Project creep — or, the saga of the ever-expanding fruit salad

As a consultant, I’m always hypervigilant about “project creep.”

I try to gain a clear idea of the client’s needs, write my scope of work accurately, and get everyone to agree up front that apples, oranges, and cherries are part of the project — while mangos, guavas, and dragonfruit most definitely are not.

But sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, a project just grows. And expands. There are kumquats, after all; those are just weird little oranges, right? What about pluots?  We forgot to account for pluots.  And before you know it, you’re putting in double the hours for the same amount of money.

Recently, I turned in what I thought was a near-final product, about 40 pages of material, with just some fine-tuning left to work out.  The client disagreed, and shared with me a sample of the document they’d wanted — twice as long, and nothing like the model documents I’d been given at the beginning.

Well.  I confess, I definitely had my moment of Grrr.

But because it was an honest misunderstanding, and because I’d already put in too much work to pull out, and because I trusted their intentions, and because I believed in the work they were doing and was hoping for a longterm relationship, I agreed to complete the extra work at the same fee.  Even though I knew it would take many, many more pages and hours than we’d estimated.

I delivered their material last week:  150 pages of writing, mostly original, including various worksheets, case studies, and so on.

It was, if I say so myself, a fantastic fruit salad.  I believe there were even pomegranate seeds.

We scheduled a final project meeting.

Then I waited.

Now, any writer who’s turned in something — whether it’s a manuscript, a hack job, or even just what you hope is your cleverest Facebook status update ever — knows the feeling of waiting for feedback.  I’ve gotten used to it over the years, and it’s no longer that nail-biting, bed-of-nails feeling.  But there’s always some trepidation.  A writer never really knows, after all, until a reader clicks “Like.”

At the meeting, the firm’s founder told me how delighted she was with the work.  It was fantastic, she said.  She couldn’t wait to start using the documents for the business.  She definitely wanted to work with me on other projects, and we talked about the exciting things coming up on her plate.

Then she asked me how much time I’d put in to create her gorgeous fruit salad.  I told her honestly.

And right there, she decided to pay me a third more than our agreed-upon fee.

I must have been grinning like a fool.  Because when does that ever happen to a consultant?  Umm, pretty much — never?  In nearly 12 years of various kinds of freelance and consulting work, it’s never happened to me before.  More often (thankfully, not too often for me — I’ve had it happen to consultant friends frequently, though) a client will receive an invoice and start nitpicking:  Did we really need that mint leaf garnish?  I’m not sure I meant to pay for both strawberries and raspberries…

What it means for our relationship is that this client now at the top of my priority list.  I’ll think of freebies to send her when I can.  And even when I’m juggling jackfruit, I’ll try to say yes to her need for a handcrafted organic plum ceviche.

OK, that fruit metaphor is getting … overripe.  (Bwahahahah!  Sorry!)

But anyway, my point is:

1.  I’m happy and grateful to have such clients to work with.  It makes up for the ones who haven’t paid their invoices for … um … so long that I’d have to go look it up.

2. I’m left thinking, When was the last time I treated a collaborator so well?  Who’s gone overboard, put in overtime, and worked her a** off just to help me?  Have I said thanks — or a little more than thanks?

Fruit for thought.

My parents posing with the fruit salad that my father carved when my first book came out in 2009. Thanks, Pappa!

2 thoughts on “Project creep — or, the saga of the ever-expanding fruit salad

  1. OMG, that’s the cutest thing I’ve seen all day–the picture with your parents and the fruit salad boat! Your dad’s handiwork is impeccable. I dig fruit references. 🙂

  2. Loved this post, Minal. Every writer can relate. And most of all I love the photo of your parents with the fruit salad. They really look wonderful.

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