Scope creep isn’t unique to content marketing teams, but it is a rather prevalent issue in the content marketing world. Left unchecked, scope creep can leave your team burnt out, stressed, and performing at less-than-peak performance. At the end of the day, no one’s happy – your staff, management, and ultimately, your client are all negatively impacted by scope creep.
To avoid scope creep, you need to keep a tight rein on your project timeline, project assets, and workflows. A digital asset management solution like MerlinOne is an invaluable tool that can not only help you mitigate scope creep, but also save your team substantial time on day-to-day activities. How? By adding robust search capabilities to your digital asset library, automating manual, tedious tasks like converting assets to various file formats, and putting a slew of other features and functionality at your team’s fingertips. From built-in workflow tools to deep support for user permissions and access, communication and collaboration tools, easy distribution, and more, MerlinOne is one of the best defenses against dreaded scope creep for content marketing teams.
To gain more insight into how today’s content marketing leaders avoid scope creep, we reached out to a panel of marketing executives and content marketing managers and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the best way for content marketing teams to avoid scope creep in project plans?”
Read on to find out what our panel had to say about the best strategies for avoiding scope creep in your content marketing project plans.
Matt Baglia, CEO of SlickText
“Content marketing teams can get a handle on scope creep by…”
Focusing on quarterly priorities that are broken down into specific critical numbers with counter balance metrics. Projects get larger in scope when teams lose sight of the one thing they need to do each day, each month and each quarter in order to hit their targets. If the initial goal-setting work is sloppy, then the execution of the project could expand beyond what is reasonably possible for the team to achieve. A specific goal that builds toward the larger brand promise can help keep content marketing teams on track. Having a quick team meeting every morning to make sure each member is focusing on their goal and getting support for any obstacles in their way is a practical way to make sure each person is staying the course throughout the quarter.
Alexander Sergeev, CEO of Hygger.io
“Scope creep can happen in any project stage…”
Even if you think that all your content marketing objectives are completed. To avoid this painful phenomenon, I’d suggest paying attention to the identification of what is required to achieve the project objectives, irresponsible or unskilled content marketing manager, weak communication in the team, possible competition between team members, external market changes and so on. You can prevent scope creep with the help of the following steps:
- Break your content projects down into small ones.
- Verify everything again with your team and clients.
- Meet all involved sides to confirm that you have a common understanding of the scope.
- Be ready for changes.
- Document all requirements.
- Try to use new scheduling and planning software.
- Motivate your content team with a new level of motivation.
Taking steps to avoid scope creep is a crucial part of planning any project. Do not hesitate to prevent it.
Sumit Bansal, Founder of Craft of Blogging
“One of the best ways to handle scope creep is to…”
Divide the project into smaller milestones. For example, you can divide a large project into 5 milestones that would occur one after the other. Once you achieved a milestone, you get a sign off from the client and only then move forward. This ensures that even if there is scope creep, it is not in the entire project work, but only in the part of the project. This will also help you in scoping the remaining project in a better way.
Content marketing often takes a lot of time to get the results, especially if you are looking for organic reach. In such cases, it is better not to tie your milestones with the end result. Instead, you should discuss with the client and decide the deliverables in parts. For example, one of the milestones could be to create content (articles/videos). Another milestone could be promoting the content for a certain period of time.
James Bowen, Founder & CEO of Ripen Digital
“As with any engagement, preventing scope creep comes down to…”
Having a clearly defined scope of work. For content marketing, that includes several important variables: what content is to be created, including the form of the content (blog, video, infographic, etc.), the positioning of the piece (what it is to convey or accomplish), any search goals (is the content meant to rank for X searches?), length (word count ceiling), and revisions (once completed, the client has X rounds of revisions before incurring change order fees). Another consideration is distribution. Does your scope of work include promoting that content via paid channels or distributing on social media? If so, clearly setting expectations on post-publication efforts is also vital to preventing scope creep in the world of content marketing.
Jeff Moriarty, Digital Marketing Manager at Tanzanite Jewelry Designs
“Our company has a team of 3 that handles the content marketing planning…”
Our team in the past would attempt to schedule our content three months ahead of time. We found this would never work, as events in our industry would drastically change the content we would provide. Earlier last year, we switched to a 1-month content plan. While this makes us brainstorm and put ideas together much quicker, we almost never run into scope creep. While it looks great on paper to have this amazing 3-6 month content strategy, there is just too much that can happen during that time that delays and changes everything.
Heather Jean McCloskey, Content Marketing Manager at ProductPlan
“When you’re sharing your content strategy with key stakeholders, it’s actually a good sign if they start trying to throw in more deliverables than you initially planned…”
It shows they are enthusiastic about the idea you’re working with and feel that it has even greater potential. The trouble is then, not that key stakeholders want more deliverables or are keen to broaden the scope of your project, but that you as the content manager need to somehow maintain the scope of the project while also keeping stakeholders happy. I’ve learned a few ways to help manage scope creep in content marketing projects throughout my career. Here’s a few tips:
1. Understand where the requests for more deliverables are coming from. Why are they being requested? Find out if there is a deeper significance to the request than simply It would be nice to have. In some cases, you can avoid scope creep by simply asking the people asking for extras to reflect on whether they are necessary for the project’s success or not.
2. One of my favorite ways to keep projects streamlined is something I’ve borrowed from agile software development practices – shipped is better than perfect. And there is no such thing as done. Explain to stakeholders that getting content out and into the world (and therefore collecting feedback and maybe even leads) is top priority. Extras and add-ons can come in V2. In other words, you’re telling them we won’t do it this time, but we can consider it when we revisit this in the future. And that’s good advice in general. If a content project is doing well, there may be value in revisiting it down the line and expanding on it.
3. Similar to my point above, there’s also the tradeoffs argument. When the scope of a project grows, there will always be tradeoffs. Usually increasing a project’s scope means pushing back the delivery date or shuffling around other priorities and projects to make room for the requested extras. Explain to stakeholders what the tradeoffs of their requests may be and drive the conversation forward from there.
4. The most powerful word in your vocabulary is no. And sometimes it’s your best defense against scope creep. Saying no to your boss or an executive when they ask for more out of a project can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be. Remember, as a content marketer, your job is not to say yes to everything – it is to make strategic decisions about how to best align content efforts with business objectives. If something does not align with those, it’s perfectly fine to say no. And if you can articulate why, your stakeholders will understand and may even thank you for keeping that strategic mindset on at all times.
Donna Duncan, SEO / Content Marketing Consultant and Owner of B-SeenOnTop
“The best way to avoid scope creep in a project plan is to…”
Pair it with a project definition that includes a section for:
- project roles and responsibilities;
- scope; and
- project controls.
The project roles and responsibilities section should define the project owner from every participating entity. The project owner is responsible for providing project funding, staff, direction, and resolving issues as they arise. The scope section should clearly spell out what is in as well as out of scope. The project controls section should ensure project control meetings are regularly scheduled with one of the agenda items being to bring forward, discuss and resolve any issues related to scope creep.
This structure and agreement ensure a process is in place for resolving inevitable scope creep when it occurs.
Tracy Julien, VP of Marketing at GuidedChoice
“As a manager, you have to make sure that you are not the only team member who fully understands the project requirements and what the client is expecting…”
Kick off the project with a meeting so that every employee working on the project understands what the deliverables are and how you are going to get there.
Scope creep also occurs when individual team members make small changes autonomously. Only a select few should have the authority to approve scope changes, no matter how small.
When it comes down to it, you are going to have to say no sometimes. One way to avoid an awkward conversation with a client is to be straightforward with the prices of any scope changes.
Jon Nastor, Creator and Host of Hack the Entrepreneur
“To avoid the dreaded scope creep on projects, content marketing teams need to…”
Start thinking, planning, and acting like successful software development teams. Software development projects begin with the end in mind and they clearly define their end point of version one – and this is what gets launched. Following this, they begin to get feedback, iterate, and improve on the first version of their product. When you know exactly where the end is, then you know when you are ready to launch – all else can happen later.
Download our white paper, “How a DAM can help marketing leaders unite teams,” to learn how a digital asset management solution can help you get your team on the same page – and keep your projects on track and within budget:
Nicolas Straut, Content Marketing Associate at Fundera
“One of the best ways for content marketing teams to avoid scope creep is to…”
Establish clear project leaders that set objectives, delegate tasks, and ensure budgets are followed. For example, if your content marketing team plans to launch three pieces of interactive content in a quarter, the project leader should set deadlines for when each will be published, ensure the vendor doesn’t overcharge, and assign project responsibilities to team-members. The deadlines will prevent the project from spilling into the next quarter, giving a clear budget to vendors will prevent unnecessary charges, and accountability for team-members will keep the project running smoothly.
Shelby Rogers, Content Marketing Manager at DigitalUs
“Take a page from the newspaper industry and live by the deadline…”
All parties who have a say in content creation and production – from copywriters to design to content managers – have to agree on hard final deadlines. Understanding that a deadline is nonnegotiable dissuades those involved in the creation process from adding just one more thing. There’s always that one person who says, “Oh, but we can fit it in,” and fudge the deadline by a day or two. Those one more paragraph/image/round of edits statements quickly add up to weeks of delay due to scope creep. Hard deadlines become the no that stops scope creep in its tracks.
Kris Hughes, Social Media & Content Marketing Manager at ProjectManager.com
“There are a few things that are essential to be done prior to and during projects to avoid scope creep…”
1. Create a clear, well-defined scope of work. To avoid scope creep in project plans, it’s essential that content marketing teams work together to define a clear, detailed scope of work for the project, and the tasks included in the project. This includes outlining deliverables, milestones, tools needed and work to be completed so it’s clear to all members of the project team what they are responsible for, and on what timeline.
2. Outline Plan A but better yet have Plan B ready. Plan A is always the preferred route of operations, but if one thing is true, it’s that change is the only constant. Make sure to have a Plan B ready to go in case there are issues with timelines, resources or stakeholders which prevent Plan A from being operationalized, and to ensure your content project meets the desired objectives.
3. Have a kick-off meeting. There’s a tendency in our uber-connected world to avoid in-person meetings whenever possible in favor of electronic communication, but planning the scope of any content project is one exception to the rule. Make sure that all of the project team – and applicable stakeholders, if possible – are in a physical room together to talk through the project prior to it kicking off. It’s an easy way to ease concerns up-front, and talk through any potential roadblocks which may not have previously been considered.
4. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. This one speaks for itself. Never assume someone is on the same page as you are. Ask them. Communicate. Find out. Even if it seems like overkill, it’s the only way to ensure a project runs smoothly.
Moréa Pollet, Marketing Manager & Consultant at Piedmont Avenue Consulting, Inc.
“First, you want to have very detailed projects plans that include…”
Who is in charge, timeline, step by step actions, goals, etc. The initial identification is the most important part of project management to avoid scope creep. Anyone in charge of project planning should be detail-oriented and ready to spend the time. Once the plan is laid out, the project realization itself will be fast as everyone knows what they are doing and expectations. Secondly, detailed communication is the key. Make it easy to read. You are detailing everything in the plan, the use of bullet points and short sentences are very encouraged. Send huge paragraphs and people instantly feel overwhelmed and they won’t read it. Send bullet point and see your plan actually being followed.
Christopher Martin, Chief Marketing Officer for FlexMR
“Perhaps one of the most effective ways to avoid scope creep is, counter-intuitively, to…”
Plan for it. There will almost always be some aspect of a content marketing project that will expand outside the bounds of the initial expectation. Often, the cause of this is ambition. As content marketing teams operate in a space already packed full of interesting and diverse competition, the best way to stand out is to produce something better.
But, it is crucial not to run your plans too close to your team’s capacity. Be mindful that scope creep will occur and ambitions for a project will increase over time. Once your project plan is complete, scale it back 10% – 15% and give your team the flexibility within the production cycle to make small additions throughout, as they will naturally want to.
Stacy Caprio, Founder of Accelerated Growth Marketing
“Always err on the side of overestimation in terms of resources, budget and time…”
This will prepare you for any unexpected scope creep that is essential to completing the project successfully. It is always better to err on the side of caution and giving a project too many resources than panicking when you realize you don’t have enough resources to complete the project.
Balazs Hajde, Content Publisher at Authority Hacker
“As an online marketing business, we completed dozens of smaller and larger projects throughout our managed websites, ranging from site migration and redesigns to en masse content updates…”
When you produce or migrate content on a large scale, I think templating content structure and workflow is probably the most effective time/money-saver you can implement in your plan.
A systematic, templated approach to content management enables us to predict project scope and completion times with incredible accuracy.
Prototyping and refining such a template with a few pieces of content early on is a great way to build a system you can then scale almost infinitely.
Kasia Manolas, Marketing Manager at Avail
“We create a dedicated content calendar and have a high level of accountability…”
When we say we’re going to write something, we do. We have a well-thought-out content process. From outlining, writing, and promoting, our step-by-step process is fixed and doesn’t allow for scope creep. Similarly, on Mondays, we recap what will get done that week in our sprint. And on Fridays, we go over the status of everything. Our team’s constant communication and use of Trello helps us stay on track and avoid scope creep.
Laura Troyani, Founder & Principal of PlanBeyond
“We create a lot of white papers, best practice guides and other long-form content pieces for B2B purposes. When developing larger content pieces like these, we’ve found the best way to avoid content marketing scope creep is to…”
Use a quantitative approach to defining the end deliverable and the process taken to get there. For example, we’ll stipulate that the final piece will be between 1,200-1,400 words, that we’ll source the content through no more than 2 subject-matter expert interviews, that copy drafts will go through up to two revisions, and that it will be no longer than 5 pages. By quantifying the approach and the deliverable, we’ve found it makes it very easy to point out when the project is going out of scope to either bring it back in scope or request incremental project funding.
Zach Laidlaw, Brand Manager at Seafoam Media
“It can be easy to blow a project way out of proportion…”
This is something I’ve been guilty of in the past, in fact.
When conducting a brainstorming session for a piece of content – be it a blog post, a new video or even a custom image – no idea should be cast aside. That said, when it comes to finally building a piece of content, always think back to the “why” behind your project. Why is it useful to readers?
To ensure scope creep doesn’t consume a project, focus on giving your audience (and search engine bots) all the information they need without adding extraneous fluff to the story you intend to tell. Keep your goals in mind, and build your piece of content specifically to execute those goals.
If you do find that your piece of content is ballooning beyond reasonable limits, that’s okay! Anything that isn’t pertinent to one content project may be great to use in another piece. Before you know it, you may have enough ideas to create a mini-series of content around one central theme.
Shane Barker, Digital Marketing Consultant
“We have been in situations where we decide on a scope for our content and later realize that more can be done with it or it could be done differently…”
This kind of scope creep ends up wasting a lot of time and effort of everyone involved. There is no guaranteed way to entirely avoid scope creep, but you can still try these few tips:
Set clear goals for what you want to achieve with your content. Oftentimes, scope creep occurs because of a lack of clarity of purpose. If you keep the end objective in mind while making a scope, you are more likely to get it right the first time.
Before finalizing a scope and outline for your content, make sure that you have had a discussion with all stakeholders involved in the project. If someone was not consulted right at the beginning, they might suggest a few changes mid-project, resulting in scope creep.
Another useful trick to avoid scope creep is to ensure that the scope is prepared by the person who will eventually work on the project. Scope creep often occurs because the person who works on a content piece did not make the scope and may not entirely agree with the thought process of the one who did.
Be very specific while documenting the project requirements and finalizing a scope document. Vague outlines and requirements are often open to interpretation, leading to scope creeps at a later stage. Follow these tips to avoid scope creeps in your project plans.
Sadi Khan, Content Marketing Manager at RunRepeat.com
“To avoid scope creep in content marketing project plans…”
1. Always request a detailed brief or documented requirements at the start. Topic and word count is not enough. Getting it in written form will set expectations and stop them from taking all revisions or change requests as granted.
2. Discuss and understand the audience and purpose of the content. What do you (or your client) want to achieve with the content? Is it meant to be a link-able asset? Blog post? Sales pitch for landing page? All of these require different writing styles and levels of research.
3. Share the content with all stakeholders at each step including the outline, research, first draft, and so on.
Melissa Grimshaw-Vargas, Founder and CEO of Launchwise
“Spell out scope in detail in the project proposal (post or webpage count, word count per post, number of revisions included, etc.)…”
If there is content strategy or factfinding time involved, capture that as well. Then if it’s an external project, give pricing and schedule for going beyond that scope ($x per extra word, $x per hour for additional revisions, days needed to add to timeline). If it’s an internal project, include a note about needing to rescope if project exceeds resources allocated. And lastly, keep people informed of when scope is approaching the limit or starts to creep. ‘Hey Client, FYI we scoped for 20 pages and the new list looks like 23 pages, so we’ll follow the add-on rates from the proposal. Thanks!’
Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics
“Scope creep is primarily a direct result of bad communication and poorly conceived projects…”
Changing the scope of a project to delay its completion is classic procrastination mixed with a lack of effective leadership. It’s important to conceive of a project in a variety of stages so you can tell the people working on the project, ‘good idea, that’ll be phase two.’ There’s nothing wrong with evolving the scope and function of a project, it’s just a question of timing.
Jason Lavis, Managing Director at Out of the Box Innovations Ltd.
“Scope creep tends to come from a lack of understanding about how long a process takes and perceived value overall…”
For example, it’s common for clients to imagine that an article can get written in a couple of hours. This can be true, but it misses the research, and that writing is only the beginning. Editing, proofreading, formatting, uploading and adding other media will drastically multiply the time spent.
Sometimes, during a campaign, tangible results are slow to materialize. The lag time between creation and pageviews can result in a feeling that the time and money might be a waste. We know that good content can take a while to get to page one in Google, and viral marketing has a lot of inherent randomness.
The solution is to break down all of the processes and list them out. We add numbers wherever possible (e.g., words, hours, weeks). We can also add notes to temper expectations (e.g., we anticipate traffic to start to rise by month three significantly).
Once the client sees the project plan, with all the details and preemptive expectation management, they can see the value. More importantly, mid-campaign, if they forget the scope, or feel that they’re not getting enough value, then you can refer them back to the plan. Reviewing the strategy will remind them of the mindset that they were in early on.
Syed Irfan Ajmal, Growth Marketing Consultant at GigWorker
“Before we figure out how to make a content marketing free of scope creep, we should know what causes it…”
1. Little or poor requirements/needs analysis
2. Little or no planning and documentation
3. Bad communication
We can avoid scope creep by using the below approach:
1. Never accept a project before understanding the requirements in detail.
2. Never assume that one has understood the requirements unless one has written it all and have the other side (which specified the requirements) review it all.
3. Ensure that regular and clear communication is done during every stage of the project (this means keeping the other side updated about what’s going on, and reiterating what’s going to be done next).
According to a Wrike survey, 38% of respondents feel that inaccurate requirements (which can give rise to scope creep) are a major reason for IT project failure.
I suspect numbers for content marketing plans wouldn’t be better. But using the above mentioned three-pronged approach, we can avoid scope creep and increase the probability of the project’s success.
Jamie Steidle, SEO Specialist at Chatter Buzz Media
“As an SEO specialist and content writer, the best way to prevent scope creep would be to determine the range of the project…”
This would include knowing a deadline, the amount of content needed, and just what the assignment entails. The simple answer is that most people ignore the brief, and dive into content creation without knowing exactly what their work is intended to do.
If you know the assignment, the scope and the project ramifications, you can build the workout and hand in something on time. The best method for this is to set small goals that will lead to the greater goal. If you are writing website copy for a new site, you will break up the content into different units that each person will work on and hand in to form the greater individual unit.
Another surefire way of preventing issues would be to make sure that the client is aware of an editing rule. Three edits, that’s it.
To prevent issues with anything, proper communication is needed. Keeping the channels open for communication will solve all issues, because if people aren’t afraid to ask a question, they will.
Jakub Kliszczak, Junior Marketing Specialist at Crazy Call
“In my opinion, the best way to avoid scope creep in project plans when it comes to content marketing teams is to…”
Simply describe the sources that lead to expected results and to capitalize on them.
Content marketing has to be done very carefully as many teams lose the sense of importance and often go for plain indicators such as traffic but forget about conversion.
The key to successful content marketing project plans is to define sources and actions up-front and then focus on those that seem to be working.
With clearly defined roadmap, no project should get out of the hands of marketers!
Bill Cushard, Author and Director of Marketing at ServiceRocket
“To avoid scope creep, a content marketing team needs…”
A documented strategy, an editorial mission statement, and an editorial calendar. These three tools guide a content marketing team’s work and make it easier to stick to the plan and turn down inevitable new ideas that come up. Because the team can always fall back on the documented plans.
But these documents are not sufficient to avoid scope creep. Content marketing teams also need a solid work flow process. Content marketing teams should consider adopting an agile marketing methodology like kanban or scrum. Scrum is particularly well-designed to minimize scope creep for two reasons:
1. The team decides what it works on. Not some outsider or boss. Yes, the team needs to deliver valuable content marketing that drives the business and stakeholders have a say, but the team itself decides “what.”
2. Work is planned as a team every week (or two or four) in time bound work periods called sprints) and for the most part work is locked down for that work period. Planned work in scrum is designed to prevent or minimize last minute changes.
Scrum is commonly seen as a work process for software development teams, but any team can use scrum to organize and run their work.
Download our white paper, “The Business Case for DAM,” to learn how a digital asset management system like MerlinOne can boost your team’s productivity – and the company’s bottom line:
Make your content marketing team immune to scope creep by maximizing your team’s efficiency. Choosing a DAM system like MerlinOne provides access to robust functionality and useful, intuitive features that empowers content marketing and creative teams to get more done in less time. Schedule a demo today to learn how MerlinOne’s DAM solution can transform your content marketing operations.