One of the things that has long bothered me about the consulting and professional services space is the concept of scope creep. Before I dive in, let it be known that I fully understand the intent behind it and believe that properly-executed contracts must be followed in order to fulfill legal, financial, and personal responsibilities that were agreed to at the outset of a project.
But hear me out for one minute. When’s the last time you said “I’m sorry, I cannot do that, because it is not in my scope” and a client reacted happily or respected you more for that? At the end of the day, you are in the client services industry. Happy client = happy bosses. Happy bosses = happy company. Happy company remembers consultants that made life happy. Consulting firm wins because they’re not the
weasels disagreeable folks who decided to call the client out on not being able to 100% define their scope day one out of the gate.
So how do I approach it? Simple. I have what-I-refer-to-as a “goodwill bucket”. Client is allowed to make withdrawals from this goodwill bucket from time to time so long as a few criteria are met:
- The request is not going to impact the budget by more than roughly 5-10% (variable based upon size/original scope)
- The request is not going to impact the schedule by more than roughly 5-10% (variable based upon size/original scope)
- The request is not going to ruin me or my people emotionally, physically, or mentally
- The request is not one that follows immediately on the tail of a similar request
- The request can be offset by (potentially) re-prioritizing other in-flight activities
If any of these criteria are not met – then you can’t make a withdrawal from the goodwill bucket. I have actually found this to be a rather effective process, because it establishes credibility with my clients, but also lets them know that there is a line in the sand so they can’t treat me as a complete pushover. And you know what? A lot of times, the “perceived impact” (which most people and firms would scream “SCOPE CREEP!” to) is much less impactful than the opportunity cost of delivering a crappy product. Crappy product = cranky client. Cranky client… You get the picture. I’m not one for trying to overwhelm my team by bringing on additional items to turn their 45-hour week into a 60-hour one, but prefer to keep it more of a negotiation with my clients so they start to understand what it does to the process (The conversations are rather easy, actually, something like “by doing this one originally unscheduled ‘nice-to-have’ for you, I want to make sure we can de-prioritize something else in order to make sure we are not running over capacity and can hit our original deliverable timelines”).
I’m not saying this is a foolproof method or one everybody should follow. I know that we are also all responsible for driving results, and results can’t be achieved if there’s no governance for the process, the schedule, the scope, or the budget. It just makes my blood boil that so many consultants have gotten so complacent with themselves and their contracts that they are forgetting the real reason you’re out there – to provide a professional service to achieve a desired outcome. If someone changes their minds and asks me to mop the floors instead of configure their Salesforce – guess what? I’m grabbing the mop. Because that’s what drives incremental and follow-on business. Not being the guy that says “Sorry, that’s outside of my scope”.
Til Next Time,