Scope Creep, Scope Leak and Now Scope Seep

scope-1215Every integrator is all too familiar with the dreaded scope creep and thanks to a fantastic article by Mark Coxon, we are now familiar with scope leak. While those are both challenges that require more actionable strategies that we’ve seen tabled up to this point, those are topics for another day. Have you ever head the phrase Scope Seep?

I recently read a fantastic book on management consulting written by Alan Weiss where he introduces the concept of scope seep, and while his definition of the term was in relation to how management consultants treat their assignments the phrase should be permanently engraved in the glossary of the AV industry. Quite simply scope seep are those little things that ‘we’ volunteer to do during the course of a project that were never actually part of the project scope but that we throw in during the course of a project in an attempt to justify our value or, worse, justify our technical prowess and brilliance.

While scope seep is an affliction that typically infects our operations and project delivery teams the sales team isn’t immune to it. Especially the ‘relationship’ reps who think being the nice guy and having the customer ‘like you’ are what secures business.

Let’s use an example to illustrate: You’re doing a small $40,000 AV system upgrade for a new customer. You secured the project because the account manager showed the customer how your company would meet their needs (instead of just listening to their wants) and you delivered a proposal that was customer-centric. In her diluted version of reality, the account manager thinks that you won the sale because she had a great relationship with the customer. Now while the project is for the boardroom upgrade the account manager notices during one of her meetings with the customer that the video wall in their lobby looks awful, the color consistency is way off and it’s in desperate need of a color balance. Instead of addressing it with the customer she tells the field tech something along the lines of ‘hey, since you’re on-site anyways could you spend a few minutes and re-balance the video wall for them.’ In her head, she’s thinking that the client is really going to appreciate going above and beyond.

I would argue that this actually erodes the customer’s perception of the value that we bring to the relationship. Why you ask… while fixing it for them is the ‘nice’ thing to do not only does it cost us money and labor time, but it costs us an opportunity to show the customer the value in partnering with us. We miss one of those critical teachable moments. We miss the opportunity to sit with the customer in their own lobby and show them how the poorly calibrated video wall detracts from their brand and image. We miss the opportunity to demonstrate the value we bring as a business partner. We miss the opportunity to show the customer that we are thinking from their perspective.

Here’s another example — the project is almost finished and our programmer is now on-site loading and testing and preparing the system for commissioning. While in the room she notices that there are motorized shades and blinds which weren’t in our scope because they operated perfectly from a bank of rocker switches. Her curiosity is piqued and she pops a couple of ceiling tiles, lo and behold, there are already group motor controllers for the blinds and shades. She thinks, boy wouldn’t it be cool if the blinds would automatically adjust when the AV system was turned on depending on the time of the day. All the hardware is there and I’ve got a couple of open ports on the control system. So off she goes pulling control cabling to the group motor controllers and adding to the control system program while on-site, the entire time thinking about how much the customer will appreciate that they went above and beyond.

Again I would argue that just doing this extra work not only eats into the profitability of the project but also tangibly impedes the valued partnership we all strive to have with our customers. Not being able to show the customer and explain to them why it may be a good idea to link the blinds control to the central AV system means the customer doesn’t get to see you actively thinking from their perspective, on their business issues, and on what might make their lives better. If the projector lamp explodes in the room three months down the road, right before the CEO’s meeting, do you think your customer is going to remember that nice little thing you did with the blinds or the video wall in the lobby? Remember the old adage — people take for granted what they get for free.

Let’s look at it from outside of the AV industry for a minute. Think about the last time you hired an electrician; let’s pretend it was to install a new light fixture. If they noticed that the receptacle for your TV was in the wrong place and the cord was an eyesore draping down the wall do you think they would have just moved it while they were there without charging you for it? Sure it needed to be done, and it would have made your life better, but I would bet my bottom dollar that they would have pointed it out to you and told you that it could be fixed (for a nominal price because they were already in your house with their tools). And although you may not admit it, I’m sure that you would think back fondly on that electrician because while they were doing one job at your house. They noticed something else that wasn’t ideal and they put themselves in your shoes proposing a solution to a problem that you may not have known that you had.

So what can we do to prevent scope seep? Being it’s a mental affliction more than anything else the solutions have to be slowly and consistently ingrained into your company culture.

  • Remember the sole purpose of our existence as integrators is to provide value to our customers. Making sure the customer sees that we are constantly thinking about them is paramount to building the business partner relationship. Don’t give it away and miss out on the opportunity to bring to the customer’s attention the attentiveness of your organization to their business needs.
  • Make sure our technical delivery teams don’t feel that they have to justify your presence and value. The customer relationship is that of equal partners. They need us just as much as we need them.
  • Yes it’s fun to do cool new things, but cool new things are for the R&D bench, not for a free add-on to a customer project. Justifying your technical prowess and brilliance is a self-fulfilling prophecy that does nothing to strengthen the business partnership with your customer.
  • Perfection is the enemy of good (and of profitability).
  • Remember – its human nature to take for granted what we get for free.

I’m pretty sure I’m pushing a button here that will have people sharply divided. There are too many organization that believe that having the customer like you and having a ‘great relationship’ is what drives sales. So I’m curious to hear your feedback integrators, do you add things out of scope to impress the customer and justify your value?