Contracts and “Scope Creep:” When is it Too Much and When is it Okay?

For eight years I have been in charge of my own contracts for my clients. Sometimes clients generate their own contracts but it is then up to me to review and accept, deny, and/or request changes. I don’t use a lawyer for this and to date, I don’t feel like I need one.

A while back I learned about “scope creep” and realized that more often than not, my work enters into that territory. Maybe this isn’t good practice. But maybe it’s also inevitable given that evaluation can change depending on a project and how it’s going. Is it also still “scope creep” if some work is eliminated and other is put in its place but no addendum is done and the budget stays the same? For most projects I don’t think or feel like I have put in a tremendous amount of hours beyond what I promise. By now, I am experienced in knowing how long things take and what is realistic and what isn’t. I am fairly laid back though and sometimes offer more along the way because I want my work to be the best possible even if that means being flexible. Is there anything wrong with this? Am I short changing myself?

Recently I received an email from my accountant that said that he had reviewed his clients over the year and will begin charging an hourly rate on top of what his flat fee has been for “additional work beyond the normal.” There is no exact scope of work other than him doing our taxes, and in his words the “occasional email or telephone call.” For me, this is too vague now that I am on the other side of things. How will I know what is too much and what isn’t? If I don’t know, I don’t ever want to email or call.

 - Dilbert by Scott Adams

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Helping Clients Develop Their Own Surveys When Budgets Are Low and Time is Running Out

I spend a lot of time developing data collection instruments for my clients, particularly surveys. Most surveys I create these days are online, but some are still paper-based depending on who the audience is for them. I enjoy crafting surveys and really am happy to do it for my clients. I especially like it when they successfully render a strong response rate!

But…….sometimes I have clients who have small budgets (and little time) and want to create their own surveys with some pointers from me. Recently this happened and I decided it’s time to put something down on paper. This is what I came up with.

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How to Create a Survey

Entire books are dedicated to developing surveys. The following are just some of the steps to take to create a reliable instrument that will produce valid information.

Survey Creation

Step 1. How will you use the information?

Will information be shared with a large audience or be for internal use only? Be sure to identify the survey’s purpose as early as possible, not only to set the tone for the survey but also to keep the questions focused.

Step 2. Who do you need to know it from?

This is your unit of analysis. Are you interested in directors, board members, volunteers, clients, training attendees, trainers (the list goes on…)? Your answers will frame the types of questions you ask and the type of survey you will give. For example, Who can give you the answers you need? Will your audience be more likely to respond to a phone, e-mail, or paper/pencil survey?

Step 3. What do you need to know?

Answering this will help determine the types of questions you need to include in your survey. Are you going after activities and outputs, or outcomes that indicate a change has occurred? Are you interested in attitudes and opinions (e.g., conference survey) or performance and characteristics (e.g., behavioral survey )?

Step 4. What is the best way to ask your questions?

Survey questions, which fall primarily into the four categories below, can be closed-ended or open-ended. Closed-ended questions are easier to analyze but often are harder to create because researchers must have a keen understanding of the issue at hand to provide the most appropriate list of options. Here are the most popular question types with what they measure and both open- and close-ended examples:

Question type Measures Open-ended example Close-ended example
Attitude Opinions, feelings Please describe how satisfied you were with the training, and why… On a scale from 1 to 5, please rate how effective…
Behavior Actual behavior or anticipated behavior Estimate the number of volunteers you connected… Of the following choices, how many volunteers did you connect…
Knowledge Possession of facts or understanding Please describe how to make your family volunteer program envelop the ideas of Neighboring… Is creating family-friendly opportunities for low-income residents a key concept of Neighboring…
Demographic Characteristics Fill in the blank for the proportion of FTEs that focus on episodic volunteer programs… Of the following choices, how long have you been employed at the VC…

When using close-ended questions, it is essential that they are:

  • Mutually exclusive (e.g., under 1 year, 1-3 years, 4-6 years, over 6 years)
  • Distinctly different choices (e.g., hits in newspaper and hits in media are nearly the same)
  • Exhaustive, making sure to include all the relevant alternatives, because leaving out a choice can give misleading results; it is always possible to add ”other” and “don’t know” responses to encompass any answers you might have inadvertently left out

 

It is best to keep surveys short to not overburden respondents. To select your questions, divide them into three groups: Must have, useful to have, nice to have. Then, discard the last group, unless the other two groups are very short.

Other suggestions:

  • Do not put two questions into one (“Do you wear pants or shorts?” An answer of yes means the respondent wears shorts, pants, or both even though they might only wear one or the other and never both at the same time)
  • Avoid emotionally charged words
  • Avoid leading questions that point toward a certain answer; the way you write a question may change the responses given, so make sure wording does not favor one answer choice over another
  • Be aware of cultural factors
  • Avoid technical terms and acronyms, unless you are absolutely sure that respondents know what they mean

Survey Implementation

Step 1. Survey introduction

To help respondents feel more comfortable, write a cover letter, e-mail introduction, or speaking prompt to introduce the survey, and include:

  • Sponsor
  • Purpose and how data will be used to show participation is worthwhile
  • Incentive, if any (to boost response rate)
  • Confidentiality and anonymity levels[1] and statement that responses are combined with many others to help inform about the overall group of respondents, not the individuals
  • Completion instructions
  • Time commitment
  • Return instructions
  • Note of gratitude for their time
  • Conditions of participating (Is it required for membership?)

Step 2. Format

Carefully consider the layout of your questionnaire. This is especially important for paper/pencil and e-mail surveys. Use plenty of white space, an easy-to-read font, and sufficient instructions to make the survey easy to complete.

Step 3. Pilot

A trial can uncover unanticipated problems with question wording, instructions, or definitions. A pilot also allows you to determine if the interviewees understand your questions and are able to give useful answers.

Step 4. Follow-up

To boost the response rate, along with the cover letter highlighting the importance of the survey:

  • Send a reminder to non-respondents one week after your close date
  • Send a second copy of the survey one week after the initial reminder
  • Make follow-up phone calls to a sample of non-respondents to see why they didn’t respond, and attempt to secure their participation by sending them another copy of the survey

 

RESOURCES & REFERENCES

 

[1] Confidentiality: the data won’t be shared with anyone, but the researcher knows who said what statements. Anonymity: nobody, including you, knows who gave what statements.

 

My First Post, I Hope It’s A Good One!

I am home after six days in the Mile High City (Denver).  Three days of intense AEA conference excitement followed by another three days filled with hiking, hanging out with friends, and running the Rock and Roll Half Marathon.

I have been attending the AEA conference for almost 12 years; eight of which have been as an independent consultant. Each year I grudgingly put forth the money to pay for the conference, hotel and of course, expenses such as meals, transportation, etc. Although working for oneself has many benefits, conference fees are not included. Because I always walk away from the AEA conference with new ideas, new colleagues, and most importantly, a new fire under my butt to plow forward, change, improve, and add to my portfolio as an independent consultant, I commit to attending each year.

As I hoped for, I returned home with a new energy and a long list of skills and ideas to incorporate into my evaluation practice. One of these ideas which you may have already figured out is BEGINNING TO BLOG. In case you were wondering and asking, the answer is “yes, the evaluation field does need one more blog!”  Now to the real meat of my first blog post. . .

Many of the conversations I have at AEA with colleagues, especially those from the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group are about our businesses and how we structure our work, the extent to which we market ourselves, and the highs and lows of running your own shop. These conversations this year got me to thinking about how independent consulting is not always for everyone. There are some days I don’t understand why someone would not want to control their own work and make their own schedule, but then I am reminded about the feast or famine ups and downs and how hard it is when there is a famine. At heart I am an entrepreneur and I knew that about myself early on. When I look back on my childhood, these are some of the business activities I carried out alone and/or in partnership with my best childhood friend:

  • Age 6- Coloring pictures, stuffing them into my red wagon, and going door to door selling them. Surprisingly, many people bought them.
  • Age 8- Picking plums from our plum tree and vegetables from our garden, stuffing them into my red wagon and going door to door selling them. Even more people wanted these! I bet if I called it a “farmers market” I would have been better off.
  • Age 9-11- Building carnival games and setting them up in my driveway for neighborhood kids to come play and win my old toys! What more could someone want than my used toys?
  • Age 13- High School- Babysitting
  • Post-graduate school and post-evaluation related jobs- I start my own consulting business and at the same time become certified in personal training. **I needed to ensure that some income would be gained while I built my evaluation shop.
  • Current- SuccessLinks, LLC running strong but no more fitness work (just do it for fun and my health)

Who knows if this list will continue or if the last on the list is my final stop? Only time will tell. I would love to hear from others about their entrepreneurial paths!