Managing Scope Creep

Several years ago while employed at a higher education institution, I was included on a project team responsible for converting a face to face course to an online course. At the time, we knew nothing of the term instructional design and were recreating the course from a poor design. An overseas firm was contracted to do the site and content. Two things were wrong with the first course created: 1) the site was not what my boss wanted and 2) they did not include the content. They provided a skeleton for my boss to populate. My boss, who was obviously not pleased with the result, handed over everything to his in-house team to recreate. This time, he wanted us to include the content for each module on the site and create a design that he was comfortable with. This began our project.

I cannot honestly state we had a project plan, budget or any of the documents that our course text suggests should be in place before the project starts (Portny, et al., 2008). However, we were given a task to create a website to host the content and to include the face to face course content on the site. The development team created a wireframe that was accepted, and so we began work.

Though we had no documentation to guide us, we knew what we were working to accomplish. Our efforts were focused on creating the accepted wireframe, which admittedly was not much effort. The challenge was, our boss was a dreamer. As often as he could, he would present us with additional functionality to include on the site. When the design was mostly done for the website, we were again hit with a request, this time, to add a unifying image on each page and as part of the content. He wanted a bus. I believe he had some ideas what the bus should look like but had difficulties explaining that to us. We spent some time trying to locate the right bus then making changes to the site to include the bus in the design. We had the same challenges when we tried to prepare the content for the website. The team was extremely frustrated with these changes and even started to drag our feet because each day we anticipated more changes.

In retrospect, I believe what the project needed more than anything else was a project manager. The PM would then manage the requests for changes and have these documented using his change control systems (Portny, et al., 2008). This implies that other documentation such as the project plan would also be in place. The PM would communicate with the client and other stakeholders, negotiate a final position, and then let the team know the client’s needs. Furthermore, the right resources were required for the project. There were three web developers assigned but not one instructional designer. One web developer played the role of graphic designer. We all tried to get the content just right but having no experience in this area was a drawback. Close monitoring of the projects tasks and their duration as well as reducing the number of changes required to the product would have gone a far way to complete the project faster. The brilliant ideas the boss supplied should have been carefully documented. Those that were practical and could be included without affecting the critical path could be considered for implementation. However, others should have recorded for future updates to the course and site.


Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


10 thoughts on “Managing Scope Creep

  1. Camille,

    Some of the reasons for your team having issues and developing scope creep, among other problems, is right out of this week’s readings. Project risks are greater when a project takes longer, a longer period between planning and preparation exists, inexperience with a PM or team members in a similar project, and using newer technologies (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, pg. 377). The last two certainly hit home for that project. I have worked with bosses who are “Dreamers”, and keep having new ideas that force you to keep changing your project. I just never knew the official name for it until studying ID. Good ole scope creep. Thanks for sharing your experience.


    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


    • Thanks for your feedback, Michael. I certainly agree with you on the genesis of project’s issues. When I thought about the situation to do this post, I could not recall being given a timeline to finish the project. That I believe signals a sure failure.



  2. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Camille.

    I believe your boss was taking advantage of his in-house team. Minor changes can be considered but if his expectations weren’t clearly defined in the beginning of the project and as you mentioned, documented- I do not believe he would have attempted all of those last minute changes. Your project presented several risks in multiple phases of the project.
    When reviewing possible risks during a project evolution (Table 13-1) – in the design phase, examples of the potential risk are:
    -The project plan wasn’t written down
    -Some or all aspects of the project plan weren’t approved by all key audiences
    (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, pg. 383)
    Were there any other stakeholders that could have approved or denied requested changes?

    Also during the perform phase, an example of a potential risk is- “the needs of your primary client change” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, pg. 383). Did your team not consider this prior to the start of the project? After the first change request, did anyone as for the change in writing? “Insist that every project change is introduced by a change order that includes a description of the agreed-upon change together with any resulting changes in the plan, processes, budget, schedule, or deliverables” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, pg. 347).

    Reference: Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


    • Your first sentence certainly rings true; the team was taken advantage of. Don’t forget there was no project manager, and neither of us took on that role unofficially. None of the knowledge we’ve acquired in our course was known to us at the time, or at least not to me. None of us knew about confirming changes in writing, and there were no other stakeholders to speak with. The difficulty experienced when working at a small firm I guess, the boss’s word is law. Take it or leave it.


  3. Camille,

    Enjoyed reading your post. Sounds eerily familiar. I feel that our department was tasked with completing a project without all of the resources we needed. This created a very stressful and difficult situation at times.


  4. Camille,

    Thanks for the story. It is never easy to set guidelines when the work is coming from your boss. You have no ability to set guidelines, create boundaries, or say no when you feel the project has gone off course. This class is filled with lots of great examples as to how to be a better project manager, but it never explains how to deal with unfortunate situations such as these.

    Many projects require interpersonal communication skills where the power of persuasion may be your biggest asset. Social/work roles are crucial to understanding when navigating through these types of problems. Scope creep happens when individuals get little guidance over where their boundaries are and how their decisions affect others. Trenholm and Jensen (2000) suggested a tactic of mutual negotiation in which both sides construct each other’s roles to create mutual satisfaction. For instance, my boss looks to my skills for developing highly interactive content. She is aware that this content is extremely time consuming. I have worked with her to identify tasks that I would like transferred to other individuals so I am not spending my time on items that can be handled by others. Setting the boundaries that I will not accept all project tasks make my role slightly more powerful and limits the additional tasks that she adds to my plate.


    Trenholm, S. & Jensen, A. (2000). Interpersonal communication. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.


  5. Hi Camille,

    I was also thrust into the world of managing a large ID project without any idea about project management considerations I should be considering. I was tasked with creating a new (revising a very bad old) new hire program.

    I did know the ID aspects of the job but in retrospect I now know that I could have finished sooner, and possibly easier, had I scoped out the project, had a timeline set, and budget. I didn’t even track those who owed me deliverables. Some things were agreed to over IM, where others were verbal so I had nothing in writing.

    I am glad that we are receiving this course, I wonder though, would it be better to have this earlier in our studies, in the BS level not just the MS level.



  6. Hello Camille,
    I agree with you on many things stated in your post. Someone needs to lead on projects. This will give the project and team members some structure. A schedule was needed as well. It would have given you all a time frame for each task along with your boss. I think meeting should have been held to communicate and discuss the project. This way everyone involved would have an idea of what was needed, what was expected, and what was to be done by each member of the team.


  7. After reading your experience, I am reminded of the value of having a project scope and how important it is with have a process during any project. Even though there was a team in place, without a project manager assigned, there was no one to manage activities or manage tasks assigned and resources. What I have learned in this course is, the reason there is one individual is assigned as the project manager is so that they are able to control tasks for a project so that the desired outcome that was projected comes about.

    The first issue that I noticed was there was no clear and concise plan but more of “this is what we want done and so be it.” Having a general idea of what needs to be done will not produce the desire outcome, hence the reason why: “the site was not what my boss wanted and 2) they did not include the content. They provided a skeleton for my boss to populate.” Maybe I am wrong, but during this phase, the scope creep was needed more than ever to be a constant reminder of what should and should not be in place.


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