Setting Better Boundaries for Event Success

Destination Arizona speaker Lynne Wellish discusses the advantages of defining limits and avoidng the dreaded "scope creep." 


Destination Arizona will bring together highly qualified meeting and incentive buyers with top destinations, hotels/resorts, DMCs, DMOs and tourism offices from Arizona for several days of networking and success. Learn more here.

Take a moment to consider this question: How do you set boundaries with your clients?

As a planner, hotelier or travel supplier, you most likely have had to navigate "scope creep" -- the term for when a client moves the goal posts, adds new expectations or chips away at resources without your explicit approval. Why does this happen and can it be avoided? Can you handle the "just one more thing" your client is requesting, or might you benefit from drawing a hard line in the sand? 

These are questions Lynne Wellish, CMP, CSHE, CHO, challenges planners to answer for their own benefit. She will dig deeper into the topic during her education session, "Can You Do Just One More Thing?" at Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Arizona, being held at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paradise Valley in Scottsdale on Oct. 14-16, 2019. Below, Wellish offers advance insights into the idea of scope creep and setting boundaries with clients.

"When I transitioned to independent planning, I wish I would have known it was OK to set boundaries or charge for additional services," says Wellish. "Instead, my focus was on providing the best service possible. It wasn't until I had garnered much more experience that I realized there were countless times I continued working despite feeling like I had nothing left to give."

Understanding Scope Creep

According to Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP, "Scope creep is when the project keeps creeping outward, beyond the boundaries and extent of work originally established, without a corresponding change in resources. This phenomenon can occur when the reach of a project is not properly defined, documented or controlled."

There are six dimensions to every meeting experience, notes Rutherford: 

  1. Anticipation
  2. Arrival
  3. Atmosphere
  4. Appetite
  5. Activity
  6. Amenities

Lynne Wellish, CMP, CHSE, CHO
Lynne Wellish, CMP, CHSE, CHO

Each of these dimensions impact the attendee experience at your event, stresses Wellish. Every time a client says, "Could you just do one more thing?," the planner needs to decide if doing the "thing" would be the best use of her/his available resources to enhance any of the six dimensions. "As planners, we need to define the scope of work from the get-go with clear objectives to better control obligations and evaluate success once the meeting is complete," Wellish says.

The planner resources most often abused, according to Wellish, are communication, training, serviceability, time, money and information. 

Using Boundaries to Your Advantage

When a scope creeper starts trying to exercise power over your planning process, Wellish says it's important to set clear and protected boundaries. By addressing the limits of your availability, she believes you can reassert power and push forward in the planning process.

Identify Your Limits

The first step is to get clear about your limits -- the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual, say Dana Gionta, Ph.D., and Dan Guerra, Psy.D., authors of From Stressed to Centered. "You do this by paying increased attention to yourself and noticing what you can tolerate and accept, as well as what makes you feel uncomfortable and stressed. Identifying these feelings will help you clarify your limits."

It is important to remember that your limits are personal and are likely to be different from those of your client. "Although challenging, try not to compare your limits with others'," Gionta and Guerra say. Go ahead and present your ideas to your client, says Wellish. Ensure that boundaries are communicated and clear. 

Bring ROI Back to the Goals and Objectives

Align planning goals with the following criteria

  • Specific: What do you plan to accomplish? How?
  • Measurable: How will you know when the goal is achieved? How will you track it?
  • Attainable: Is your goal possible?
  • Relevant: Does the goal work toward your business' future vision?
  • Time-bound: What is your deadline? Have you set benchmarks to measure progress?

"Planners need to step up and speak up or risk having scope creep be a bone of contention between them and the client," says Wellish. "Making simple changes to meeting protocols not only helps planners beat the creep, it also makes everyone involved in the project feel more effective, satisfied and productive."

Wellish suggests detailing return-on-investment efforts and how they align with the goals and objectives of the event. "Explain the extent of the efforts and also where the efforts meet a hard finish line."

Outsourcing for Sanity

"Outsourcing tasks outside your scope of work is like waving a magic wand," says Wellish. "As planners, we're often too busy to reach for the help we need. Take a moment, take a breath and make the time to contact people who are waiting for your call."

Triage is a process of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition. Wellish says that planners need to deal with their own triage -- weighing the pros and cons of each new request and determining the best plan of action based on where funds can be best used, are most needed or are most likely to achieve success.

"Don't just list objectives and retain responsibility. Be a project manager and command the scope," Wellish adds. "Planners, and some suppliers, often agree to an increased scope to please a client, which leads clients to assume that their extra demands are insignificant and have little or no impact on the meeting."

A Blueprint for Boundary Setting

Create a definition of scope to share with your client: _______________________________________________________________________________________________

Define how to use scope creep to your advantage: _______________________________________________________________________________________________

Identify your existing outsourcing supports:

1. _________________________________

2. _________________________________

3. _________________________________

4. _________________________________

5. _________________________________

Identify areas in which you are able to pass the baton: 

1. _________________________________

2. _________________________________

3. _________________________________

4. _________________________________

5. _________________________________

Triage a request:  Create a best plan of action.

What's the quick option? ___________________________________________________________

What's the cheap option? ___________________________________________________________

What's the right option? ____________________________________________________________