Document and validate your assumptions
I recently had to pick my jaw up from my desk during a client kick-off call. While scheduling calls are a blight, kick-off calls for significant engagements are often worthwhile. These meetings serve to make introductions and validate assumptions. We had already agreed with the client on the scheduling via email, and the contract was signed. The shopworn phrase of how assumptions "make an ass of you and me" depends on if the Statement of Work documents the assumption.
Following introductions on the call, we began to review the activities and associated deliverables in the Statement of Work. One of the activities was to produce a technical document after a series of meetings with the client.
"Well," says the customer, "we see this is for our headquarters environment. What about our regional offices?"
"How many local offices are there?" I ask. My prior call notes with this client made no mention of local offices.
"There are four in the United States, with expansion plans for a fifth in the UK."
"I see. Generally speaking, our clients find that their document for their central headquarters applies to regional offices as well. Is there anything different about your other locations?"
The client lets me know that not only does each office have a separate management team, but that each office is isolated and has no network communications with the headquarters. Each office also has a slightly different set of technology standards, and distinct change control and approval procedures.
An entirely unmanaged mess.
During negotiations, this client had also unsuccessfully negotiated to have the standard change control language removed from the Statement of Work. It is doubtful that any reputable firm would agree to that change, but their attorneys had asked. This incident made me appreciate the underlying rationale.
At this point in the call, I suggested that we review the counter-signed Statement of Work. I called out page and paragraph numbers of the location of the assumptions section. Our second assumption had been that the technical documentation work was specifically for their headquarters environment.
Documenting assumptions in a Statement of Work is necessary. Document both the assumptions made while constructing the contract, and also those relevant assumptions that are outside of the scope of the planned work. While those assumptions will vary by business, if we had not documented that assumption, we'd have been forced to either negotiate or to have done nearly five times the work we scoped. If we had erroneously agreed to strike the change control language, we'd have had no recourse, and been forced to accept the expansion of scope.