimum contract agreements, I think most, just about every agency does, and for the purpose of being able to identify those gaps and establish a good working relationship. So if we've been working with someone for a month and they're scope creeping, I think either we need to, you know, like redefine the scope or really set boundaries in the relationship. If we've been working with them for six months doing the same thing, then maybe it is time to expand and go a little crazy with it.
KD: So I mean, I think it's, let's set the right guardrails for an early relationship versus, oh, we've been partnering together for a handful of months, a longer leash so to speak, because we drive that additional value for you.
AH: Absolutely, yeah. Time to establish the relationship, understand how people work, is really, really important.
KD: And it also probably, if there's foresight into, well actually if we allow this scope creep, then there's gonna be additional service expansion or some revenue opportunities as well, right?
AH: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And there's a case for letting it happen sometimes. I'll just let it happen strategically because there are people that you want that relationship to evolve and really own more.
KD: Let me ask you this: do you have any examples? What's the worst scope creep that you, shamefully or not shamefully, allowed? What was the worst scope creep that you were just like, okay, we'll do that?
AH: Oh man. There’s actually quite a few, to be perfectly honest. I think the thing that we get asked for, the most common scope creep, maybe not the worst, is just creation of assets. Like we have design capabilities in house but we are not a quote unquote "design agency", we're a growth agency. So when someone wants like, you know, Instagram story assets. We will make them for you, but on a very limited basis. And only if it's in combination with an actual campaign that we're measuring and it can be part of a cohesive effort. We're not just making random images for your 'gram.
KD: Unrelated to anything, just a one off over here.
AH: Yeah, yeah. So that is the most common scope creep. I don't know that it's the worst though, yeah.
KD: How about when you mentioned like design assets or creative assets, when do revisions play a part? Maybe it's something that's already scoped out, it's part of a campaign, but do you ever run into issues with additional rounds of revisions or time it takes to get approval?
AH: Yeah, absolutely. And that's written very clearly in the contracts that we do as well. And it's actually something that I will highlight multiple times during the closing process. It's like, hey, I want you to understand that is also included but there's a limit to how many iterations we can produce. And you know what? I have to say that are clients are largely pretty respectful of that and if they tend to be the type that aren't respectful of that, then they're also probably not respectful of other things which makes them not a good fit for us anyways. That's something very basic that I feel like most people understand.
KD: Over and over again for these minute details, yeah.
AH: Yeah, let me get you that 18th revision.
KD: But to your point, people seem to be okay with that expectation if it's so clearly communicated at the front.
AH: Yeah, you have to be super clear in the very beginning, yeah.
KD: That makes sense. We talked about, what was it, standing firm or holding firm. How do you navigate that push back or how do you say no to scope creep? Like what's that conversation look like as to not hurt the relationship or prevent maybe biz dev opportunities in the future? So how do you navigate that conversation?
AH: I approach it very much like a discovery call. So hey, we received this inquiry. You know, tell me more about the actual goal here. Again, making sure that it's not busy work. Making sure it's not taking away the focus from something that we're strategically testing, jumping ahead of testing can be like a common scope creep. Like, yes, we will do this but it's stage three and we kicked off yesterday. So yeah, I approach it as discovery. Try to find out what the actual goal is. If they can't tell you a goal, that's a good indicator that it's not fully baked, even if it could be cool and strategic, it's not there yet. And so then yeah, it's just a collaboration in terms of prioritizing it. If there's no goal, I'm probably not gonna do it.
KD: That's the easiest question to write off the front. Just, what's the goal on this? And based on their articulation of the said goal, like that will determine if it's in bounds or out of bounds.
AH: I will say that occasionally sometimes the goal is just to make the client feel better, right? Like for example, we do very in-depth monthly look-back reports and clients will occasionally want those before the attribution window closed for ads or just before it's time. And we'll occasionally provide those ahead of schedule, even though the data's not fully baked. Because there's usually something going on internally. That person has to answer to the CEO and we wanna like facilitate that and make their lives easier, so.
KD: You don't want to get in the way in those types of instances, right?
AH: No, no. I don't want someone to go to a meeting and say, "oh, I don't have the data because Alex didn't give it to me." Like, I'm gonna pass on that.
KD: How hard is it to instill that sort of talk track? Like, okay, approach scope creep as a discovery, ask for goals, how hard is that to like synthesize across the team, train up the team to be able to have those conversations as well?
AH: It's actually fun. I think because they particularly enjoy, all of our employees and all of our contractors even have a copy of the scope that they're working on. I find that very important. Having worked at agencies in the past where I didn't exactly know what all was included. If the client asked for something, I wasn't sure how to respond. And I think that the team enjoys having that level of knowledge because it empowers them to say something like, "oh, hey, yeah, that isn't really "on the roadmap but let's have a discussion." And it also keeps them from doing work that's not strategic and my team hates doing work that is just not strategic, that is just not strategic.
KD: That checks out. You alluded to this earlier as well, right, but sometimes you'll allow scope creep if there's an opportunity, right? Do you have any particular examples where you stretched out, allowed the scope creep, and then you saw it yield obviously positive benefits, new revenue, additional services for a client?
AH: Oh yeah, absolutely. Our biggest client, and they've been a client for several years, they kind of got to this place where they've gotten so big they're hiring very aggressively and hiring for a retention marketing manager role and so we kinda stepped in to be you know, interim. And we do that often actually, I will set like a scope where we integrate HubSpot and we set up all the campaigns and integrations and automations and then train someone to kinda take it over, pass the torch. But in this instance I was like, okay, they're hiring, step in, and just crush it to the point that they didn't end up hiring that role.
KD: Oh, really?
AH: Yeah, and we were able to, it's 'cause I saw opportunity, again, it was a long standing relationship so I kinda see the opportunity gaps. They have excellent content and we just started churning out those content emails. But long-term, this was almost a year ago now, I mean, their email marketing revenue has doubled. Great content will do wonders but you gotta get it in front of people. So I'm quite proud of that one.
KD: That's great.
AH: They're one of my favorite clients.
KD: That's awesome.
AH: I don't have favorites, I lied.
KD: They're all equally your favorite, that's right. So let's just say I'm an agency and I'm very guilty of allowing scope creep, right? So far I feel like I've had a couple tips where I have a really buttoned up statement of work. Clear cut expectations around revisions, amount of revisions, et cetera. Be comfortable saying or asking, what are your goals? Treat scope creep like discovery. Are there any other tips that you would instill if I wanna change the way I handle scope creep today?
AH: Two that I can think of is, one, this is a great opportunity, right? Like people do this, people kinda push your buttons, in life, in business, whatever. And you have to learn how to respond appropriately, particularly if you wanna work with enterprise level clients like if you wanna be great at business development and so rather than thinking about it as an annoyance, thinking about it instead as an opportunity. Like, I feel pretty good saying I'm good at this now. Not the case a few years ago. So reframing that I think is really beneficial. Also, if you have to, and again, not that you have to, should you choose to, rewrite the damn scope of work. Rewrite it for more money. Or perhaps for less money but maybe it's more strategic for the client, it's less work for you, and everybody's happy. I think that there are very clever ways of turning this all around and making it a great thing.
KD: How many scope creep requests or how many or what percentage end up turning into like, quotes or proposals, you know, obviously we've asked what the goal is, but what would you say the percentage is, like let me turn around a quote for that service?
AH: Almost half and half. I say I shut down about half for whatever reason. It's too soon, we're already like testing this other thing heavily, or it's just not that great of an idea. About half of them turn into some sort of addition, extension to the original scope.
KD: And then out of that 50%, how much actually close as, okay, they actually agree to the statement?
AH: Probably an additional half.
KD: That's great.
AH: So yeah, I'd say like a quarter, 20%, 30%. Just the ones I'm thinking of recently, yeah.
KD: Final question for you, not necessarily related to scope creep, but it is a question I ask every guest. I definitely didn't prepare you for this.
AH: Is it related to Harry Potter?
KD: It can be, and maybe it is. Maybe it is. We need a good butterbeer, we were talking about that. What is the strangest part of agency life?
AH: Ooh. You know, I think that like the wearing multiple hat things is a common topic discussed in start up life. But what nobody tells you is that agency life, there are days when I'm literally in my pajamas, I forgot to brush my teeth, it's 1 p.m., I'm walking around, I'm on a call with chief executives of a multi-million dollar company and like my dog just peed on the floor. It's so very messy and so, so very messy but so satisfying because it feels nice that you can both be a human, be messy, have your own stuff, and really excel at what you're good at. I think, and for us in particular with remote work, I think that's something that my team experiences is that we're just allowed to be human and still really successful.
KD: That's a great answer.
AH: Thank you. I don't know that I was a proper answer, but I tried.
KD: Yeah, I thought that was perfect. Maybe actually one bonus question in regards to Harry Potter
AH: Oh my god please.
KD: Because you said you're a big Harry Potter fan. What house are you?
KD: Gryffindor, now why would I even ask? Of course.
AH: What house are you?
KD: Gryffindor, duh.
AH: Got it.
KD: All right, that's it for Agency Unfiltered. Thanks everybody, we will catch you next time.
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