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The Never Ending Project: How to Prevent Scope Creep

Have you ever worked on a project that would… not… end!? Me, too. Poorly organized fixed-rate projects quickly turn into hourly-rate eating monsters that even Falkor couldn’t save you from.

What is Scope Creep?

Scope Creep is any work requested by the client that isn’t included within your original agreement. It can happen at any point in the project. The smallest little rabbit trail conversation with a client can lead to a whole list of to-dos that are way beyond the budget and deadline. Just because the project isn’t finished, doesn’t mean that all client requests are fulfilled. Consider the context of their requests. If the requests do not fall within the services you’ve agreed to provide, those requests are scope creep. You don’t want to waste precious time on tasks that are out of scope without getting compensated. There is no reason to work for free, and it’s no fun to see your hourly rate diminish as you burn the midnight oil over and over to finish that one last client request.

Let’s solve this problem.

1. Get a signed contract for every project.

Your first line of defense is a solid contract that explains the exact process and deliverables for every project. State clearly what this project includes, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. Also, and most importantly, make sure you include how much you will charge for any work outside of the project scope. That’s right, a Scope Creep Fee! This has saved my tail on several occasions. Tell them that their request isn’t covered in the current contract, but offer to create a new contract for the extra work. Or simply charge an hourly rate to cover anything outside of scope, like I do.

2. Enforce the contract throughout the project.

The best most detailed contract in the world is worthless if you don’t enforce it. At the end of the day, you have to AT LEAST deliver whatever  is written in that document. Refer to it often. You both signed it. It’s legally binding.

3. Get proof of their approval.

This is something I could probably get better at. I don’t have a formal signature-based process for approving each phase of a project. But it wouldn’t hurt. This came up while I was chatting with a designer friend who asked me this question:

“How do you typically send design proofs to clients, especially when there are a ton of on-going changes?”

My response:

“Email… and I have it spelled out in the contract how many changes/revisions are allowed before additional charges are added”

Friend:

“I was thinking there might be a website that could upload a proof straight out of photoshop/illustrator… the client gets a link that they can keep checking back with”

Me:

“There are services like that… http://www.conceptshare.com/ for example, or http://www.getsignoff.com/

Friend:

“Nice. Exactly what i’m looking for.”

Me:

“I’ve also used Basecamp‘s messaging system to send proofs since you can upload images”

Falkoooooooooooor!

Do yourself a favor. Don’t work for anyone without knowing exactly what they expect of you, when it’s due, and who gives final approval.  Getting these administrative details out of the way allows you to focus on what you do best… your job.

Do any of you expert freelancers have some wisdom you’d like to share? How do you prevent scope creep? Any methods or tools you can suggest?

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Adventures Ideas Inspirations

What’s the best computer for graphic design: Mac or PC?

WARNING: This post contains completely biased opinion from a Mac user.  You may experience entertainment and a desire to purchase Apple products. If symptoms persist for more than 30 days, save your money and call your local Apple dealer.
Mac vs PC ad guys

Nick Elam, sent me a controversial question that inspired this post:

What kind of computer do you suggest for graphic design? Mac? PC?
My laptop is too slow to handle my graphic design work lately so I’m looking for a new computer. Lots of people say “go with a Mac”, but I could build a PC with a faster processor and better video card for a lot less. What do you think?

I’ll answer Nick’s question with pure opinion. I don’t feel the need to regurgitate a balanced Mac/PC debate. That’s been done, and that’s what links are for:

Quick summary: I use Macs.

  1. As a graphic designer, the tools you use daily will influence your work on some level.
  2. Apple is able to “design” the entire user experience of their products since they build the hardware and software themselves.
  3. If your budget is an issue, find a refurbished or used Mac. They hold their value extremely well. I bought a 2006 iMac 24″ as a family computer in 2009. After we replaced the video card in 2010,  it functions perfectly, even with the latest Mac OSX installed. It’s definitely not as swift as my 2011 Macbook Pro, but it get’s the job done.

Let me start by saying buy a Mac

Apple Mackbook Pro 15 inch early 2011
My current laptop 2011-2013

And let me follow that up by saying buy a Mac now. I don’t care if you can mine silicon, weld transistors, and engineer the motherboard yourself. Using a Mac is better than using a Windows PC for graphic design, like using a pencil is better than a rock and chisel for drawing portraits.

I’ll explain.

Space defines action

I believe your environment influences your work. As a designer it makes sense to use things that are well designed. Interacting with a well designed product actually teaches you how to design better.

User experience trumps hardware specs

Apple Vs Microsoft Switchboard
Now that Intel Macs can run both Windows and Mac OSX there is no need for other hardware. If you are only interested in comparing hertz and bytes, then there isn’t much difference between a Mac and a Windows PC. However, by only comparing hardware specs you’re missing the bigger picture. As a graphic designer your computer is your business partner. You will spend hours everyday interacting with this machine. Designing your latest masterpiece, communicating with clients, sending out invoices, getting lost in a Twitter/Facebook hole; all of this happens on this one device. That’s why I believe the software on your box is a little more important than the metallic bits inside.

This is where Macs move way ahead of PCs. The Mac operating system is an intuitive streamlined environment. It simplifies basic interactions, and doesn’t get in the way productivity. This efficiency will pay big dividends in the daily grind of being a graphic designer.

Modern Macs can do it all

I use a Mac for all computing purposes, except for the occasional website debugging that I have to do for Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer isn’t made for Macs anymore. This means I must traverse into the nether regions of darkness to find a cheeto-encrusted Windows-based PC to test my website. Even testing Internet Explorer bugs. I simply open Parallels and can swipe between Mac & Windows easily.

The necks of PC fanatics are thick with veins by now. I haven’t given a lot of statistics, references and bar charts to prove my theories. But as I said before, I’m simply voicing the opinion that’s been formed in me after years of working with both Macs and Windows-based computers.

I choose mac. What do you use?

UPDATE! Windows 8 is a game changer and definitely put the Microsoft Windows' UI in a better place. Definitely check it out, use it, learn from it. But as of 2013, I'm still leaning Mac. After a few iterations on some of Microsoft's new concepts in Windows 8, I may be singing a different tune.