If you have a service business, chances are you are losing money to scope drift. What is scope creep, you ask? It’s when a project starts with a set set of parameters, and by the end of the project, it’s morphed into something completely different. This often costs you significantly more hours and labor.

And no matter how good you think you are at defining a project or service in advance, scope drift is a very real problem that most service businesses will face at one time or another. So today I wanted to share with you some tips on how to find scope creep in your business and stop it from the start.

Keep your sales team under control.

The first place scope drift occurs is at the start of the process. Your sales team promised a round trip to the moon on their sales call, then when it comes to writing the service contract, you end up charging them a trip around the block. As the project progresses, the promises made in the initial conversation begin to backtrack and you end up doing more work than originally planned. To prevent this from happening, try recording some of your sales calls and reviewing them periodically. If you notice your team making promises you can’t keep, additional training may be needed. You may also find that your sales team may not have a good understanding of what you are actually selling. Let’s say for example that you have a house cleaning business and your house cleaners have a checklist of things they do every cleaning. They do not normally clean ovens as it is not part of their scope of work. But when a customer asks if oven cleaning is included, the salesperson may assume it is and tell them that shouldn’t be a problem. This could lead to range drift down the line, as the customer will now expect oven cleaning at no additional cost.

Pay close attention to zero hours.

Another place where we often see scope creep is at the very end of the project. When you are in the process of putting the finishing touches on a project, you may find that your client had other expectations for the deliverables and to meet their expectations additional work is required. One of the best ways to combat this is to define project milestones at the very beginning of the project and get buy-in from your team and client. Review tasks and steps often to make sure you’re all on the same page every step of the way. Having a project manager to keep everyone on task and on budget can be invaluable to your service business and end up saving you a lot in the long run in terms of lost scope.

Scope drift is a very real problem for the service industry, but it is preventable. With good project management, planning and training, you can help reduce the number of hours and money lost along the way.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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