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[Top tips] Getting the scope right

In part five of the series ‘the seven habits of a commercial adviser’ Ben Kent and Adrian Furner discuss how getting the scope right is fundamental to meeting client expectations and delivering commercial advice. [Habit 5]

Getting the scoping right is the fundamental foundation for delivering a profitable project. As the recent PwC law firms survey 2014 puts it “The ability of partners to agree profitable terms with their clients and carefully manage the scope of agreed work is key”. A few extra hours of planning up front can save time and often hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Whichever industry you are in, planning and scoping are hard to get right, as they are often subject to changing dynamics that are difficult to predict. The professions are no exception, but generally don’t have a reputation for spending sufficient time at the scoping stage.

The bigger the project, the harder the fall. The McKinsey/Oxford study shows some startling statistics: half of IT projects with budgets of over $15million run 45% over budget, are 7% behind schedule and deliver 56% less functionality than predicted.

What can advisers do to avoid pitfalls and keep on top in the scoping process?

Be disciplined and align expectations up front

Time invested sitting back and focusing on a few key areas at the start of the scoping process can have a huge impact on the end result of a project. Having put lots of time and energy into winning the pitch, there is a temptation to dive straight into the project work to prove to the client that you are enthusiastic and efficient. The tough part is that the client will often not push back on this because from their point of view, it’s great to see immediate progress. However; being able to create, articulate, and agree a clear scope helps to avoid mis-communication and mis-aligned expectations. Crucially, It also gives you a higher probability of creating better outcomes for the client and allows you to measure and quantify your success at the end of the project.

Matching the approach to the client

Advisers often switch into auto-pilot at the outset of a project without realising. It is easy to see a piece of work that looks familiar and make conclusions about the approach, the pricing structure, the timeline and a host of other factors. Clients value their adviser’s experience of working on similar projects and approaches, but this should form the basis of a discussion, not a set-in-stone methodology. We called this habit ‘agreeing the scope’ because it should be a collaborative exercise defining an approach that works well for both parties.

Including flexibility to deal with risks and contingencies

Almost inevitably unforeseen issues will crop up over the course of a project and usually it is difficult to account for these when defining the scope. Clients tell us time and time again that they want their advisers to approach them proactively to tell them about any changes to the scope as soon as they arise. The ability to anticipate risks and difficulties ahead of time and plan possible responses is gold dust to clients. For this very reason, it is important to build flexibility of resources in, so that you can respond effectively to any changes that are required by quantifying them in terms of the implications for the cost and the timeline.

Demonstrating value for money

Value for money is inextricably linked to commerciality in most clients’ minds. In the professional services world the default pricing model is based on time and materials, despite the fact that this may not represent the best value for money for clients. In this traditional approach the client bears the majority of the risk in terms of cost. By contrast most clients live in a world where their customers expect them to bear the risk. Therefore to provide greater value for money and reduce risk for the client, advisers should be prepared to have a few options of well thought-through pricing models to offer.

Advisers should also look to actively demonstrate in the scope where they can save money for the client over the course of the project. A client receiving value for money is largely a subjective concept and so in the client’s mind, the message from advisers at the scoping session should be ‘these are all the things you are getting, and this is where we can save you money on them’.

Fundamentally, scoping forms the crucial platform on which commercial advice is delivered. Fail to assign it  sufficient importance at your peril.

[This article originally appeared in professional marketing magazine. For further details go to www.pmforumglobal.com. In the next issue: Habit 6 – Build practical solutions]