Consulting firm clients occasionally (or frequently) don’t live up to their obligations on a project—mid-project approvals come late, or not at all, critical information is missing, etc. Sometimes, clients ask your consulting firm to take on extra work that was outside of scope. Both of these client behaviors present a challenge for your consulting firm.
Your consulting firm can set better boundaries with your clients from the start, without being negative or upside down. Let’s discuss how.
Here’s the scenario: Your consulting firm happily took on a project with SFC (Southern Fried Chocolates). Two months in, the project has fallen way behind as you’ve waited for information on capsaicin levels from SFC’s Mole team.
To avoid a heated conversation with the Mole group, you turn to Coronel Lijadora, the head honcho at SFC. He explains that the Mole team is extremely busy and pleasantly suggests your consulting firm conduct the capsaicin level testing in order to put the project back on track.
You’re now facing two client problems common to every consulting firm:
Responsibility Dodging – Your client isn’t executing their share of the work that’s required for your project to deliver an excellent outcome.
Scope Creep – Your client is asking you to take on work that is beyond the bounds of the original agreement.
Responsibility Dodging and Scope Creep create reputational and financial risk for your consulting firm.
Scope Creep also presents strategic challenges. The tasks you’re being asked (or compelled) to take on may not be work you want to do, enjoy doing, can excel at, or want to be known for.
As a quick aside, Scope Creep and Responsibility Dodging are not always bad. When multiple clients struggle with the same responsibilities or request the same additions to scope, you may have surfaced an opportunity for a new consulting offering.
Nevertheless, could you have avoided the SFC situation from the start, or at least made your responses to Coronel Lijadora easier to manage? Yes.
Plus, you can set boundaries without relying on negative, upside down language such as, “We don’t conduct spice level testing” or “This contract excludes capsaicin measuring and any information related to nibs.”
In fact, you probably already have the necessary tools.
Hiding at the end of the Perfect Proposal Template, which you’ve likely stored on your hard drive since it’s a free download, are two sections: one titled Responsibilities and one called Dependencies.
For many clients and projects, these sections can be boilerplate or left out entirely; however, if your consulting firm is consistently facing Scope Creep or Responsibility Dodging, you may want to revisit, beef up and customize these sections of your proposal.
Highlight the responsibilities and dependencies in your proposal’s cover letter and discuss them with your client as you review the proposal.
For particularly troublesome clients, include a Responsibilities and Dependencies tracker as a “standard” part of your weekly or monthly project update conversations.
Of course, you can also leverage the Approach Alternatives section of your proposal to explicitly describe what is included in three different levels of scope.
Will a simple enumeration of responsibilities prevent Responsibility Dodging? Often not; however, those two sections of your consulting firm’s proposal open the door to:
- Surface and discuss concerns around your client’s ability to deliver on their responsibilities;
- Brainstorm, in advance, solutions if you client can’t meet their responsibilities;
- Document you client’s participation and agreement in the design of the scope.
Perhaps you couldn’t foresee the Responsibility Dodging or anticipate the Scope Creep with SFC. That happens. Powerful language for your conversation with Coronel Lijadora will allow you to avoid a project meltdown. We’ll cover that language in another article.
For now, let me know if/how you have you prevented Scope Creep and Responsibility Dodging.
Text and images are © 2022 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.