Business Owners Overlook Scoping

Business owners want to save time and money, and web and application development is no exception. This is why often times business owners overlook the value in properly scoping a development project.  Most development companies will offer to provide a deep scope of work, and will often charge their clients accordingly. 90% of the time the client will want to bypass this crucial step to avoid the extra cost and to get business through the door, the development company will oblige.  With little or no foresight, a contract is signed and building begins.

Project Scope: Project scope is the part of project planning that involves determining and documenting a list of specific project goals, deliverables, tasks and deadlines.
[Source: Margaret Rouse,]

Scope Creep

Sometime into the project, say about 3-4 weeks in, scope creep sets in.  Without having laid out a plan, new features and new ideas make their way into building while forgotten ideas are never developed.

Scope creep in project management refers to uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope. This can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled. It is generally considered harmful. [Source:]

The Winchester House

The building of the Winchester House commences. In the late 1800s Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, began developing what is now known as the Winchester Mystery House. The project started with an unfurnished farmhouse with 8 bedrooms that Sarah Winchester was never satisfied with. Scope creep kicked in and she never stopped building. Mrs. Winchester ended up with a mammoth of a home – 24,000 square feet at a cost of 5.5 million dollars (about $100m in today’s dollars).

Winchester House 910px.jpg

Winchester House 910px” by Original uploader was Gentgeen at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

If you have been to the house, you would also see that the architecture doesn’t make sense. The building has hallways leading to nowhere, strange levels, and stairs going into fake doors.

Not Properly Scoping is Costly Mistake

Dev can have very similar results when you start on something without first thinking it through. You end up with applications with unnecessary code bloat, at a cost of 20x.

This is why it is important to slow down, invest time upfront to come up with a real plan of action, and think ahead even 2 years in advance. Some of the best development projects take as long to plan as they do to execute. Do not discount the importance of scope, or you may end up with a Winchester house in your hands.

8 thoughts on “What Most Development Projects and The Winchester House Have in Common

  1. Claudia Guerrero


    Excellent interpretation that can be applied to a variety of projects in our lives. Preparation is key!

  2. Trish Hancock

    What a great analogy for scope creep, makes it very easy to understand the importance of planning.

  3. Keith Lovgren

    Great post, Danny. Scope creep is terrible no matter which side of the table you’re sitting on. It keeps companies from making hard decisions that would force them to focus on key objectives.

    Evolutionary web design is a proven way to limit scope creep and unnecessary features. Conversion rate optimization gives companies the data they need to make informed decisions.

  4. Jasmine

    A very visual reminder of the dangers of not properly planning a project before execution!
    Although the Winchester House has become a profitable tourist attraction, the same probably can not be said for horrible planned dev projects.

  5. Ricardo Figueiredo

    There’s a fine balance between taking your time to get it right, and taking too much time and becoming obsolete. Web development is moving at a faster pace than ever before. Major site redevelopments are giving way to continuous tweaks based on ongoing conversion rate optimization.

    Still, the scope creep will always be there!

  6. Edwin Lap

    The real issue is that most clients refuse to pay for a discovery phase where you map out the entire project.
    Web design projects are intimate affairs. The agency relationship is meant to fully incorporate and understand the business, user experience and feature needs, which means understanding the host company’s values, personality, clientele business drivers, opportunities, constraints and vision.

    Building a Discovery phase into the relationship prior to beginning a project is a great way to make sure both parties find an appropriate balance and meaningful value from each other. It also allows for a true understanding of the pain points or needs that are driving the need for a vendor relationship. Addressing those points is paramount to the success overall. Clarifying all of this helps pave the way for long-term vendor/client success.

    The next step is that you have a solid project/account manager that is able to speak up about “scope creep” as soon as something appears out of scope, or you get the snow ball effect of one hour, becoming 2 hours and turning into 8 hours and so on so on. It is critical to nip this in the butt right away, while maintaining the client relationship.

  7. George

    This is also very applicable to paid search. Sometimes we get into situations where we have not completely defined the scope of work. Does it include retargeting, media, shopping engines FB, etc? This can have serious implications on budgeting.

  8. jinuk

    Planning and execution within time compulsory for any project to be successful. You made some good point on it. Keep doing this type of stuff.


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