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Learning to say no to scope creep

Don Pottinger


Building products as a Highgroover and a co-founder of Body Boss has taught me that saying “No” to scope creep can mean the difference between a bloated, unfinished project and the successful release of an MVP.

As a former Big 4 consultant, I was taught that scope creep is ugly, and a supervisor once told me that it in an ideal world, it should never happen.

In reality, saying “No” to your client’s inane/insane feature request could end with you getting scolded, rolled off a project—or even worse, left without a job. So adding additional scope to a project was a no-no, but saying “No” to a client’s feature requests was detrimental to your career. Paradox much?

Learning to say “No” is hard. Learning how to say “No” effectively is even harder.

Before joining Highgroove, I was a “Yes” man.

Client A:

“Hey Don, I know you’ve been working on this feature for the past three weeks. I was thinking… funny thing… it came to me while I was on the back nine earlier today. [Insert feature request, aka scope creep] I know this is a big change, but can you add this feature by tomorrow at 8 a.m.?”



Needless to say, these situations tend not to work out well for anyone involved. Aggressive deadlines and scope creep don’t mix.

Just Say “No”

For many of our clients at Highgroove, the goal is to release a minimum viable product (MVP). It’s our job to help them figure out the best route to acheive that goal, even if that means saying “No.”

Client B:

“Hey Don, I was thinking… I’d love if we could add all the bells and whistles for this release.”


“We could definitely do that. Hmm, take a look at Pivotal Tracker. If we add all the bells and whistles, it will push out X feature past our MVP release marker. You mentioned that X feature is crucial to the MVP.”

Client B:

“Yeah, you’re right. But I think all the bells and whistles would really put us over the top.”


“In that case, let’s schedule all the bells and whistles to be done after we complete the features for the MVP. If we end up having extra time with the allocated budget, getting it done will be the icing on the cake.”

Client B:

“That sounds like an excellent idea.”

Highgroove is great at saying “No” effectively, without using the word itself. It helps that we have tools like Pivotal Tracker that help us manage and communicate the potential effects of scope creep. More importantly, we work with awesome clients that understand what a creeper scope creep can be.

In what ways do you prevent scope creep with your projects?

Image credit: Peter Blanchard

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