Scope Seep

We hear about “Scope Creep” repeatedly, meaning those demands by clients which are outside of the project objectives and which we choose to fulfill out of fear or stupidity, thereby eroding the profit margin. One very large consulting outfit I was helping actually called these “undocumented promises,” and they ran into the millions of dollars of added expense.

There is an equally insidious problem which I call “Scope Seep.” This occurs in an area of even greater fear and abject stupidity: Where we don’t feel we are sufficiently valuable.

Consultants are forever throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to please clients without the client requesting any kind of extra appliance. (Can you imagine the plumber who is actually installing a kitchen sink offering to also consult for free on the overall pipe and drainage systems while there?)

We do this because we don’t feel as if we’re delivering enough value or possess sufficient expertise. It is a self-esteem crisis, one of the many which consultants hazard through on tip-toe while holding their breath.

Lately, in a variation of this, I’m being asked if it makes sense to provide help for free to “good clients who are going through hard times.” Those hard times, for giant organizations, consist of someone saying, “Oh, we have cutbacks,” or, “Our stock price is down.” It’s as though the consultants are SO thankful for being allowed to work their in the past, to toil in the gardens, that the client is OWED something. If that isn’t the nadir of self-esteem, then I don’t know rock bottom.

One peroration about this from a consultant included the sentiments that this is the way “you treat friends,” and “I would want to be treated.” I have news for you. A client is a business partner, not a friend. Your bank would not express even a remotely similar sentiment when you are behind in the mortgage. Organizations facing legitimately tough times, should never allow them to affect small business suppliers. And most organizations aren’t really facing tough times when they whine, they are simply knee-jerking to a minor blip.

Of course, if you’re dealing with trainers or human resource people, all bets are off, because they are paid to whine and to conserve money, even if it means drastic reductions in quality. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Scope Seep is even more invidious than Scope Creep because we initiate and perpetuate it, often to the surprise of the client, who isn’t above taking something for free if you offer it. It is the visceral response of consultants who simply don’t feel good enough, a trammeling of their financial future because their present is so personally insecure.

We’re in the value business. We deserve equitable compensation for that value. If you don’t believe that, then learn to operate a pipe wrench.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.


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