Putting the project before the scope

John Reeve | December 16th, 2008 | , , ,

Conventional wisdom dictates that any web design & development project should start out with a detailed scope of work, especially when flat bidding a project. This scope document is a road map, a guide dictating what stays in and what gets jettisoned in order to keep the project under budget and on time.

That would be ideal. However, even the best scoped projects usually look much different after they are built out. Custom web development is just too unpredictable to contain with scope documents and flat bidding.

We’ve worked on over 300 projects during our tenure at Pelago. Almost every project we’ve ever touched comes within plus or minus 15% of our original estimate because of the fluctuations that occur between scoping a project and developing the web site.

The nature of a custom web-based application is that it can’t really be defined without devoting several hours to architecting it. The project manager, designers, and developers need to collaborate during this process of articulating a web sites requirements. This is billable time that you should be compensated for, which can be difficult without a contract in place.

Which is why we put the project before the scope. We give our clients two options. One, they can pay us for our time to scope the project. The deliverable is a detailed document enough for any web agency to use as a development road map. Second, we can give them a ballpark number for the project and hit the ground running with a time and materials contract.

Trying to scope a custom web application before working on it can be exhausting considering how much the project will likely change during development. Seeing a wireframe or a screenshot simply doesn’t convey the same information as a working prototype. And the requirements will continually shift as you work through different interface scenarios.

It is wise to get to know the client and the project as well as you can before beginning work. But, knowing when to transition from analysis to implementation is critical to entering into a contractual agreement and getting projects completed.

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A collection of useful tips, tales and opinions based on decades of collective experience designing and developing web sites and web-based applications.

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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