There is an inherent ambiguity that comes with every project undertaken. Acknowledged unknowns are what differentiate a project from a task. When a client emails me asking for a progress report, that is a simple task. I know what has been done and how to explain that.
The longer scale of a project is riddled with unknown factors. For many of us, the thrill of those unknowns is why we do what we do. The unique needs of each project appeals to the curious nature in us all. It gives us the luxury of enjoying a profession where more often than not we are a student and a teacher simultaneously. Personally, there is nothing more professionally gratifying than when I do something for the first time and just know I have killed it.
Every now and then though, they come back from the dead. Like the zombies that Hollywood (and I) seem to love so much these days. These old challenges rise up and come at you wanting only one thing…brains BrAinS bRAiNs. They want your brain or more specifically, they want the knowledge it holds. This time however the humanity is gone, you won’t be paid, you won’t be treated as one of the team (even if you were before).
In the business, we call this “Scope Creep” when the clear black and white boundaries of a project start to muddle together and suddenly you find yourself in a gray swamp surrounded by undead tasks. Like any swamp, this is incredibly tough to navigate. On one hand you risk losing a client for good and on the other you allow the existing client to become increasingly comfortable, possibly even indifferent to that fact they are asking you to do work you are not being paid to do.
Clients have a responsibility when engaging consultants to be sensitive to the value of their time but let’s face it, no one is going to pass up a free lunch. It is for this reason that we as project managers have to be self-policing. We are relied on to not only be experts but often times a decisive voice and that has to carry over to how we manage ourselves whether you are a freelancer, work for a boutique or are one with of the Top 4.
In one extreme case, I have a past client that I like to refer to as the psycho “ex-girlfriend”.
Ex: “Hey, it’s me. You left that green pen in my car. Do you want to come pick it up?”
Me: “…Um, it is 3:00am, I think I can find another.”
Ex: “Oh…um..OK, well do you remember the time you said you knew how to fix a sink? Mine is broken can you come fix it?”
This is an entirely made up scenario but puts into perspective the absurd ways that people try to hang on to something they value, like your expertise. Clients
can will do the same thing, perhaps not at 3:00am but often times in the most extreme of business hours.
The past client I am referring to loved to email me at 6:00 or 7:00 pm on a Friday night. They even went so far as to berate me via email when I personally responded that I could not fix a problem (they created) the same day because I was on a boat…enjoying a public holiday. Rather, than getting an out of office auto-reply they got a personal response and that was not good enough, they wanted action and they wanted it then!
This is where learning from our mistakes is so important for us. Whether it is the actual ex or the overreaching client. These zombies are of our own creation, if we don’t put them to rest they will keep coming back. Don’t answer the 3:00am call, use that out of office assistant, but most importantly keep the boundaries as obvious as possible. Don’t be a scope creep.