Steps to Settling a Scope Disagreement

We’ve all been there before – your customer expects the scope to be one thing based on his/her interpretation of the contract, but your interpretation is different which has now led you to where you are now – disagreeing and arguing over scope. Here are some tips on how to settle your scope misalignment and move on with your project.

Review Your Contract Wording

Not reviewing your contract wording closely before going into a discussion over scope is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. You will be woefully overmatched. Read your contract front to back and pay special attention to the scope that is being questioned. If possible, speak to the contract author/salesperson who wrote it to understand what was being committed to at the time (that might end your scope disagreement right there). The key is to understand exactly what has been sold from your organization’s perspective. Then take a second look at the contract wording but look at it through the customer’s eyes to see if what the customer is saying is perceivable from their perspective. Understanding both sides of the argument will help draw the entire discussion to a conclusion.

Get Your Product Expert’s Opinion

If the scope being called into question is specialized functionality, get a product expert’s opinion on how the contract is worded and if they can lend some credence to either side of the argument. Often if a salesperson puts a scope statement into writing, without knowing the detailed product as well as others, it can sometimes lead to different expectations from the customer. Having a product expert review and offer their opinion on whether the wording indicates what the customer is requesting be in scope can often provide that clarity needed to help settle the disagreement. If nothing else, you will have gained some knowledge on perhaps how the contract should have been written.


Like any disagreement, unless one side is 100% completely in the right (which is rare), then compromise is the most likely solution to the argument. Yes, maybe the contract was not worded in such a concise manner that it provides absolute clarity, and maybe the customer should have not let their expectations run wild so there’s likely a middle ground from which you can work towards. Perhaps it’s a paid enhancement but at a discounted rate. Or maybe the customer pays full price and there are some extra services thrown in to help sweeten the deal. It’s the old art of negotiation which will often settle the argument without assigning 100% right and wrong.

Scope disagreements happen all the time, it’s part of a normal project. It’s how we respond and handle these situations that help define our value as project managers. Remember, maintaining the relationship should be one of your primary objectives in all your dealings with the customer.

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