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June 17, 2008

The curse of creeping scope...

Scope creep is an insidious element of all consulting work. The truly sad part of it is that it springs from good intentions, cloaked in the desire to build and sustain good client relationships, and usually starts with a relatively low level consultant.

If we are all honest, this has probably happened to all of us at least once. I know it has happened to me in any case.

The work is going ahead, you (and your client counterpart) discover some small element that wasn't included in the original scoped project. its small, so no big deal - you do it for them. He/She's happy, you are feeling pretty satisfied with yourself, and the outcome of the work is going to be just a little bit more polished.

And all is well in the world.... except that it really isn't.

Now you have a precedent. Small stuff is no worries, so you will just do that - right?

And then theres the other end of it. What if you were wrong? What if it isnt small stuff, but floating near you like an iceberg with most of it under the cover of existing business processes?

And what if you do it and it all goes sour? And what if once you start to do it, you uncover layer upon layer of additional work that needs to be done? All small stuff of course.. so it shoul dbe no problem right?

I cannot recall the number of times I have seen small scope "adjustments" run aground. And there are statistics out there that point out just how lethal this practice is to profitability.

Not only that but the consultants themselves end up working both ends of the candle, taking a well quoted and balanced project and turning it into a resource consuming nightmare.

All scope changes need to be formally agreed. Some may be able to be done from within the current resources, time-frame and budget; while others will need to be formally quoted and submitted through the approvals process.

At all times their must (simply must) be a rigorous process that is adhered to by all in the company. The relationships are important, and even now part of me wants to write "but if it's small then don't worry about it".

But the facts of the matter remain, consulting is a commercial business, and as such there are rules to what is done and what is not. To do things any differently generally invites problems if not outright disaster.

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