If you’re a technical writing professional then you’ll know it’s a competitive world out there. Many writers will find themselves coming up against “fixed price” bids for projects, where you are expected to deliver the finished product for a certain cost no matter how much (or rarely how little) time you have to devote to the writing itself.

The trouble with this approach is that most projects are rarely complete by the time the writing needs to be done, which means that you can find yourself victim of “feature creep” and suddenly find that the initial month’s worth of time you estimated for the project is nowhere near enough. How do you cope with this?

What is Feature Creep?

Simply put feature creep is the distance that a project strays from its original intended form. Say your client develops a word processing package, and in the first phase all they intend to deliver is an open document where you can type words, and then save them to disc. The trouble is that during their initial marketing phase, their test audience aren’t happy. It’s way too basic compared to the other packages out there, you can’t even use highlighting let alone any of the other features that they’ve come to expect.

So what happens? Marketing run back to the development team and demand a whole host of new features for the word processor before they are willing to take it to their customers. If you think about it, that’s pretty reasonable.

The trouble for you though is you’re not a customer, you’re the technical author. When you received the initial product specification it was clear that this was maybe a day or two’s work and you bid accordingly.

Now though, once feature creep has been accounted for, it’s going to be months worth of work and you can’t afford to do the project anymore, but you don’t want to let the client down because your reputation is at stake.

How do you deal with this?

There are two simple strategies for dealing with this; the first is simply never to agree to work on a fixed price contract without agreeing the maximum number of hours that this agreement will cover. Any reasonable employer is going to know that a fully featured word processor manual is going to take longer to write than a “click to open, type document, click to save, click to close” manual is. And if you set out in advance the number of hours they get for their money, no-one feels cheated.

The second is to negotiate a clause that allows for a review based on feature creep, this is less straightforward as it means you’re going to have to come to a common understanding of what is and isn’t allowable prior to starting work.

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