Guest Column | March 21, 2022

How MSPs Can Solve For Scope Creep

By Max Feneck, CloudBlue PSA

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Don’t call it “string theory”, but in 2008, Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith, oceanographers from California, won the Ig Nobel Prize—a satiric prize awarded annually since 1991 to celebrate ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research—for proving mathematically that heaps of string, hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots.

Anyone who works in the IT sector or software engineering field can relate. Large projects that touch multiple teams and seek to meet numerous requirements tend to sometimes devolve into tangled complexity. This phenomenon, known as “scope creep”, can occur even on the most well-defined projects. 

For managed service providers (MSPs), the key to being successful, profitable, and trusted by their customers means they need to ensure they are taking the proper measures to counter the issue of scope creep by anticipating that it will inevitably happen. Only by adopting this mindset from the outset can MSPs begin to build a protocol to handle the issue generally with all accounts. So, with that, here are five things MSPs can do to rein in scope creep:

Step One: Get Established By Solidifying Expectations And Planning

McKinsey & Co. Partner Steffen Fuchs relates three key points required to manage scope creep: “discipline, collaboration and a relentless focus on real user needs.” With that in mind, MSP team leaders should establish clear channels of communication between clients and key stakeholders in such a way that each desired outcome is clearly articulated and phases into a solution by taking a twofold approach:

  • First, team expectations need to be established early on so there is no confusion later, and no opportunity for team members to make decisions in a vacuum. 
  • Second, clients should be made aware of the limits of a particular project so their expectations can be moderated if need be.

By keeping this advice in mind at the outset, MSPs can scale back scope creep when a client requests a little extra outside the scope of their contract. This leads me to point two: 

Step Two: Define Clear Parameters With End Customers At The Outset

If you are an MSP trying to grow your business, sometimes you and your team may be required to work beyond what’s expected. However, “doing extra work for free” shouldn’t be something that eats into your profitability or demoralizes your staff.

MSPs shouldn’t be afraid to put their foot down, and only by ensuring that their clients have a well-defined understanding of a project’s limits is this possible. “A collaborative review of scope at the very beginning helps both sides identify gray areas and prevent misunderstandings about what you’ll deliver—before they can eat away at your project budget,” writes Joe Knight, Roger Thomas, and Brad Angus in the Harvard Business Review,
Therefore, MSP project managers need to define project scope at the outset of the project so there are clear expectations on both sides. Doing so sets the stage for clear communication going forward about any natural additions to the project as well as any necessary adjustments to cost and time frame without creating undue surprises for the customer.    

Step Three: Raise Issues With Clients/Shareholders As Soon As They Happen

The Digital Project Manager offers a simple five-point framework PMs can follow when they need to have a difficult conversation with a client/team leader to prevent a project from going off track. 

Condensed, this process involves: saying what you’ve observed, explaining how it’s impacted the team/budget/project, explaining that you want to talk to the person you’re addressing specifically about the issue, asking for input, and working together to come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.

Step Four: Understand Your Client's True Capabilities 

During the scoping phase of the project, oftentimes—without any real malice—end customers will over-promise on the capabilities of their own team, organization, or the technology they produce. This happens at all levels of business. Thus, MSP project managers must be prepared to put on their “consultant hats” when meeting any new client.

It’s hard for any organization to admit that their tech is outdated and it can be even harder to develop a new process to replace “the way we’ve always done it.” However, MSPs need to take an active role as educators to be facilitators of change. 

Per research cited by Forbes, fewer than 30% of technology vendors are actively involved in the digital transformation process, and 16% of employees surveyed in a different study state their company’s digital transformation strategy improved performance and is sustainable in the long run. To remedy this, MSPs should maintain an open and engaged dialogue with the client and not be afraid to poke holes in stories to find the truth about a client's capabilities. 

The Boston Consulting Group takes this one step further and says that teams who stop work based on a lack of information provided to them should be rewarded, because, “without clarity on tradeoffs, resources are better spent assessing the current situation than continuing work.” 

Step Five: Use Technology To Track And Report Scope Creep 

As mentioned in the introduction, scope creep is bound to occur. For MSPs, this means that investing in resources meant to mitigate the effects of scope creep should be no different from investing cybersecurity resources or payroll software. 

With that in mind, MSPs should consider finding a professional services automation (PSA) system that can help keep track of things like customer tickets, employee hours, and billing to ensure that the work the managed service provider is giving to the client adds up with the contract. 

An article by Bain & Co. puts it succinctly: “[Automation] is no longer primarily about lowering costs. Companies are increasingly deploying automation to strengthen business resilience, reduce risk and generate useful business insights more easily.”

Further, a PSA solution helps MSPs adopt “a cycle of constant improvement to their engagement portfolio and organization,” as per And according to Aberdeen Strategy and Research, cross functionality between PSA and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools can create a centralized source of data and provide greater client engagement.

By solidifying planning, creating strategies based on previous projects to assist in project planning and management, and automating things like resource management, visibility into costs and revenue, and time and expense management, MSPs can cut back on the amount of scope creep they experience and provide true value to their clients.

About The Author

Max Feneck is Head of Global Alliances at CloudBlue PSA.