Scope Creep

Scope creep can occur when a project’s completion requirements exceed the planned requirements. 

When this happens, the project runs the risk of being completed late, over budget, and lacking in quality. 

It can also severely deteriorate your relationship with clients, referral partners, and subcontractors.

It is such an important topic that I wanted to spend a few minutes today sharing more information and ways to foresee it and avoid it. 

What is Scope Creep?

Every project should begin with agreed-upon project requirements, including a project timeline, budget, boundaries, and incremental and final deliverables. A clear and solid contract should be in place outlining the mutual agreements. 

When a project’s requirements go beyond those included in the original plans without authorization or control measures, the project enters scope creep. 

Scope creep may happen due to added features, funding, resources, or personnel needed to complete the project in a satisfactory manner.

Consider Scope Creep a pre-cursor to change orders.

Scope creep is very common in emergency services. Between the speed and urgency of the tasks, the highly charged emotions, and the lack of being able to identify all damages in the initial assessment, it is wildly common the entire scope of the project will grow or change. It is just imperative for the relationship that these be managed very, very carefully.

The days of dropping unexpected charges on a client and other stakeholders will result in long payments or deviation from your invoice. You want to be in front of this scenario. 

Note that my industry experience has been in estimating and invoicing in T&M, but the factors will be essentially the same regardless of your format. 

Examples of Scope Creep

Some of these will seem VERY familiar to you. Especially if you have ever been stuck with doing work and not getting paid for it. 

These examples could easily be for a lump sum job or one you have scoped and provided a ROM (rough order magnitude) on. 

You are called to a water damage. 


Mild damage.

Moderate contents, but they need to be moved to enable floor drying.

The client is unsure of coverage for any number of reasons and wants to keep costs low.

They claim they will move their contents by the time you need to get to the flooring.

1-2 days go by, and they are unable to move the furniture for whatever reason. 

Your team is now at an almost standstill until the furniture is moved. They spend 2-3 hours of moving it to the garage. 

Everyone is happy. Client and Staff.

But your superintendent fails to make note of this. Now you have lost 6ish hours of billing that will show up on payroll, shrinking your profit margin. 

 A few simple additional examples:

  • You try to save flooring, but ultimately need to remove all or part of it. 
  • More damage to drywall
  • Longer drying times. 
  • Removal of char and ash taking longer than expected. 
  • Additional HVAC cleaning
  • Presence of environmental hazards (asbestos)
  • Client “favors”

It is all just about making sure you keep the communication lines open across all paths. Client, staff, estimator, and office staff.

The smallest things can often turn into huge sore spots holding up the entire project. 

Strong project management practices can eliminate most of these and ensure you are capturing all costs owed to you. 

5 Common Causes of Scope Creep

We have covered some examples of scope creep, now let’s discuss some root causes so we can avoid them. 

Ill-Defined Scope Requirements:

Stakeholders cannot be expected to adhere to an undefined scope.

Create a document that defines the project’s requirements, including its budget, resources, goals, tasks, deliverables, and timeline requirements. Use charts, diagrams, checklists, and other visuals to create an easily consumable and understandable document. Present the document to all stakeholders, both to those who will implement it and those who must be satisfied with the project’s results. A project should not be started without this document signed.

This ALONE will help address scope creep and change orders more professionally. 

Too Many Cooks in The Kitchen

One of my favorite phrases is” “if everyone is responsible, no one is accountable”.

If all stakeholders who execute a project are decision-makers, your scope approval process is likely to be plagued with conflicting plans and change requests, creating unmanageable scope creep. 

To prevent this, clearly define who the project’s final decision-maker or lead is, who can approve scope change requests (and who cannot), who is to be only consulted on change requests, and who must only be informed of them.

The additional value of this rotational lead assignment is the cross-training provided.

Lack of Project Prioritization

It is important to balance final deliverable quality with time, resources, and budget limitations. This should be done through task prioritization.

There is a project management feature called CRITICAL PATH that should be adopted. You can learn more about its basics here: critical path management. If you have ever attended one of my restoration project management courses, we touch on this as well. 

To implement task prioritization, in your project’s requirement documentation, consult with all stakeholders to decide which tasks or milestone deliverables are most important and which are nice-to-haves. 

Then, if scope creep threatens the project, refer to this prioritization list to cut unnecessary tasks or deliverables and, thereby, reign in the project’s scope.

Unchecked Client Requests

Clients are likely to make as many requests as are tolerated to get the most out of their project investment. This is just good business.

Without a way to limit or at least make sound decisions around these requests, they run a very high risk of derailing your project and, ultimately, sacrificing a quality, timely and cost-effective final deliverable.

As such, make sure all your project executors know if they are authorized to approve change requests or not, the parameters, and how to deny client requests, if necessary, without alienating the client.

By putting together a change control plan, then thoroughly training project executors and the client around its content and stated process, unchecked client requests are less likely to be a significant problem.

Poor Or Missing Change Order Management

A change control plan is an essential document that clearly defines the request, approval, and denial process for scope change requests and who can implement them.

It also ensures that all scope change requests are complete, so they do not continue to grow via additional requests after approval. Without this document and without ensuring all stakeholders and project executors understand this document, change requests are likely to get out of control.

Lastly, this document needs to be closely tied to the invoicing process (especially progressive billing) to ensure timely payments are managed to help cash flow.

How Do I Avoid Scope Creep?

I don’t know that AVOIDING scope creep is the goal as much as recognizing and managing it is.

It is not uncommon that additional requests and findings can drastically increase revenue and improve profit margins.

It can also improve relationships with clients in areas of customer experience and service. Clients love responsible parties that put their needs first.

Instead of creating a culture that fears scope creep, just spend several simple and pointed meetings sharing what it is, how to handle it, and what benefits it can provide.

For simplicity, I wanted to share what is called a Work Breakdown Structure. It is another tool (that’s several in this one article) that helps keep all parties focused and aligned with projects. You can find an article about this here: Work Breakdown Structure


The last major suggestion and tool I think all teams should implement is some sort of post-project audit.

The military calls these After-Action Reports.

We have a template for what this might look like. Download it here: Post Project Evaluation

Thank you for reading our blog/lesson today. We hope our content and resources continue to help you thrive as a disaster recovery expert firm.

If you would like to speak to us further, you might find that this is merely a tiny fraction of our training.

Feel free to reach out to us at to see how we can help you revolutionize your business. 

Klark Brown

With a little over 20 years of restoration and disaster recovery, Klark has compiled a massive amount of experience that he feels compelled to share with the others in his industry. With a “Rising Tides” philosophy, Klark has built an entire coaching firm around helping the eager and professional restorers with business and operations education. From online forums, blogs, courses, classroom workshops to a podcast, you will always find Klark sharing everything he has to anyone willing to put it to use.

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