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Scope Creep: Dealing with Small…and Not-So-Small Changes

Ever been in this situation?
I started a proofreading job only to realize the translation is a disaster.
I agreed to translate a file based on a sample, but the rest of the sample includes tons of unexpected formatting.
I took an interpretation assignment that was supposed to be escort but once I got there I found out it is a conference!
If you’ve been in the industry a while, you’ve definitely had this happen and if you haven’t, you will. But, what’s the difference between scope creep and scope change?
If you’ve ever started a job only to realize that the job is not what you thought it was or expected it to be, you could be experiencing scope creep (or, in some cases a total scope change). Scope creep is when the job as defined begins to change slightly and “creep” into a different realm or size. For example, if you’re asked to proofread a job and then asked to insert a few additional sentences that the client forgot to include in the text…and then another couple of words…and then add some additional formatting, you’re experiencing scope creep. If you allow scope creep without flagging it, you could easily end up doing double the work for the same price, so always be vigilant and maintain boundaries.
Many proofreaders have had the experience of opening the delivered translation only to realize someone has done such a horrible job, you honestly wish they had used Google Translate. This would be an example of a full scope change since the job request was proofreading and the actual job is re-translation.
It’s really important to be prepared and know how to deal with this effectively as translators and interpreters because this is a common issue in any business. Too often, I see freelancers either reject the job completely or they go ahead and do it for the original price and deadline in spite of the changes. Here’s why both of these could land you in hot water.
If this happens and you cancel the job completely, keep in mind that your client believes the job is covered, so leaving them high and dry is not a good way to build good customer relations. On the other hand, if you feel obligated to complete a job that’s not exactly as you expected, you might end up resenting your client or, even worse, you might not have enough time to do a good job given the change of scope. I have seen many proofreaders go ahead and attempt to fix the file, thinking they are doing their client a favor but they end up rushing to complete it in time since a job that should have taken one hour, just turned into three hours of work. In the end, the file might still not be fully “fixed” and you’ve just spent tons more time trying to “help” and your client is left without a proper deliverable—not good!
Here are some strategies for handling this professionally and preserving your relationship with your client:
Notify your client as quickly as possible by any means necessary.
If you’re a translator, you’ve likely already thought to send an e-mail but call and Skype too if possible. If you call and the project manager or contact person is unavailable, explain it is urgent and see if someone else is available and has the authority to authorize a scope change (i.e., price change). Contact anyone and everyone and truly make your best effort to get in touch.
Be prepared with a plan.
Your client is not going to be happy when you notify them that the job they thought was covered, actually isn’t so be prepared with several solutions to the problem. If you can’t fit the new scope into your schedule, focus on what you can do. Your e-mail or call should be solution-oriented.
Be decisive and clear.
Stand your ground and be decisive and clear. Use the solutions to focus the conversation on what you can do for your client. If your client can’t accept any of your proposed solutions, then that’s his or her decision and responsibility, not yours and most reasonable clients will respect that you tried your best to help them under these unexpected circumstances.
Stay calm.
Your client might panic depending on the situation but that doesn’t mean you need to too. Stay calm and remember that this is not your fault, but also remember that it might not be your client’s fault either so continue to stick with solutions and do your best to help your client without agreeing to a solution you’ll regret later. For example, if a proofreading turns into re-translation, don’t agree to stay up all night re-translating the document if you’re going to regret it later. Calmly propose reasonable solutions and stick to them.
If you’re still not sure how to go about this situation, which can be rather awkward, go ahead and download the e-mail template and save yourself the headache!

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