by Lara Kordic; discussion led by Eve Rickert
This discussion focused on experiences with and management of scope creep (uncontrolled changes or growth in a project’s scope) in the editorial and production process. The conversation opened with people sharing their scope creep horror stories, many of which involved hard to manage authors, missed delivery dates and budgets being set (often by someone working above the managing editor) without taking all the complexities of the project into account.
The discussion then shifted to sharing how people managed these situations and what measures they or their organization would take to prevent future instances of scope creep. One person mentioned that in her organization, each project has an action plan drawn up in an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs. The action plan defines everything that is going to happen in the project, and at the end there is lessons learned tab, which summarizes some of the obstacles encountered in the project for future reference. In other organizations, it was found that a thorough contract specifying the length of the project and all the tasks involved could help determine a realistic timeline and budget for the project and therefore reduce the chance of the project going off the rails.
However, it is impossible to predict everything; sometimes a client does not have a good understanding of the different levels of editing and may underestimate the amount of work involved, leading to the project falling behind schedule or going over budget. In a traditional book publishing organization, it is common for a publisher to acquire a project and set a publication date and budget without taking into account the editorial complexity of the project. In these situations, scope creep is almost a given, and the managing editor must either somehow work within the parameters provided or ask for more time or more money, which may not be granted.
One way to prevent this situation is to ask a prospective editor to do a reader’s report on the manuscript and provide an estimate for the project as soon as (or even before) the contract is signed. This third-party assessment could help the managing editor justify the need for a more realistic schedule and budget. If it is impossible to change the publication date, the managing editor must set firm boundaries for all people involved in the project to prevent deadlines from slipping. Often it is the author who holds things up by wanting to make non-essential changes toward the end of the process. In the case of a traditional publishing arrangement, the managing editor can set firm boundaries, allowing the author to make changes only up to a certain stage (often this cutoff stage is written into the contract); however, when the author is a paying client, restricting their freedom to make changes becomes more difficult, and the managing editor must exercise great diplomacy and tact when imposing such restrictions. It may even be possible (as long as you state this at the outset of the project) to charge them more money for any changes made beyond a certain stage.
Overall, scope creep seems to happen when there is a disconnect between the publisher’s expectations and the reality of the work required, or when an author/client does not understand or recognize the complexity of the work that needs to be done. In both cases, more planning and clearer communication at the outset of the project may help prevent projects from getting out of control.