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Episode 148: A Masterclass in Addressing Scope Creep When Consulting—with Deb Zahn

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So on this podcast, I'm going to talk about scope creep, which is one of the most common things that happens to all consultants. And we're going to talk about how to spot it, know what it is, understand why it's happening, and ultimately be able to prevent it when you can and intervene when you can't, with the ultimate goal of making sure that you got a good relationship with a client. But you're also not working for free. So that's what we're going to dig into today.

So let me actually start with what is it. So what do I mean by scope creep? So that's when the scope of your consulting work increases, but there aren't other changes that are made to other aspects of the contract to account for the fact that your scope just changed. And the big one is price. Your price doesn't change, even though your scope increased. The other one is timeline, where, and now you have to do more, and you have to do it in the same period of time. So that's what scope creep is.

Now, what I don't mean is when you actually want to do more for your client. Because if you want to do more for your client and you want to get additional work added to your scope to do that, that's fantastic. That's a great way to be able to add more value to them and help them get either bigger, better, or different types of results. Scope creep that I'm going to be talking about today is different. That's when you're risking not getting paid for that additional work, and/or you're risking an issue in the relationship you have with your client if it's not appropriately managed. So if you want to make sure that you don't work for free and you want to avoid unnecessary drama with your clients, this is exactly what I'm going to talk about in this particular podcast.

So let's start with when does it happen. Sort of the short answer of that is a lot and at any time. So I have yet to meet a consultant who's been consulting at least for a year who hasn't had scope creep happen. In fact, most consultants I know in their first handful of engagements will have it happen at least once. That's how common it is for that to occur. And it can happen at any stage of the engagement. So I've had it happen to me repeatedly. I've had it happen in the very first meeting that we're in. And I've also had it happen quite painfully in what the final deliverables going to be and suddenly what they have in their head. And what they want me to do is far bigger than anything that's in the contract or that we've talked about. So it can happen at any time. So that's why you have to be really, really prepared for it when it actually does.

Now, let's get into why it happens because you have to think about the why in order to come up with how you ultimately are going to address it when it does happen to you in a client engagement. It can happen for a whole lot of reasons.

So the first, and sort of the nicest version, is that it's a compliment, right? It could just be that you're doing a really great job for the client and they're like, "Wow, this is amazing. Now I want more, more, more." And it could be that they're just finally so relieved that somebody is there, and, you are there and you're helping them do things that they never imagined, and now they want to ask you to do more.

So that's the best possible version of why it happens. It could also be, and there could be a combination of these, but it could also be that what you uncovered in the discovery call that you initially had with them is the tip of the iceberg, right? 

So it could be that they have a lot of issues, and you can't easily disentangle them from what scope you have in the contract that you're going to help them with. Now, that's where there's a risk that, what if you can't the results that you talked to them about without doing more work because you didn't realize it was because of all these other things.

So some of that could be, they didn't reveal what was actually happening. And some of that could be perhaps you didn't probe enough. But whatever it is, that's a common reason that it happens, is you heard a bit, but you didn't hear ever everything that's really going on. It could also be some issues around how the client functions, right?

If they have a lack of clarity, either from a particular leader or among their leaders about what they truly want, including what outcome they actually want, including what they think it actually takes to achieve that outcome. It could be that you have different leaders who thought you were doing different things. So that's a definite reason that it could happen.

It could also just be lack of focus. So they could have shifting priorities either because they're an organization where priorities commonly shift and that's their culture, and that's what it's been normalized internally. It could be because they're actually responding to something that's happening internally or externally. And that is then a reasonable shift, but that's one of the reasons it could happen.

Or it could be that they're an organization that has too many priorities, like you can't throw a rock and not hit a priority, which actually means they don't actually have any priorities. But that's a really common reason that it could happen, is they just keep adding additional tasks to it because they think that they want to expand upon their priorities and they want to add new ones.

And the last reason I see it happen quite a bit, and this is definitely not an exhaustive list, is if there's too many top chefs in the kitchen. So that goes back to what I said, if there's lack of clarity. But it could also be that you just have too many folks in charge and you might be hearing very different things from different people.

I had that happen in an engagement, which I then had to do some interventions because it was definitely having an impact, both on our timeline and our ability to get the work done, but also on the price. There were two different people in charge. There was the person who held the contract, right? And that's ultimately who we're responsible to in terms of what gets done in for what price. But then there was somebody else from a totally different organization because this was a partnership, who was in charge of instructing us. Well, he had no lived experience of limitations in terms of what we would do. So he wanted us to do what he thought was important. And it wasn't like he was suggesting things that were a bad idea, they were all actually quite good ideas, but he didn't have to live with the implications of what that would actually do to the budget, what that would actually do to the cost.

So that's an example of what it could look like, but it could even be with than a single organization where you have different folks in the C-suite or whatever level you're working at and they're on very different pages about what's happening and everybody's giving you different instructions. So that's common. And as you can imagine, with all of these, whatever you're doing to manage that engagement, or when you're trying to figure out the best way to address scope creep, you have to think of those things in mind. Because if it's lack of clarity, then your solution must include how to bring clarity back into what the scope and the price is.

If it's that there's too many top chefs, then what you might have to do is to talk through exactly who you're taking instructions from and/or have people together in now regular meetings so that you're hearing and they're hearing exactly what you're being told to do. So each one of these might come with different solutions that you have to consider.

The other thing that you have to consider is how it shows up, so how it happens. And there's different versions of how scope creep can appear within a client engagement. And I personally like to use the metaphor of a balloon, right? So if you imagine that scope creep is the inflation of that balloon, then it can show up in a bunch of different ways. And I'm going to go through these in more detailed in terms of how you solve for them. But the reason it's important to understand how it's showing up is because you're going to switch up what your solution is and how you're addressing it, or even how you're managing it based on what version is actually going to be appearing in front of you.

So, the first is the immediate. I call this sort of behind-the-scenes inflation, where right at the beginning, they show up with a bigger balloon than what you talked about, than what is in the contract and what they have agreed to pay for. So that's often a really surprising one where they're suddenly talking about things that have nothing to do with the budget.

Part of that, you have to understand, is even if a client signs a contract, even if they agree to what the scope is, they agree to what the price is and everything, they're not necessarily going to remember that because they have a whole bunch of other things that they're doing throughout their day that require their attention and require their executive function and their working memory and all of that good stuff. They're not going to remember all the details. That's part of what your value is and part of what your job is. So that's one way that it can show up, is suddenly, they show up, they got a bigger balloon that is not what you agreed to, and now you must address that.

The other version is what I call slow inflation. This is where, imagine if you have a balloon and you're just going to blow it up a little bit at a time, right? This is a really tricky one because each blow into the balloon may not seem like a big deal. It's just a little bit. It's not going to matter. You could barely even notice that that balloon got bigger, but cumulatively, it gets much bigger. And this is one of those areas where it's really easy to wake up one morning and realize you have a way bigger balloon than you imagine and you're now doing work for free if you didn't actually intervene or do anything to prevent that.

The other one is, and there's a few more to go, but the other one is rapid inflation, right? So this is often called scope leap where it's not just like, ah, it goes up a little bit over time, but this where suddenly just someone is blowing into that balloon really hard and they want to get that thing as big as possible quickly. So that's where suddenly the conversation is about you doing a much bigger scope than what you originally talked about. I have this one happens all of the time. And again, it can be for all the reasons I listed, but this is a really common one.

The other one that can be super tricky is what I call the balloon animal. You've seen the really creepy clowns. I don't like clowns...But you've seen the folks who make balloon animals. And often it's a few different balloons, but they twist and turn it and they turn it into something. Well, the problem with this version is that every time they twist the balloon, it's harder to see whether or not it's actually been inflated or not, or they might be adding other balloons. So they want it to have a really long tail. So suddenly they added another balloon to it.

This one can be really tricky because it's not as straightforward as just watching a balloon go bigger. It just happens every time there's a shift in turn in what the scope is or what the timeline is or any other aspect of the project that's going to ultimately impact the amount of work that you're going to be doing.

The last one is, and I hate to say I've had this happen, this can be a painful one, is where the balloon just bursts, right? You don't even have a recognizable scope when that happens, right? It just exploded and little bits and pieces are all over the place. And the hope and expectation from the client is you're just going to keep on moving forward, but the scope is now completely unclear and uncertain. And I'll talk about that in a moment because that can happen at a lot of different stages.

Those are the different versions you can see. And if you've been consulting a while, you might be chuckling, or crying, or a little bit of both because you've actually experienced these different versions. I've experienced every single one of these, and I've experienced them multiple times. So what do you do? So that's the big question, right?

The first thing is you got to get your mindset in the right place. Because if you don't do that, you can apply some of the different things that I'm going to be talking about, but it's easy to slide back down into just letting things slip. And ultimately if you let them slip, you're going to be working for free.

Here's what I would say. Unless you're a volunteer consultant, right? That you've made the decision in your life that you want to help people through consulting, and you don't need to get paid. If that's not you, then the first thing that you have to embrace is that you are in the business of consulting. And being in the business of consulting, it is fair and reasonable for you to get paid for every single thing you do for a client, regardless of who the client is, regardless of what the pricing model is, and regardless of what your price is.

If you've got any sort of underlying little feelings or mindset traps that make it difficult for you to embrace those things, then that's a great place to start. Because once you can surface how you're feeling about those things, you can actually work with them. But that's the place to start with it, is that it's reasonable and fair for you to get paid for every single thing that you do for the client. It's an exchange of value.

The truth is, is that most clients, overwhelmingly, most clients embrace that, and they respect it. Most of the time, and I've been doing this for over 11 years, and I got to tell you, most of the time, they are not trying to get you to work for free. When I think of anyone who was trying to get me to work for free, I can count them on one hand, and I have fingers left. That's how rare my experiences are of that. Now in your market you might have a bigger experience of that, but that's generally what I've seen and what I've seen with other consultants.

So they respect it. They understand that they're exchanging their money for the good things that you can help them do and accomplish. They understand that. If they're one of the rare few that doesn't think that's fair and reasonable, then they are not a good client to have. Because if they think that at the beginning, they're going to think that the whole time and they're going to be essentially trying to nickel and dime you the entire time. That is not a good client to have. And even if you stick to your value the whole time, and you're constantly doing all the intervention techniques, I tell you it's going to be hard to manage that engagement. And I would say it is not worth it.

Now, if your clients are like most, again, the overwhelming majority, then the things that I'm going to talk about to do are going to be helpful because they are starting from the place that they understand that you make your living as a consultant, and that part of the exchange of value you have is them paying you for what you're going to help them do. So that's the first thing to embrace.

The next thing to embrace is prevention is always better than intervention. So there's a number of things that you can do to prevent scope creep from happening. And again, reduce any chance of you not getting paid to do the things that you need to do or to have a drama-filled interaction with a consultant. There's a lot you can do to prevent it. If those prevention things don't work, then there's a lot you can do to intervene.

But let's start with prevention because that's always my favorite way to start. The first thing you just have to know is, as I said at the beginning, scope creep is common. You are going to encounter it. So I wouldn't wonder if it's ever going to come up. If it hasn't come up yet, you do. And I don't mean to say that in any kind of an ominous way, it's just how things work. And it's likely going to come up. And it's just a matter of when it's likely not a matter of if.

So preventing it actually starts in the first discovery meeting, right? So when you're first engaging with a potential client or it even could be a past client and now you're talking about some new work that you're going to do with them, the most important thing for you to do is to ask questions to try and dig in as much as you possibly can to what's really going on, what they need, how they function and operate, who's going to be involved, and sort of all of those details so that you can put together a scope that's going to be the right scope for what they actually need.

So this is where you're trying to get the whole iceberg as much as you can. And you're never going to get all of it. I'm just going to tell you, you're not going to get all of it, but you want to get as much of it as you can. So that's the first thing in the discovery meetings, you have to do is that you have to be the person who's trying to get them to reveal as much as possible.

The second thing is to trust yourself. If you see something that tells you that scope creep is likely going to come up, then you're likely right. And don't override what you're seeing. If you're seeing any red flags in that particular area, trust that what you're seeing is true. We call this, my husband and I have many sayings in life, and one of them is: Don't override. And related to that is: Truth in Advertising, which is, if you see something, it is likely true. If it's ever going to change, it's likely just going to increase. So if you see anything, just trust yourself.

Now, it doesn't mean that you don't work with that client. Because seeing some signals that scope creep is probably going to happen doesn't mean they're bad people, doesn't mean that they're not good clients. They're good clients as long as they understand the basic premise that you should get paid for everything that you do for them. And then you just have to know that you're going to have to manage it. Right?

And so one of the ways that you can do that coming out of, and when you're in the discovery meeting itself is to never separate scope and price. It's interesting because I've had lots of conversations with prospective clients where they do talk about price as if it doesn't have anything to do with the scope. And my job and one of the things that I do to protect myself, but also to protect them because I don't want any misunderstandings later, is anytime I'm talking about the price, I'm always relating it to what the scope is because those things are married, and they love each other, and they want to stay together. And that's how to think about it.

So always bring them together. And if they start separating them at any point, always bring it back together and take note if they're trying to separate them. And again, it doesn't mean that they're bad people and they're trying to necessarily get over, but if they're separating them, it might just be sort of a habit of thinking they have that, oh yeah, consultants, they charge an hourly rate or they charge this amount and then they do stuff for me and they're not necessarily thinking of the scope. But that's informative. And to sense it's informative, you should inside your head, not out loud, thank them for revealing that because now that's going to help you create a proposal and contract that is going to, in some way, address that and set expectations in the appropriate direction.

So you have to understand that your proposals and your contracts aren't just legal documents that are the final gate before you can actually start to do work for them, but they are one of the most powerful tools that you have for managing expectations and ultimately being able to manage scope creep. So getting them right is really important. Having the clarity that you need in terms of what the scope is and how the price relates to that scope needs to be written into that contract so that it's really clear and you can manage against it if you need to, and that you have protections for them.

And remember when you're protecting yourself, as I said earlier, you're also protecting them because you're trying to remove any unnecessary drama from the relationship that you have with them. And nothing brings up drama more than having to renegotiate price, which by the way, doesn't mean you don't do it, but that means that you set things up in such a way that it either eliminates or reduces any feelings of drama associated with it.

So clarity in your contracts is really important. If you saw something during that discovery meeting that suggests that scope creep is going to be a problem, so for example, if you were meeting with a few different people and some of the top leaders are the folks that you're going to be working with, they obviously don't agree on what the outcome is, or they don't obviously agree on what you're going to be doing, even if at the end of it they said they did, then that's true. And you have to make sure that in your contracts and in your price, you allow for the time and effort and steps it's going to take to be able to clarify that and manage it on an ongoing basis.

So one thing that I will do, for example, if I see a situation like that, and I'm thinking, you know what, there's going to be extra things that I'm going to have to do to keep these folks on track and to continually clarify things among some of the top chefs and I don't necessarily at that point know why they're not agreeing, but I see that they're not agreeing and I know it's going to take some work to do that.

So if I'm doing a value-based contract, so that's where I'm being paid for whatever the value is of what I'm doing for them and the ultimate outcome is, I'm going to know that as I'm constructing what the budget is going to be for that, that I have to allow for that effort that it's going to take to do that I have to put into the contract language about times that we're going to meet or steps that I'm going to take to be able to do that.

If I'm charging, let's say a retainer, and I might say, you know what? I don't really know the magnitude of this. So let me add into this an as-needed bucket of hours. That if they exceed their retainer hours, or if they want something that's out of scope, in any type of a contract, that there's ways already baked into this contract that I can help them either an hourly or a bump up. There's lots of different ways to do it. But it's already in the contract. So now we don't have to renegotiate. It's already in there.

So those are things that I do. Now, I also have a free tool that is basically a checklist for how you manage scope creep and how you manage client expectations. Things that you should make sure are in your contract that are going to help you do that. And you can look in my show notes and you can download it. It's free. It's things like, let's say one of the things that you're going to do for a prospective client is you're going to have a series of strategy sessions.

Now you might be thinking, those strategy sessions are going to be 90 minutes long. I've done them before. I know I can do them in 90 minutes. Even though I see a little issues that might exist between some of the leaders, I can do that. If you don't specify that in your contract, if you don't actually say, if they're this many strategy sessions and they're this long, they might be thinking something totally different. They might have, internally, a different way to do it. Or they might have had other consultants that they like to do half-day retreats. Or full-day retreats. Or you're going to have more strategy sessions than they imagined, and they want you to break them up among different departments in this way. They could have a whole different set of assumptions about what you're doing. In their mind, this isn't even scope creep. It is to you because you had something else that you priced this based on.

That's where it can get a little fuzzy at the beginning. And unfortunately, situations like that, you're now saying, well, I didn't think that and yet I didn't specify it. It can cause some bad feelings at the beginning. That's why you want to make sure that whatever you put in your proposals and contracts clarifies exactly that type of detail so that you can at least take that stuff off the table, or if it does come up because the client doesn't remember in there, you have something in a contract that you can manage against.

So again, download my free tool. It's going to go through a bunch of what those are. Those are things that I learned over time because they were things that I didn't necessarily put in my original contracts, and then nuttiness ensued. And I then had to deal with it.

Now, with the different versions of scope creep, what ultimately you can do about those things. And again, you have different solutions depending on the different versions that show up. So I'm going to go through those one by one. And again, you still have to go back and you still have to think about why it's happening because then you might adjust these depending.

But let's talk about the immediate one. So this is one where they show up with a bigger balloon. So the main way that you can prevent some of this or intervene is for you as the consultant to own the scope from day one. And what I mean by own the scope is that you know that it's your responsibility to manage the details of the contract. That includes the scope. That includes the timeline. That includes the price. You're who is paying attention to it. And you're paying attention to all those elements relative to each other. So you're going to own it. You're not going to hope they remember, and you're not going to hope that they're going to pay attention to it. You're going to know that things could go awry. And even if they don't, it's still your job. One is own the scope.

What I like to do, and I'm actually doing later this week with a new consulting client, is I'm going to have a kickoff meeting that has to include all of the decision makers. So this is one where you got to insist that who's ever ultimately making the decisions is part of this. In that kickoff meeting, one of the purposes of it is to ensure that everybody has clarity about what the scope and the timeline is. So everybody knows what we're talking about doing and when we're going to talk about doing it. We're also going to talk about things that are their responsibilities or any dependencies that different aspects of the work might have, or that I have on them because those things have a lot to do with what ultimately the scope is.

The purpose of the kickoff meeting is to get clarity. There's other things we're going to be doing in that meeting, but that's one of the top ones. And I will actually have it written in front of them for us to go through. So again, I can refer back to that document if anything goes to the side of that. I am also going to say in that meeting, what will happen if the scope changes?

One of the things that my clients actually like about me is that I switch up if it's necessary. If we had a scope at the beginning, but really to achieve the outcome we need to make some changes to it, I will do that. But I will do that with an understanding of that may have implications to the price, the timeline, and other things. I don't just automatically do it. I tell them at the beginning, and then I repeat if I need to, is as we go along, there's going to be a number of things that we aren't necessarily going to know today, or it might arise that we can't anticipate. My goal is to get you the outcome that you ultimately want. If we come to a place where it makes sense to change the scope, then what I will do is I will talk to you about and look at what the implications might be to the budget and offer some suggestions of how we can stay on track so that we can actually make decisions together.

So right from the beginning, I'm tying together scope and price, and I'm telling them what I'm going to do if the scope changes. And I do that before the scope changes. Now, again, if they showed up with a bigger balloon, I'm not going to talk about their balloon. I'm going to talk about my balloon. And if they say, which they may, wow, that balloon doesn't look anything like ours, I'm going to say, yeah, let's talk about that. So let's go back to what's in the contract. And if we need to change that we can change it, but let's go back to what's there. And now I'm owning that scope and I'm owning everything that's related to that scope from day one. So that's how I handle that.

Slow inflation is the place where I see most consultants including me. I've definitely been guilty of this. This is where you start to lose money. This is the one that's easy to lose money because every single time it happens, it's just a little bit. So the first thing I would say is you have to know that if it happens once, you should just assume it's going to happen again, right. And again, it could be for all and any or all of the reasons that I talked about, but just assume it will happen again. And you want to be the boss of what gets normalized.

Well, anytime you're in any type of relationship, you go through some process where you're normalizing how you actually operate and function together, right? So that's just a regular thing that happens. So you sort of decide what's normal between us. And you may not be aware that that's happening, but that is actually happening. And if you aren't cognizant of it, then you may not know that part of what you want to do is you want to guide what becomes considered normal to be fair and drama-free normal. And so part of your value as a consultant is to be able to do those things at the beginning.

So just know that you want to be the boss of what gets normalized, and that means you're going to pay attention to it. That doesn't mean you're going to shove things down their throat. You're a good boss, you're not a bad boss. But it means that you're paying attention to it and you're trying to guide it so that, again, it's fair and drama-free normal. So you want to normalize having check-ins. You want to normalize that in those check-ins, you're going to check in about the scope and the budget. So they just get used to that.

And then if anything happens down the road, it's not the first time you've ever talked about the scope and the price. It's actually maybe you've talked about it multiple times, or you've talked about it before. So they know that that's a normal thing for you to talk about.

The other thing I would say is never let one increase in scope boat go by without a discussion with the client. Because that's part of the no normalizing process. And if you let it go by, you are normalizing with the client that increasing the scope without paying you more is what you do. And that that's perfectly acceptable. And if you do it once, you do it twice, and then finally you say something after that, it's going to seem rather abrupt because you said yes to the last two things. And so that doesn't actually help your relationship with a client because you started to normalize things in one way, and then suddenly you switched up. So that cannot feel good on the client-side and it doesn't do you any favors either.

So here's what I typically say if there's an increase of any kind, which is, I'd be happy to talk to you about adding that. And then I can see what that does to the budget. Now, off the top of my head probably don't know what that does to the budget. Not just because I'm bad at math, but I may not know. And so that's just signaling to them. You notice that I said, happy to talk to you about adding that. So I am signaling quite deliberately to them that that's an increase in scope. I'm naming it as such, and then I'm tying it to price because remember price and scope are madly in love and together forever. So I'm normalizing putting those together and I'm telling them, and I'm signaling to them that there potentially are implications to it.

Now, if they are price-sensitive, or they have a firm budget, you could offer suggestions, and I often do, of how to adjust the scope to match the current price. So I might say to them, "Tell you what. This what we just talked about, and it sounds really important. It sounds like it's going to be critical for us to get the outcome. So let me go back and look at the scope and budget, and see if there are any adjustments we can make that keep it within the budget but changes the scope in the way that we're talking about."

Now, what that means is, is I'm probably going to get rid of or reduce something else. And I want to signal to them that I'm going to do that. And then I come back to them, and I have suggestions, and I basically say, "Look, if we get rid of these two things, which seem less critical than what we're talking about, we're still on track, we're still doing what we need to do, and we can stay within budget. If you want to keep those things, then we have to increase the budget by X dollars." So that's usually how I will talk with folks about it. And again, most of the time those meetings go really well, particularly if I've done a good job of normalizing that, yeah, we talk about those things. That's what our relationship is like. Which makes sense because client consulted, that's a normal thing.

All right. When there's rapid inflation, ouch, ouch, ouch. So that's often called scope leap, right? That's where it's quite certain. The thing I'd say about that is the place where I think a lot of consultants flounder a bit with this is they think that it is so obvious that that just happened, that surely the client is going to bring up price, right? And so they wait for the client to bring it up, which may never happen. And again, it doesn't mean that the clients are bad people. It just means they didn't bring it up.

So again, part of your value as a consultant is you are managing the engagement and you are managing the contract. So it is important for you to bring it up. And you just got to know that that's your job. It's not necessarily their job. Also, don't assume that the client is experiencing it as a big leap in scope. They might not, they might just be focused on the results and where they're trying to get to and not really thinking about the process or they don't know all the sausage-making behind the scenes that actually produces that.

So they don't necessarily...They might have brought you in because you do know how to do that and they don't. So they don't know it's a big increase. Or they're used to constant big changes in scope. So it just kind of feels normal to them. And internally, everybody just shifts and handles it, but you have a different relationship because you are not an employee. So they just might not be paying attention to it. That's why it's your job.

If it's a big change in scope, I think it is critical because it is respectful to ensure that when you have a conversation about it, you talk to the client live. It could be Zoom. It could be a call. It could be in person. But big leaps aren't managed well in emails. Now you want to memorialize everything afterwards. So if you have a conversation, you want to write down everything that you talked about or you agreed to and send it afterward. Ultimately, if there are big changes, those have to be codified within the scope of the contract itself. And that has to become a formal agreement, but always talk to them live. I think it shows a lot of respect.

And you want to go in having done your homework and not just walk in and say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. That is way more than what we agreed to." 

That's probably not going to send the conversation in a good direction. What you want to do is you want to stay focused on them getting the outcomes that they want and that they care about. So do your homework, think through what the implications of those increases in scope are, options for them to consider.

And you want to have questions ready just like it's another discovery call. So it may be that you stumbled upon another iceberg or now you're dipping below the surface, and you want to ask questions so that you really understand what it is. So if you do have to come up with a new scope that's going to go into a revised contract, you're not missing huge pieces that then you're going to have to renegotiate later and have the clients say, "We did this last time. Why are you coming back to me again?" Which could easily happen.

So that's where you want to have questions so that you can dig in more and figure out exactly what the right scope is. And again, that's not full proof. Certainly, there may be things that, even at that time, they don't reveal because they don't think to reveal or they don't think that it matters. So do your homework and get ready for that. And then once you're in there and you get past that discovery process of trying to find out what the right scope is, know that you're going to be negotiating after that.

Now I typically do not give people a new price on the spot. I can't do that math in my head. And I don't want to because I want to consider all the options. I will tell them that I will go back. Based on what we talked about, I'll come back to them. And usually I'll come back to them with options for them to consider. If they press me, which I have had happen, again, not a lot, but I have had happen, what I essentially say to them is, look, this is our second go at the scope. I want to get it right. And I want to make sure that they're going to know with much better precision what the implications are going to be. So let me go back and do that piece and get it right. Usually, they don't press after that.

And then again, when you're talking to them, never divorce scope and price. Always keep those together. If they start wanting to go through line by line and start eliminating pieces of the price because they don't think it's important and you're watching the scope that gets them the outcomes start to disappear, that's a problem. I would do what you can to halt that conversation and say, “Look, let's get focused again on what the outcome is. We'll talk about what scope we think it takes to get to that outcome, and then I can go back and I can see what options are in terms of a scope that gets you that plus a price that pays for that scope.” Very, very important.

Now, if you hit the balloon animal. So again this is where the scope keeps going in all these different directions and new things get added. It's kind of the same as the slow inflation as if it happens once if there's a sudden turn, assume that it's going to happen again. You want to be, again, the boss of what gets normalized. And you also be the boss of the bigger picture. So what is it that they're truly trying to accomplish? It could be similar to how I sometimes switch things up when I'm in the middle of an engagement because it's the right thing to do to get them the outcome, or it's responding to something that came up. That's a good thing.

If it's just twist and then turn in because that's what they're used to doing or somebody threw it in a different direction and you don't think that's actually going to get them the outcome, then it is important to stop and say, look, let's get clarity about what either gets you on track. Or if you truly want a different outcome, now we have to establish a new scope. And then you have to go back and you have to do the discovery process and then a negotiation around that again. But if the balloon keeps turning a bunch of times, it is really important for you to stop, look at the big picture, and then figure out what you need to communicate to them so that they understand, if these are good terms, here's the implications of them. If these are not good terms, or these are sending us in a different direction, have a conversation about that. And all of that relates to what ultimately the scope will be in, ultimately, price.

Now, the last one to check in on is when the balloon bursts. And again, this can be immediate. I've had this happen when a leader came in and just popped it with a pin. And it happened really abruptly. I've also had it happen where it's the outcome of one of the previous versions we talked about, that they twist and turn that balloon animal so much that the whole thing just exploded, that the scope got so big so quickly that it just exploded. So it can happen for a lot of different reasons.

The goal is to intervene, obviously, before it bursts. So if it's one of those other versions, use those interventions to make sure this thing doesn't blow up. But if you can't, again, it is then a new discovery process and a new negotiation process, right? You are back to figuring out what it is. What I would not do is just say, "OK, well, I guess we really don't have a scope now. Let's just put our heads down and keep working." I've seen that happen repeatedly. The problem is you have nothing that protects you at that point and you have no guardrails in terms of the client adding or changing things to the scope. So you're really leaving it to hope and chance that you get paid what you should get paid.

What I would do is to think through, “All right. Well, what do I have to do? Why is this actually happening? Do we have clarity about what it ultimately is that they want? You may have to redo the contract.” Or sometimes, and I've had to do this a couple times, is to say, all right, we seem to be going off track and not really clear about ultimately what we're trying to do together, and that's fine, but let's take a step and sort that out. So I might suggest an interim addition to the scope, paid of course, so we have to negotiate the price for that, where my job is going to help them sort out what they truly want, and sort out why their scope is just going a million different directions.

It might be that I discover that I have to change the pricing model because they're at such an early stage of something. They don't really know what the scope is going to be. They're still trying to figure out where they're headed. And the value of having me there is that I'm going to help them figure it out. And that's why I get hired as a consultant a lot. So what I might do is say, all right, if we can't say exactly what this scope is fully going to be, let's change the price model so that we can give you more flexibility.

So I might switch to a retainer, and I still have guardrails, particularly if I've seen that that could just be a new way of pricing something that is unclear, uncertain, and all over the place. So I'm still going to say there's likely going to be an hours limit or some other guardrails attached to that, but I might say, let's then get you the right scope and the right price that is ultimately going to get you what you need, which in this case is clarity in a direction, but I make sure that I'm still going to get paid for what I'm doing for them.

And the most important thing is to…don't risk just going along with it, hoping it gets sorted out, hoping they get clear about what they want, and assuming it's going to work out. Because the reality is, is in most cases, it's not going to work out in your favor. And one of the values that you can bring as a consultant is to help them get that clarity and take the steps they need to have a scope and have a price and a pricing model that ultimately works for what they're having you do for them.

So hopefully this is a crash course in scope creep. We'll make you a better, more comfortable, let's say balloon wrangler so that ultimately you can do what you can to prevent this, but then you can also manage it as it happens along the way. Again, it happens a lot. It can happen at any stage. So the more awareness you have of this, the more skills that you have related to this, and strategies and techniques that you can pull out of your toolbox, the better off you're going to be. And you can still have great relationships with your clients and make sure that you get paid for all of your beautiful, wonderful value.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.

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