I know you’ve heard of scope creep – when your client asks you to do a little more here and a little more there until you’re basically running a second project for the cost of one. But let me introduce you to a new term (for maybe a familiar experience): scope snap.
This is how scope snap happens:
A well-intentioned client asks you to join onto a grant they’re writing. Your name, reputation, and skill set will add strength to their proposal.
You really like the idea of a few years of guaranteed funding and the proposed project fits your mission. So you develop a semi-detailed plan for how your part of the project would go.
In my case, it was data visualization skill-building workshops (my sweet spot) for teachers (my people) who focus on culture-based curriculum (hell yes) and want to tell the story of student progress outside of test scores (yes please) and work in a primo island vacation destination (yall I just don’t know how it gets any better for your girl Stephanie).
I had the work plan drawn up by the end of the day.
The first red flag I should have seen was when the client asked for even more: workshops on data collection (uh oh, not really my area) and identification of appropriate metrics (outside my wheelhouse). You might have “scope creep” sirens blaring in your brain. But they had dollar amounts attached to these additional asks.
Plus I said no. That’s not what I’m best at. If those are requirements, I can refer you to someone else to replace me.
(That’s one way to handle scope creep, if it comes up in the getting-to-know-you stage.)
We negotiated a bit more, finalized my part of the proposal, and then waited a bazillion years to hear back from the funding agency. And then a fazillion years to actually get the money so we could start.
And it was at that moment, a bazillion-fazillion years later, when the scope snap happened.
The amount of money my client got was not equal to the amount they’d requested. So my client had no choice but to review the proposed plans, compare it to the funds available, and start snapping scopes.
Has this ever happened to you?
Rather than capacity-building workshops teaching teachers how to be empowered with data, my client wanted me to switch lanes and design dashboards for 3 schools.
The thing is, I don’t really enjoy design work. I’m happiest when I have zero design clients. I accept just a few design projects per year and I’m extremely choosy. They don’t have the same life-changing power as my workshops do. (And design, by the by, is a fully remote activity.)
Had I known this was going to be a design project, I would have declined from the start.
This scope snap gave me whiplash.
The second big red flag danced in my face like one of those purple inflatable people outside the quickie oil change place.
So what would you do in this situation?
🧐 Be grateful for the work. Even if it’s work you don’t enjoy. Unenjoyable work is part of life. Right?
🧐 Be ungrateful for the work but stay focused on their alignment with your social justice mission and do it for the cause.
🧐 Politely decline the scope snap and refer a colleague.
🧐 Impolitely decline the scope snap and rage. Burn the bridge.
When we’re coming from a place of insecurity, when imposter syndrome is ever present, we usually only see Option 1. We don’t even know we’ve got other possibilities.
I chose Option 2. I grumbled under my breath a little but shifted my focus to my heart, which loved the overarching purpose of the project.
It worked for about a year.
The reason it fell apart was not because the mission changed or my heart turned.
The reason was actually far more obvious.
Those first two big red flags weren’t the last two big red flags. After all, that’s what reg flags are: Signs and symptoms of larger underlying dysfunction that’s gonna come bite you in the tushy at some point.
What was originally a mid-six-figure project over a few years snapped into a five-figure project that lasted one year.
Good thing I didn’t let dollar signs get stuck in my eyeballs and buy a second house in Portugal with a giant mortgage.
You’ve heard the phrase Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched?
Yep, but in this case it’s Don’t count your checks before they’re cashed.
In hindsight, I’m sad for the year I spent trying to make it work. The hours and hours I sunk into revising and re-revising the proposed scope of work so it fit into the snapped budget. The endless Zooms.
It’s hard to learn to spot a red flag. It’s even harder to figure out whether it’s a blip or warning siren. (Everyone has blips. I blip every day. I can absolutely look past a blip.)
I’m still working on that discernment.
Here’s the lesson I’ve skimmed from this so far:
The two red flags I saw early on were both instances where the client was trying to get me to agree to work I don’t really do. A classic square-peg-round-hole situation. At this point in my life, I’ve accepted the fact I’m a square.
The next time a scope snap happens, I plan to lean toward being ok with it, as long as it still lets me be a square. When I feel like someone is trying to shave off my corners, I’m gonna say no.
I know you’ve had a scope snap, too. How did you handle it? Email me.