Are you among the many project managers who have the fear that raising a scope change with a customer will be confrontational and may adversely affect the relationship and future work with that customer? Ironically, we find in our work interviewing many customers about satisfaction with service providers that a leading cause of dissatisfaction is failure to promptly tell the customer about a scope change before additional work is done. Here’s the Top 10 reasons we hear in response to “Why wasn’t the customer notified of the scope change?”

Scope Change1.   It was too late to mention it.

2.   I was too busy and I’d have  missed the project deadline.

3.   It was a gray area and I couldn’t really justify it.

4.   The paperwork was really onerous.

5.   It was too small to ask for.

6.   Looked at it as marketing investment for more work in the future.

7.  Another task was under budget so I decided not to worry about it.

8.  I didn’t realize it wasn’t in the contracted scope.

9.  Thought we’d make it up in the next phase.

10.  Thought there’s no way we’d spend the whole budget anyway so why ask     for a change. (Typically only said when a change occurs in the early stages of a project!)

Any of these popular excuses sound familiar, have you used any of them? Remember no project ever goes according to plan, so failing to effectively deal with scope changes will act to the detriment of the team, the project and the customer’s satisfaction. So what can you do to make the process of raising and discussing scope changes meet both the customer and service provider’s needs and be less painful to all concerned?

Tip #1 – Agree on Scope Change Procedure in Contract

It is helpful at the start of the project to set up a procedure for dealing with out of scope work. Agree with the customer on a form and procedure for advising the customer when potential scope changes occur. This educates the customer that no project goes to plan and scope changes may occur due to events outside of either party’s control. It is also much easier to agree on a procedure for handling changes at the start of the project than during the middle of a project when it may be very stressful to work out a procedure at the same time you are trying to accomplish the work and get agreement upon a change the customer was not expecting.

Tip #2 – Evaluate Customer Work Product Requests 

Even when the change in scope results from directions from the customer, some project managers are reluctant to approach the customer with a request for added time or budget to deal with the changed scope. When a customer makes a request for any work product, ask yourself the following:

1.  Does this product fall outside the contracted scope of work?

2.  Will this impact any other parts of our contracted scope or schedule?

If the answer to either of the above is yes, it is time to gain the customer’s approval and authorization before proceeding with the additional work. Waiting until later to tell the customer that more budget or time is needed because work related to a scope change has already been performed will cause a bigger confrontation and greater stress on the relationship than addressing the change with the customer at the time it occurs. Step forward at the time the potential scope change occurs and discuss it with the customer before proceeding with the additional work.

By following these 2 Tips both parties will have the same understanding and expectations on the process for the discussion and handling of scope changes. Following the process will lead to a higher trust level in the relationship.

To learn more about dealing with scope changes, refer to our book “The Lead Dog Has the Best View: Leading Your Team to Project Success” or our webinar series “Project Leadership Development” at