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Managed well, scope creep can affect an accounting firm’s costs, revenue, business goals and more
YOUR BUSINESS 5 mins 29 Mar 2023 by Kasey Clark
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For anyone in professional services, out-of-scope work or ‘scope creep’ as it’s also called, is likely to have negative connotations. It’s work that can cost us money; it slows workflows, and disheartens staff. But at Ignition, we like to turn that thinking on its head. When you manage it properly and carefully define project scope, scope creep is a sign of growth that can positively impact your business goals, client relationships, team wellbeing, bottom line, and more.

What is scope creep?

Need a quick scope creep definition? Scope creep, or out-of-scope work, refers to a situation in which a client requests work that goes beyond the defined boundaries of your original engagement agreement or contract. It may include requests for additional services, objectives, or tasks that you did not initially agree on. So sure, if you let out-of-scope work come at you from every angle and run roughshod over you, scope creep issues will arise. These can include:

  • Loss of revenue. If you’re not billing the client and absorbing the increased time and costs of out-of-scope work, it results in less revenue and thinner margins. In the United States alone, accountants and bookkeepers estimate that out-of-scope work that hasn’t been fully billed is costing their business, on average, $6,386 each month. That’s $76,636 accounting and bookkeeping firms could be losing out on each year. Find out more in Ignition’s 2022 State of client engagement report.

  • Out-of-whack budgets and costs. Additional work often leads to longer timelines, higher expenses, and potentially reduced quality.

  • Inability to achieve business goals. Scope creep may result in excessive amounts of unpaid overtime, inefficiencies, and employee burnout. Keep in mind that in a challenging labor market for accountants, combined with a wider cultural shift toward prioritizing work-life balance, many of your employees will no longer tolerate such circumstances, especially if they’re under the age of 40.

  • Disruption to processes and planning. Out-of-scope work requires your firm to constantly reassess and adjust its approach to client work, which can in turn lead to delays, confusion, and mistakes.

What happens when you manage scope creep effectively

Nobody wants these negative repercussions! But often, scope creep is an indication that your clients’ businesses are growing – and you can grow right along with them! So, recognize scope creep for the opportunity it is, and take the time to properly define the scope of a project. Then, it can just as easily be a benefit to your bottom line, business goals, client relationships, and team wellbeing.

Here’s how:

  • By identifying and addressing scope creep with your clients as soon as they make an out-of-scope request, there won’t be any surprises for them when you bill for all the work you and your team have done for them.
  • By managing out-of-scope work, you can reduce the amount of unpaid overtime and unexpected expenses you incur, allowing you to better control your budget and reduce costs.
  • By maintaining a well-scoped project, you can make sure that all work aligns with your business goals. This way, you can stay on track and achieve those goals more efficiently.
  • By keeping a close eye on project scope, you can refine your processes and improve your planning as necessary, enabling you to improve efficiency.
  • By proactively managing scope creep, you can show your clients that you are responsive and committed to their needs. You’ll not only build stronger relationships with them, but also increase their loyalty.
  • By reducing the amount of unexpected, extra work and unpaid overtime, you and your team will certainly be happier. This boost to team morale and wellbeing helps create a positive work culture, and you’ll be more likely to retain top talent.
Not sure where to start or how to achieve these points? Read How to prevent and manage scope-creep. In it, we explain exactly how you can turn scope creep into a revenue opportunity.
So, why is scope creep bad? It’s not. But failing to properly define the scope of a project from the outset is one of the reasons why it can become a problem. But that’s something you can easily fix!

How to define the scope of a project

To define project scope well, it’s best to start with a scope management plan. Also known as a project scope statement, this is essentially a roadmap for processing and defining the work that needs doing and making sure it stays within defined boundaries. For accountants, bookkeepers, and tax professionals, a strong scope management plan should:

  • Define the goals of the piece of work or project.

  • Outline the deliverables your business will provide.

  • Establish a timeline for completion.

  • Identify potential risks and how your firm will address these.

Having such a clear plan in place helps to ensure that you and your team complete work on time and on budget – and meet client expectations.

Additionally, a well-defined scope management plan can help boost team morale and reduce the likelihood of employee burnout, because everyone involved in the project has a clear understanding of what they need to accomplish and how. Ultimately, having a project scope statement is a good idea for any firm looking to improve efficiency, its bottom line, and deliver high-quality work to its clients

Technology tools to help

Other templates and technologies can help make it simple to define the scope of a project, too. For example, for accountants and tax professionals, Ignition offers industry-vetted templates for your proposals and engagement letters that provide ready-to-go documentation detailing your services. With these, you can effectively kick off communication with your clients, establish clear expectations from the outset, and mitigate common misunderstandings around obligations and responsibilities.

What’s more, Ignition has a service edits feature that makes it easy to make changes to agreed-upon services. Your engagement letters will have already clearly set out the services you’ll provide, how often you’ll provide them, how out of scope work is handled, and who is ultimately responsible for what. Then, with service edits, you can follow-up on conversations with clients to adjust any pricing, billing, and service changes as they arise. You can also use service edits to automatically notify them of changes you make.

As the booming Nebraskan accounting firm in this scope creep case article does, you can specify in proposals and engagement letters that you will charge for any excess hours that your team works. So, for example, if tax law changes mean it will now take 20% longer to process your small business clients’ tax returns, you could use service edits to go into the relevant documents and increase the price by 20%.

With clear documentation in place, you and your clients can review the rules of an engagement with a couple of simple keystrokes.

Over to you

Want to find out more about how Ignition can help you effectively manage scope creep so it drives revenue instead of negatively impacting your business? Read How to prevent and manage scope-creep. Ignition improves efficiency, optimizes revenue and delivers seamless client experiences. Watch our online demo to find out how the platform makes it easy to sell, bill and get paid for your services – all in one place.

Book a demo of the Ignition software

Meet the author

Kasey Clark
Kasey Clark


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Published 29 Mar 2023 Last updated 21 Jul 2023