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Beware the dreaded "Scope Creep"
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TOPIC: Beware the dreaded "Scope Creep"

Beware the dreaded "Scope Creep" 6 years, 8 months ago #22337

  • Duane_Martin
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Anyone who has ever done programming for computers knows what "Scope Creep" is, but it is also a term that is appropriate for independent video creators, particularly those who take contracts from others. For instance, I was contacted a few months ago about a project that was meant to be for the retirement party of a company's CEO. I was told it was to be a piece of cake: 10-15 minutes with professionally shot interviews; archival photos and video; and a corporate communications team member writing a script with found materials. Better yet, someone in corporate communications very familiar with FCP would prep the project and do an assembly from the script. My job would be to simply tighten things up, make it look professional, and output a master (format TBD, danger Will Robinson) for delivery from which all necessary copies would be pulled. Piece of cake, I was told, I should probably only bid about 8 hours for the project and it would be done.

Well, I am not fool enough to think it will be as easy as they claimed, nor should any project like this have a fixed hour bid when the materials are not available, but it sounded like they were organized and I put in my bid for a minimum of 8 hours, and maximum of 20; it was up to them to keep my hours short.

Then the video showed up at my door, not digitized, not on a FCP timeline, but on 9 miniDVDs with no means to play them back. Unlabelled photos started showing up in JPeg, TIFF, 240x180 to 8000x6000. EPS graphics were sent from an art department. Best of all, a badly written script showed up that made no reference to specific videos or photos, used first names only (and often mis-spelled) for interviews, and was around 65 pages long; that's well over an hour of content. And the contact I had made the deal with was on holidays.

After more than 4 hours on the phone with various people explaining I could do nothing with miniDVD source material (none had been finalized so would not play in anything but the camera they were shot on) I had the original camera delivered to me. I ended up playing out from the camera through composite video (not even an S-Video option) through my old AJA IO. Turns out it was shot mostly handheld with no lights and only the on-camera microphone. All interviews were done in what looked like the coat check room of a restaurant during a party. To top it off, the person doing the interview was unscripted and kept interrupting the people he was talking to. In other words, it was 90% worthless. Then I was asked to provide DVD copies to the communications department so they could look at the interviews for the script that was already written. When the FCP project arrived back at the company with the media clips on a hard drive I learned that their FCP expert had, in truth, used iMovie once, and was at a loss of what to do with what I had sent.

Fortunately at this time the person who was my initial contact was back from holidays, took one look at the situation, and asked if I could take control of the project to fix it. We would shoot new interviews (or, as it turned out, I would), write a new script (again, apparently me) and then we would make the hour long movie that was now desired. Sorry, but there was no more money in the budget to do this, but they would make it up to me on their next project.

That's "Scope Creep". What I was hired to do expanded well beyond the agreed parameters, but not the budget. I am embarrassed to write I actually shot some of the interviews with my two camera / light package before I came to my senses. I was fortunate that I did not need the job so I simply fired the client. I was nice about it, completely apologetic I was not able to do the work for them, and handed everything back. When asked if I knew anyone who could help them I remained very vague, though did say that their wants and desires far surpassed their budget and they might need to re-envision the project scope (corporate types like terms like "re-envision the project scope"). I am sure many of our members have stories like this as it is not at all uncommon; it has happened to me several times, though this particular incident was exceptional in the ludicrousness of their expectations.

I kept the four hours minimum which I had asked for up-front, which I made clear was small compensation for the 20+ hours I had worked on the project. Needless to say they were not thrilled as in their mind they had nothing for their money, except the three hours of professionally shot interviews that were very usable. It is unfortunate if they felt cheated because that means they really did learn nothing from the experience. I would hate to be the next person they approached.

Be aware of scope creep in projects; it will happen to some degree on all projects. But be realistic. Remember, if you are doing video as a business, treat it as a business, and remember businesses must, in the end, generate revenue at least equal to expenses. And projects like I described will kill that formula. There will always be a kid right out of film school that thinks they can do it better, faster, cheaper, but if you try to compete against that you will be working at McD's beside that kid in a few months.
Duane E. Martin
Earth to Sky Pictures Inc.
Apple Certified Trainer - Final Cut Pro
Copyright - all rights reserved.

Re: Beware the dreaded "Scope Creep" 6 years, 8 months ago #22338

  • rpw1
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Excellent post Duane!! Your story will help me to set up my business model and create for clients. Thank you for sharing your experience and the advice.

Re: Beware the dreaded "Scope Creep" 6 years, 8 months ago #22339

  • FRANK
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I also would like to say Duane, well put over and i hope younger members who come through the ranks read this.
"Scope Creep", where did this saying originate in the video world?

Re: Beware the dreaded "Scope Creep" 6 years, 6 months ago #22482

  • Kittihawk
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I've only just read this, so sorry for the late reply. I think it is a really excellent example Duane, and as someone who has ventured into this territory in the last few years, it's very familiar. I had a particularly difficult case where what should have been a two week project dragged on for two years with little extra money. It was for an academic prospectus for a University - nobody took responsibility for writing content and I was left in the end trying to write a script about University policy that was to be shown to the public - crazy because what did I know! Few ideas were forthcoming but plenty of niggly political points came forward with every version - nothing too positive only negatives. Vague comments about music etc. (again what they didn't like not what they did). Lovely people just totally dozy - makes me wonder how any businesses run.  

I think 'scope creep'  partly happens because to the lay person video seems to be so simple - after all it's easy to watch and half an hour goes by in, well, half an hour, and so surely can't take too long to make!  It is difficult for a person who knows nothing about the business to understand there is a huge amount of work involved in most video productions. Also the giving away of 'free' DVDs with newspapers and of course YouTube does nothing to help the impression that video is cheap. Also we tend to think that people know what they want and how to ask - they don't and have to be shown and the way forward suggested (at every point).

A way to combat this is to 'manage the client' politely up-front, ideally also writing a brief MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding - not too formal, doesn't even have to be called an MOU , just an e-mail stating all up-front but something that gives you both a path to stick to). Here are some of the things I think about doing at the start of such a project:  

1.) Give an short educational presentation  about the process of making video professionally - upfront to the client team so they know what's involved. Include the concept that different types of video are of different cost e.g. simple office interviews Vs blue screen backgrounds. Explain the use of 'B roll' footage in making the interviews more interesting but that it takes time to get such covering footage. Explain that video needs pictures  - it's not radio. Explain processes from scanning and re-formatting still pictures to the fact that it takes time to compress files for DVD etc. Explain the need for good sound quality and that it takes a little time to set up interviews. 
2.) Present a menu of what they get for X price  e.g. 3 days interview, 3 days edit, 1 day encoding & DVD production (masters only + DVD / USB  artwork etc. extra)  with the option of one rough cut they can change ONCE included in the price, changes (unless edit errors) thereafter are one extra day of edit etc.  
4.) Encoding formats for other uses such as web etc. half a day extra
5.) Responsibility for uploading films to webs rests with client or extra time to do this can be negotiated at a fair rate
6.) Chain of command within the organisation should be identified and if possible done through just one contact who is able to OK content etc.
7.) If you can identify committed and keen people within the organisation - involve them in some of the processes - from sound to camera-work. I did this with four very keen students - they understood the work involved, helped and enjoyed the whole thing  (all four are now in broadcast TV). There were some downsides to this in reduced quality (although often improved quality) but more than worth the extra edit problems due to the understanding it created.
8.) It's a good idea to consider asking for a small consultation fee after the first 'phone call e.g. $100 (or so) to come in and help them with initial planning and to give a talk about what can be done - if they won't pay this you already know that they are probably not serious enough. The $100 is refunded when the project goes ahead on a mutually agreed budget.
9.) Identify the target audience, the message and focus of the video the organisation is trying to make and try to stick to it.
10.) Identify deadlines and milestones in the project (from the start) and stick to them - if the client holds things up give a final (reasonable) date after which you will not guarantee completion as you will be working on other projects - all materials will be returned to the client in whatever stage of completion they are after that date. I learnt the hard way.

I think Duane did exactly the right thing to try and help and then give it back politely when it got ridiculous.
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