Sunday, December 9, 2012

Scope Creep

Scope creep is a term that refers to the “natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses” (Portny et. al, 2008). This is a problem that happens frequently in project management, but it’s also common in other areas of life.

As a teacher, scope creep is something that happens frequently.  As an example, a teacher prepares a lesson that covers a specific objective – it’s a great lesson, with interactive multimedia components and lots of classroom collaboration.  (In this scenario, we are thinking of the students in the role of the client.) The lesson begins smoothly, but soon the students find they are very interested in finding out more about the background of the topic, something the teacher didn’t include in the original lesson.

In this scenario, does the teacher redirect students to stick to the original plan, or does the teacher adjust the lesson to account for this scope creep? Most teachers would agree that addressing students’ curiosity and interest in a topic is very important, but what’s the tradeoff? Perhaps the lesson won’t get finished in the allotted time span, lengthening the unit and pushing back the unit exam. If the timeline isn’t negotiable, perhaps the teacher will have to cut out another part of the instruction, or move more quickly over other material in order to make up for the time spent on unplanned activities.

Another recent example of the problem of scope creep has occurred in my current position. I was given a group of students who did not pass the language arts portion of the state standardized test last year, and asked to work with these students on targeted interventions to help them master key content. However, as the class got started and I began working with students, I also found that students lacked basic foundation skills as well, like reading comprehension, how to take notes, and test-taking strategies.  These are important skills that will also help students perform better on standardized test, so we needed to come up with a way to expand the scope of the course to accommodate the extra instructional goals. We are still working this out, but the short-term plan is to spend more instructional time with the students than previously planned.

Teachers are often both instructional designers and project managers as they lead their classes. It’s important to keep the concept of scope creep in mind, so that teachers can appropriately manage the risks involved.

Portney, 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.

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