How to Talk About Scope Creep

Managing scope creep is as much fun as arguing with your conspiracy-prone cousin at the Thanksgiving table, but not managing it well is the surest way to lose money, and also a good way to introduce tension in a client relationship. In today's very brief article (there's a 150' tall oak tree on it's side in the field), I'll suggest some ways you can think about it.

The Problem is Missing Information

Think of scope creep, first, as a lack of information. And to solve that particular problem, you need more information. That information can come from the client (by probing deeper) or from you (by thinking about their problem and how to solve it).

You can't see the landscape because there's a low ceiling and the clouds are obscuring everything. The client is more likely to know where they want to go than how to get their. It's the "how" of that journey that's likely to get you in trouble.

How to Fill in the Blanks

So if the client insists on moving forward with your firm, explain that they have two options:

  • Option 1: Time and materials until the clouds lift and the scope is clear. They will never choose this, but it's always smart to give the client multiple options rather than force them to say yes or no to a single option.
  • Option 2: Paid diagnostic or road mapping exercise. The arguments for this are two-fold. First, they'll be getting a real deliverable that their inhouse team (if they have one) could safely follow, or they could give it to another firm who can step into implementation immediately. Second, spending a little bit of time and money at the outset to get it right will ensure that the remainder of the budget is used effectively.
  • [Option 3: I know. I said they only have two options, and I mean it, because this third option is you writing a 90-page proposal, giving away your best thinking, and then (maybe) getting paid to implement what you're already suggested.]

Pushing Back on the Client

So what if a client doesn't want either of those two options? You would intertwine those two points in a firm but empathetic approach:

  • We can only spend so much time solving the challenge before we are actually engaged. I once told a client when I was facing this: "I am intrigued at the moment, but I don't quite care yet. Once you engage me, though, I'll wear you out with care." In other words, you aren't going to flip the "Care Switch" too early.
  • To protect ourselves, we'll have to aim really high to cover anything we might have missed, and that's not in your best interest, either. So let's figure this out so that we don't have to charge too much.

If you want to dive into this a little deeper, listen to this episode of 2Bobs (Prostitutes and Scope Creep). I also deal with the inverse relationship between payment terms and scope creep in Chapter 7 of the recently released book on Secret Tradecraft ("Where Your Leverage Comes From").

Speaking of the book, the second printing is already underway. Enough were printed to last 4 years and they'll be gone in 4 months. Thanks to each of you for your support, and I wouldn't hate it if you took the time to add to the Amazon reviews. Thank you!

  • Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Covert Techniques For A Remarkable Practice

    Buy Now