James Provost

Every lighting design project has its own inherent risks and liabilities. For example, a designer may spend a good deal of time preparing initial drawings and plans for a project that ultimately falls through. Or perhaps the project’s owner, developer, or architect files for bankruptcy protection and the designer is unable to recover the fees and costs associated with his or her work. There is very little, if anything, that a designer can do to prevent the above scenarios from playing out.

But there is one risk that is extremely commonplace, and often very damaging both to a designer’s reputation and profitability—it is called “scope-creep.” Scope-creep is created as a result of a lack of communication between the lighting designer and the project owner and other subcontractors, and by failing to utilize proper contract procedures. Scope-creep can also be a product of a designer’s ego or desire to increase revenue. It is an equal opportunity danger—meaning that it is equally prevalent in large commercial projects as it is in small residential jobs. The good news is that the damaging effects of scope-creep can be managed or limited by following a few simple guidelines.

What Is Scope-Creep?
A term coined by project managers, scope-creep is the continuous growth or change in the scope of a particular project beyond its original stated intent. In small residential jobs, lighting designers encounter this problem when a homeowner or interior designer expands on the original scheme; in large projects, the architect may redesign a particular floor or design component.

In one real world example, which we will use throughout this article, a homeowner retained the services of an interior designer to redesign her home’s entire first floor. The interior designer, in turn, retained the services of a lighting design firm. Both the interior designer and the lighting consultant entered into a standard contract for services that outlined the scope of the lighting designer’s responsibilities. Unfortunately, the lighting designer never spoke to the homeowner directly and only relied on the interior designer’s explanation of the scope of work.

Two months into the project, the homeowner emailed the lighting designer and requested a redesign of some of the rooms, as well as additional work in the screening room in the basement. The lighting designer, believing that he would be able to generate additional revenue from the added work in the basement screening room, quickly agreed. Unknowingly, the lighting designer germinated the seeds of scope-creep.

Scope-creep is analogous to pachysandra, which is a low-growing, shade-loving evergreen that spreads rapidly. If you plant a small patch of pachysandra in the spring, by the end of the summer it will have doubled or tripled in size. This is what happens with scope-creep. As you begin to accept changes to the original scope of work without taking the proper measures to control scope-creep, your workload will double or triple, your liability will increase, and your profitability will usually decrease.

What Creates Scope-Creep?
It is most commonly born out of poor communication between the lighting designer and the homeowner or architect, or from a failure to implement proper contract procedures. But scope-creep can also arise from improper analysis of the original scope of work; failure by the lighting designer to establish and comply with internal procedures for dealing with change orders; lack of communication between the architect, developer, and owner; the inability to procure certain design elements for construction materials; the allure of making more money on the project; or from clients seeking to get more work out of the designer for free.