Developing a Consulting Project Proposal and Preventing 'Scope Creep"

When presented with a new consulting project proposal it is very important to have an approach that will provide the foundation that will create a successful outcome for the client and the consultant.

Defining a Project Objective and Developing a Proposal

At the point that discussions with a prospect turn into the identification of an area of need, the basis has been laid to develop a proposal. The area of need would establish the objective of a consulting project.

In the initial discussions an effort should be made to identify as precisely as possible, the area of need (objective) and the deliverable that would provide real value. The deliverable will be the core of the proposal. For example, if a client has an idea for a new product but doesn’t know the size of the market or if the product fills a real need, the area of need or objective would be understanding the value of the proposed product to consumers and determining the size of the market. The proposal might be to: “Identify the target market for product x and quantify the size and value of the market.”

Defining the Project Boundaries—Project Scope— the key to a successful consulting project is clearly establishing the boundaries of the project before work begins. In the initial discussions focused on iden- tifying the needed deliverable, it is important to lay the ground work to specfically deftne the work the consultant will perform. This may be the most important step in a project proposal. If written with little specficity, the scope of the project can grow, resulting in “scope creep.” Trying to establish limits after the proposal has been accepted can result in friction with the client and the possibility of a failed project.

Here is an example of a poorly written scope statement in a proposal that resulted in significant difficulties:

Market Potential will be investigated using primary market research including, but not limited to, surveys, interviews, and focus groups along with secondary market research for data related to the potential of the Project within the USA. The research needs to identify the customers market need along with their willingness to pay for solution pertaining to specific applications. The research will identify which applications have the most potential within the US market.

This statement leaves the potential for the client to keep asking for research well beyond what was intended by the consultant. In this case the consultant should have been specific on the number and types of surveys to be conducted.

Setting the boundaries of a project has an impact on the consultant’s time and the cost of the project to the client. 

In a Market Growth Project example set as an objective the following:

To determine the feasibility of providing housing, infrastructure, and land for under $30,000 per unit in the colonias located in New Caney, Texas. The project also includes designing an affordable lending scheme for the residents in Colonias of New Caney, Texas as well as creating a financial model which is capitalistic, sustainable, and replicable in all the colonias across the United States—Mexico border.

Clearly, a lot of work would need to be done to achieve this objec-tive; the consulting team considering this objective, the time available and the budget set the following scope for the project:

The scope of this project includes a feasibility study and a financial model for the Colonias in New Caney, Texas. This project specifically focuses on determining whether it is viable to provide housing, infrastructure, and land for less than $30,000 per unit and, if so, what financial model would work to make it profitable, sustainable and replicable. Other portions of the overall project such as design, architecture and construction of housing and infrastructure, compliance with government regulations and overall implementation of this model are excluded from the scope of this project.

Using this scope, the work for the project was confined to a substantive outcome that could be accomplished within the time and money allotted by the client.

Parking Lot Items

The items that are specifically excluded from consideration are called “parking lot items.” these clearly identify work that will not be included in a project but may be the basis for a separate consulting engagement. The following portion of the colonies scope statement would be characterized as parking lot items and could be the basis for future follow-up consulting projects.

Other portions of the overall project such as design, architecture, and construction of housing and infrastructure, compliance with government regulations and overall implementation of this model are excluded from the scope of this project.

Consultants can use parking lot items identified in the definition of a project’s scope as opportunities for follow-up consulting projects with a client. Parking lot items are generally closely related to the project that is underway and an additional consulting assignment centered on a parking lot item may be a necessary pursuit to implement the initial project. For example, the parking lot items identified earlier for the colonias project will be necessary if there is a desire to move forward with providing affordable housing for the economically disadvantaged.

For more information on successful consulting projects, you may want to read the author's book "Creating a Successful Consulting Practice" by Gary Randazzo. The book can be purchased on or Barnes and Noble.


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