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What to do if you don’t know the full scope of your project

As you move into the request for proposal (RFP) process and start looking for agencies and partners, you’ll need a project scope and budget.

But what if you don’t know the full project scope yet? It’s actually more common than you might think, and not necessarily a bad thing. It just means there is another step in the process.

Going to an agency without a set scope will show you a lot about how they work. Typically one of two things will happen:

  1. They will try to sell you what they know. 

    This can happen for a number of reasons. It could be that they’re busy and someone junior is dealing with your inquiry. They hear ‘website’ and start telling you how many pages, asking about digital marketing, and giving you some price ranges. 

    Or it could be that they’re really good at providing one type of service, and it’s their go-to. You might even have a sales person who is incentivized to offer you that particular solution. 

    This might be fine if that scope and those services are what you want, but if they’re not, you run the risk of going down a road that isn’t headed to your final destination. And you might not realize it until you’re in the wrong town.

    We see this quite a bit, and it’s a bad situation for everyone involved. As the client in this situation, you’ve already invested money in something that isn’t going to give you the return you hoped for. Time and money have been wasted, and you’re stuck trying to figure out what to do with fewer resources than when you started. As the agency potentially inheriting the project, we’re in the uncomfortable spot of telling you that the goal we’ve just discussed together can’t be achieved. Increasing unhappy customers, even if they paid, can’t be a winning strategy.

  2. They’ll work with you to identify what you want to accomplish and develop a scope.

    This is the easy winner! In this case you are working with your agency as partners to identify and state your goals, and to choose the best means to accomplish them. But there is another difference — this phase has a cost. In order to do this right, we have a discovery process that includes evaluation and strategy. For us, we hope this is the beginning of a partnership with shared knowledge. 

    Understanding how your agency conducts a discovery process is important. At Dowitcher, we use this opportunity to get to know one another and build a documented scope. This document is then something we would use to build out a formal proposal. But that same document can be used to create a formal RFP, and we understand others might be bidding using that information as well. We’re fine with that, and that’s one of the reasons this is a paid phase (if done right it should be fair for both parties). But some agencies don’t share that philosophy. Be sure to know where the group you’re working with stands on that before you start, so you don’t feel locked into a larger contract that has a TBD budget. From our viewpoint, that can be a mess for everyone involved.

So what to do if you need to create that project scope? There are two broad approaches to move forward: the DIY or hiring the right kind of help:

  1. If you have a team, work with them to brainstorm a working or draft scope. If you don’t have a team, pull in advisers, friends, family, colleagues, etc. Your draft would include must-haves and nice-to-haves. If you know you need branding, for instance, you can note that and if you’re not sure on future campaigns or support materials, those can be determined. Ask yourself key questions: What are the goals of this project? Do we know how we’d like to accomplish those goals? What would success look like?
  2. Hire an agency to conduct a discovery or strategy process with you. They can walk you through a specific process plus have open-ended conversations with you to help you identify those goals, then leverage their expertise to suggest how to accomplish them. Be sure to ask about their approach, what to expect for the deliverables, and what moving forward from there would typically look like.

With either solution, you’ll end up with a documented scope, a clearer sense of your goals, and eventually a road map on how to get there. Your final scope will guide your team or help you hire the right team to get you where you need to go.

Interested in setting up a consultation? Let’s talk. 

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