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Understanding Your Agency’s Change Orders

Things have been rolling along with your project and all of a sudden your agency says your latest request is out of scope.

You might have known that the request was a bit more than usual, or you might think it’s completely within scope (and then you’re probably frustrated). It depends on your project, the request, your relationship with the agency, and maybe how your day’s going.

A change order can sound ominous or routine, depending on your perspective. Used correctly, they can be very useful for both the client and the agency.

Change Order Overview & Approach

Each agency handles change orders differently.

Some agencies will issue one for any change to the documented scope or contract. For us, it would be overwhelming and annoying to document every tweak we make along the way. We expect a project to evolve within a set range, and if it changes more dramatically, then we use a change order to document what that is, how it impacts both of us, and how we suggest moving forward.

As a client, if you have something that needs to be different, and you’ve just decided to build a new tool or add a new element to that campaign, getting that documented is important.

It’s good to be protected (on both sides) so you know what the agency is agreeing to do, for how much, and if it matches what you want. You might find, for instance, that the big section you want to add is a minimal addition in cost, but may change your timeline.

Or you might find that the change order says something quite different than you expected, and the agency is overthinking your request. Maybe you wanted to add a component to a campaign, and they’re pricing out a whole new set of creative and ad buys, or a whole new website when you want to add two simple pages.

This gap between expectations is crucial to catch early on, as you’re not incurring that cost (or the threat of that cost) and the agency is doing the right amount of work. More importantly, you’ll be on the same page about what that work should be!

What to Look for in a Change Order

First off, if you have a good relationship with your agency, the change order shouldn’t be a surprise. Hopefully you’ve been collaborating, the request or need has been discussed, and at this point the change order is documenting what’s already been agreed on. (If that’s not the case, I’d recommend having a bigger conversation about communication and trust with the agency team.)

A good change order protects both parties. It amends your existing statement of work or scope. It should include:

  • The scope: A detailed description of the change in deliverables or services. Simply stated, what changed? Is anything from the original scope not being done? Anything modified from the original? Anything brand new? Be sure this is as detailed as possible, to avoid confusion or having to repeat this process.
  • The fees: Details of the change in cost. Typically this is an increase in cost, but if something else is not being done in place of this new work, a price reduction or credit needs to also be noted here. Any change in terms and/or payment schedules should be documented, too.
  • The timeline: Sometimes the requested changes won’t impact the cost but may impact the timeline. Check this carefully, as sometimes a change order will be vague on the impact on timeline. Depending on your project, this can be as important as the cost (if not more so).
  • The signatures: Both parties should sign to accept.

There may be other components to your particular order depending on your project, the original statement of work, and the groups involved. It may also have a slightly different name. It could be ‘change of scope order’ or have an agency-specific name.

Other Considerations

A good working relationship is the key to mutual success, and that’s still true here.

If the change order seems completely off, it could be indicative of another problem. Is your contact at the agency not understanding your problem? Maybe an account or project manager have changed and the handoff wasn’t quite right? Or maybe they didn’t quite document the original scope properly, and that’s now causing problems? Whatever the reason, it’s more important to get to the bottom of that before signing something to invest more.

If you have a good relationship, and the project has evolved outside of the original scope, the change of scope makes the requests official. The change order documents what both parties have agreed and officially aligns expectations to keep the project on track.

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Here’s a fun, related blog you might be interested in: Creating a Request for Proposal

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