Tech Comm Cafe: Scope Creep in Contract Jobs

Tech Comm Cafe: Scope Creep in Contract Jobs

The Tech Comm Café met on May 11, 2016, for another informative discussion of technical communication topics. This time we focused on the question of scope creep and client expectations.

A writer asked about a first-time client who offered her a lump sum to write a white paper. The writer drew up a plan for the project, including an estimated final page count, hours of work needed, time for one cycle of revisions from the client, and expected completion date. The client agreed, but after the writer had incorporated the client’s comments, produced a final version, and reached the maximum number of hours, the client asked for substantial changes, including some that reversed the earlier ones.

The writer didn’t want to leave the job unfinished and the client unhappy, so she completed the additional work to her usual high standard. The questions: Should she have asked for more money for working the extra time? Or, since she had met the requirements of the contract, should she have left the client with the version she completed after the first set of comments, as previously agreed? Did the client have a right to ask for revisions outside the scope of the original plan?

When expectations change or are unreasonable, it’s sometimes the writer who pays the price. The group agreed that this was a learning experience for the writer as well as the client. Writers do have the right to ask for more money in return for expanded scope. Clients need to understand the writing and reviewing process and the effects of scope creep. Above all, both writers and clients are best served by a clear contract that specifies the scope of work and the consequences of change.

This led to a discussion of working for an hourly rate versus a lump sum. Project scope often expands or shifts along the way. Agreeing to a lump sum can force a writer to either work for free on the last portion of a job, annoy a client by asking for more money, or walk away from unfinished work that doesn’t meet the writer’s usual standards. On the other hand, if you increase your initial estimate to cover possible overtime, you risk pricing yourself out of the job. Best case: carefully estimate the number or range of hours so the client can budget accordingly and pay for actual hours worked. And stipulate in the contract that if the scope changes, the client’s budget needs to change as well.

Next Vancouver-Area Tech Comm Café: Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The TCC provides networking opportunities, job leads, answers to work-related dilemmas, and a burst of professional energy to keep you motivated. We discuss technical writing tools and techniques, career planning, portfolios, and anything else related to working as a technical communicator.

We welcome anyone who’s interested in technical communication — contractor, in-house, student, long-time tech writer, STC member, non-member, career-changer, or recruiter. We hope to see you at the next meeting!

Date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Time: 6:30–8:00 pm Pacific Time

Location: To be announced. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to


  1. Introductions. Take 60 seconds to introduce yourself, your background, current activities. A good chance to try out that new elevator speech.
  2. Announcements and job leads. If you know of an interesting event or a job opening, or you’re looking for work, share it with the group.
  3. Brainstorming Q&A. Ask about a work-related problem and discuss potential solutions.
  4. Speed networking. Spend a few minutes with a new contact, exchange business cards, and discuss your professional backgrounds and goals.

Heather Sommerville is a senior technical writer and editor with over 20 years of experience delivering clear, concise writing for business and technical audiences. She is an STC Associate Fellow and has served in many volunteer positions with the STC Canada West Coast chapter.