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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  August 27, 2013

3 Ways to Prevent Scope Creep on Projects

Originally published for RainToday.com

The contract is signed, and the work has begun.  The client loves you and promises more work in the future.  So, it’s no big deal when they ask you to do “one little thing” for them.  You do it and get back to work.

Then you get another request and another.  All of a sudden the project is off track and taking over your life.  You’ve entered into the scope creep zone.

To prevent that from happening, here are three ways to help you maintain your boundaries and still have strong client relationships.

1.  Clarify the Request

Clients don’t ask us to do things in a vacuum.  There is a bigger reason why they ask and what they really want.  Our job is to give them what they need, not to do everything they ask.

When you get an odd request, don’t say no at first.  DO NOT respond via email with all the reasons why it is not included in the scope of the project.  You are setting the stage for an argument and hurt feelings.  No one likes to be told no.  It feels like rejection.

Instead, all your client and get the inside scoop.  Find out the story behind the request and why it is so important.  Clarify exactly what they want you to do.  Many times, the request was made based on false assumptions.

Example:  A long-term client hired me to help them implement the market strategy I developed for them. One day, I got an email asking me to analyze their 300-page manual ASAP.  After I stopped laughing, I picked up the phone and started asking questions.  The back story was the client wanted to make sure they were correctly implementing the changes I suggested they make.  I looked at a few pages while they were on the phone, blessed the direction they were going, and everyone was happy again.  They needed an answer, not an analysis.

2.  Communicate the Impact

Many clients don’t mean to take advantage of us.  What really happens is something suddenly comes up and they need help.  They are comfortable enough in the relationship to think it’s OK to ask.  Their story:  “Oh, this will only take a minute.”

There are two dangers here:

First, it will take far more time than they think it will take.

Second, and more important, if you say yes, a precedent will be established.  Once the client assumes you will do extra tasks for them, they will continue to ask.

What you should do instead is help them understand how the request will impact the project and the benchmarks already agreed upon.  They need to choose their priorities.

Example:  A client hired me to help them make huge strategic decisions about their business.  We agreed to a package of three strategy sessions and the issues we would cover.  A few days after the first session, I received a barrage of emails asking questions about an incident that just occurred.  Instead of saying no and reminding them of the scope, I called the client and said, “Hey, this sounds important.  Want to use one of your sessions for this?  I’m OK with replacing this issue with XXXX [enter next benchmark here].”  The client said yes.  They said the new issue was more important than what we were working on at the moment, and they agreed to change the scope.  Everyone was happy.

3.  Create an Easy Option

Client think they know what kind of help they need at the beginning of a project.  Much like renovating a house, it’s not until they get into the process when other needs are discovered.  At that point, clients are in a vulnerable position.  They know they need extra help, but they don’t know how to get it.  This is why they ask us.  This is when we can save the day.

The key is to remember that this is a “surprise” and not something anyone could have foreseen.  Don’t assume the client is asking for free work.  Again, clarify the request and have at least two options ready to cover the new development.  One option can include additional investment, but also make sure one solution includes adjusting the scope.  (See the above section.)  You want to make it easy for the client to get help without having to jump through a lot of budget hoops.

Example:  Years ago, a consultant heard me speak and paid for an hour of my time after the presentation.  We covered a lot of ground, and he loved my ideas, so much so that he continued to email me with more questions.  Apparently, he had no idea that after the hour was over, we were done.  I called him and said, “Sounds like our session created a lot of new questions.  No worries, this happens a lot.  It’s a clue that more needs to be done.  Do you need more help?  If so, I’m happy to jump back in.  We can explore options for moving forward if you want.”  He got the message and stopped emailing me.  Then he came back a few weeks later and hired me again.

Keep Calm and Carry On

I don’t believe clients intend to deliberately take advantage of us.  Sometimes they don’t know where the boundaries are until they cross them.  When we can take blame out of the situation, we are in a powerful position to look for the “yes” instead of saying “no”.  With clarity and compassion, we can deal with the real issues, communicate the impact, and create easy ways to move forward.  Our clients will remember how we helped them and still rave about our work.

Filed Under: Experts, Market Strategy, Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.