Every consultant has faced this scenario, especially those of us who don’t directly negotiate our own contracts. A “scope of work” document hits our desk, we internally review it and then have a project kickoff call with the customer. Things go swimmingly, and then, suddenly, it doesn’t.

According to the negotiated and signed Scope of Work, the contract calls for something basic and entry level. The customer, on the other hand, is expecting something much more involved to be prepared. To use a bakery metaphor, you’re prepared to produce a pound cake from a boxed mix, and they’ve made it clear that they’re expecting a 3-tier wedding cake with fresh butter cream.

How did we get here? Experience shows that it is usually a combination of factors. Salespeople are one factor in the puzzle. Either they sell the contract knowing that, with no skin in the game, they can afford to ‘yes’ the prospective client to death or, maybe, they hope that the implementation consultant can play the role of bad cop, taking the brunt of the client’s ire and aggravation. The end customer also has a role in this situation. “Our configuration isn’t custom/unique,” goes the logic, “so it should easily fit within the scope of any contract. And since we haven’t had any formal discovery meetings with the vendor before signing the contract, and they haven’t raised an objection before now, that means that they’re agreeing to do whatever is necessary to get us up and running.” Last but not least, we (as consultants) are complicit, too. We don’t exert enough pressure early on in the process, leaving the “messy” details to the sales people. And we don’t demand that there’s formalized discovery of the environment, performed by somebody technical and competent enough, with a vested interest in the contract, to make honest assessments before ink is put on paper.

As you can imagine, everybody has a share of the blame, if you will, that led us to this point. The true solution, while out there, isn’t important right now. This customer doesn’t want the process fixed, they want their implementation! And you’re supposed to do it! So, how to approach the situation? I can’t say that I have the right or the only approach to the problem, but here are some of the steps I take to make things go forward.

  • First off, never give an outright “no” to the customer. That guarantees an adversarial relationship, and it almost sabotages the chance that you’ll get called back for “Phase II” implementation work. Explain that you’ve got to research the effort necessary for the extra work.
  • Next, scope out the missing parts and document this in advance of doing anything. If you work for a consulting form, bring this to management’s attention and let them know how much “extra work” are you expecting this part to be.
  • With this new information, look at the project as a whole. If you’ve determined that the extra work is going to be 10% or less of the project, it is probably easier to just go ahead, smile graciously and do it. If it’s above 10%, there’s a hard judgement call to be made with regard to where to draw the line. Some companies say a 15% over-run is painful but can be tolerated. Usually a value of 20% or more is going to be an issue in anybody’s book.
  • In any case, you must present this data to all parties – the end client, the sales team that sold the contract and your management team. Be prepared to explain how you came to the overage values you did. The more experience you have, the better your case will be.

There’s got to be a meeting and negotiation about what will be left out of the “entry level” install to guarantee that their custom work is complete by go-live. You may be asked to quantify the amount of labor necessary to do those basic tasks (such as email integration, setting up request offerings and the like) so that fair trade-offs can be made. Usually, if you bargain in good faith, keeping the customer’s needs and deadlines in focus, there will be a second (and possibly third) contract to pick up the missing pieces and to grow the installation by using portions of the suite that were not mentioned at the beginning.

At the end of the day, the only way to salvage a win in this situation is to be flexible. Being rigid with the customer (“sticking to your guns”) will not help your cause and will probably make sure that future project work won’t be coming your way.

-Jeffrey Bromberger, Consultant – CISA, CRISC

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