Thursday, December 5, 2013

Analyzing Scope Creep

            Scope creep can be a project manager's nightmare! Scope creep is defined by Portny et al. (2008) as "the natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project's output as the project progresses" (p. 346). In other words, the scope or the subject matter of the project is extended for any number of reasons. This happened to me a couple years ago when my school had to update and create curriculum maps. At the time I was teaching 9th grade English and 7th and 8th grade Theater, so it seemed like a ginormous task. Updating the curriculum maps meant creating two kinds of maps:
1.      The calendar map--this is basically a map that explains what units will be covered at what time during the school year. For example, in English, I start with the short story unit in August and September, and we move on to poetry in October, etc. However, I also had to include the benchmark codes in these maps so that made this task more difficult since the benchmarks are numerous and multiple benchmarks are covered in each unit.
2.      The consensus map--this "map" is like a unit plan. Every essential question, benchmark, activity, resource, assessment, etc. is listed in the appropriate area so that essentially, a new teacher could pick up the consensus map and understand how to teach the unit.
            These maps aren't that difficult to create; however, they are time-consuming. It's basically taking the lesson plans that are made each week and putting them into another format, but in order for it to be useful for others in the future, the project manager made sure they were all done in the same format and were very specific. Because I taught three classes, this meant I had to create 3 calendars maps and around 27 consensus maps. It was my first year at the school and I was given until the end of the school year and that's where the scope creep started... I was creating everything from scratch so not only was I reading multiple novels, plays, and selections from the textbook, I had to create meaningful assessments and provide meaningful feedback so that my learners could grow and reach their full potential. And even though creating the curriculum maps basically means reiterating the lesson plans, it was something I put on the back burner since I had until the end of the school year.
            After the first semester, the project manager reminded us that we should have our calendar maps completed and the consensus maps from first semester done as well. If not, we were behind. Well, I was behind and so were many of my other first-year colleagues. We had no clue! We were just trying to survive, really. So I tried to do some work over the Christmas break, but I didn't get as much done as I had hoped. I completed the calendar maps and something like the first three consensus maps for my English 9 course. When we came back in January, we were given some time during a professional development day to get some more maps done, but in the two hours we were given I completed only one more map.
            It was becoming clearer and clearer that I would need more time to get the curriculum maps done. However, that isn't what happened. Instead, we were threatened that our last paycheck would be withheld if we didn't complete our curriculum maps. I'm not sure what others did, but I panicked and spent every long weekend working on curriculum maps. In fact, the only reason I was able to finish all of the curriculum maps was because I got appendicitis and was forbidden to go to school for 21 days. The first week I spent resting and recuperating but after that, I was feeling pretty good so I completed the remaining curriculum maps and received my paycheck at the end of the year. (Side note: The paycheck threat turned out to be an empty one. I know of a few teachers who "promised" to send the remaining maps and never did... but I'm sure they got their paycheck!)
            Writing the curriculum maps was stressful for everyone, the project manager included. However, if I were her, I would have...
a)      Gotten more time set aside for teachers to write the curriculum maps. There were teacher in-service days, but there weren't enough! And some of them were planned for 3:00-6:00 p.m., after the school day! That is not an optimal time to do more work.
b)      Created milestones that would act as checkpoints for people. Then I would know exactly who was behind and find a way to work with them so that the project could stay on track (Lynch & Roecker, 2007, p. 99).
c)      Checked in with people more often and documented that interaction (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). If I recall correctly, the project manager was good about visiting everyone, but there wasn't much for follow-up. If she had set milestones and had each teacher create their own Gantt chart (or a simplified version that said something like, "By the end of October, I will have the Short Story consensus maps completed."), her feedback would have been more meaningful and direct. Also, she could have identified the "symptoms" of poor project performance and perhaps done more to help those who were struggling (Portny et al., 2008, p. 320).
d)     Changed the timeline. Honestly, there was no rush to complete the curriculum maps. Yes, they are nice to have, especially when one works at an international school that has a high turnover rate, but it wasn't until this year that SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) came for our reaccreditation visit. That's when the curriculum maps were needed!
            Luckily, the project wasn't a complete failure. All of the loose ends were tied up in the following years, but more effort should have gone in to planning of the project and the documentation of its progress (Lynch & Roecker, 2007, p. 96). Lynch and Roecker (2007) wrote, "Initial estimates are sometimes not as accurate as we would like" (p. 97). Perhaps the project manager should have asked those who were writing the curriculum maps about their progress and used that to create a baseline to inform the overall timeline of the project (Lynch & Roecker, 2007, p. 97). I think that would have saved many of us curriculum map writers a lot of stress!  
Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge.
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.


  1. Lesley,

    I can definitely relate with your scope creep experience! Many times expectations are so high that upper management or the powers that be do not really grasp or understand how long a project of such magnitude is suppose to take.

    I agree with the list of suggestions you proposed as a Project Manager. In addition, I would not have threatened a persons livelihood as a way to promote job performance. In light of your illness, you were very lucky to have been able to complete more of the required maps. However, do you think if you had began developing them earlier in the year, you would have completed them within the allotted time frame?

    Robin B.

  2. That's a good question, Robin! I just remember being swamped with work because it was a new curriculum and plus who wants to spend every waking minute working! At least that is what it began to feel like... I spent every long weekend "catching up" on work! There's a lot of research and preparation that goes in to planning a course (especially if you're unfamiliar with the material! I knew most of the literature, but I had to see if there was something better in the anthology!). I really needed more time set aside to do the work. Once I finally got the hang of the curriculum maps, they weren't that hard but I think the project manager was using people who had been teaching the same material for years as the baseline. I don't recall them complaining as much! It was us newbies who suffered the most. If the project manager had been in constant communication, I think she would have realized that and she could have changed the timeline for us. Too late now, but it does make for a good cautionary tale. I know the PM was working with people from K-12 and that in and of itself had to be difficult! But she should have made more of an effort to contact us frequently and use milestones to help us manage our time and the scope of the project. At least I now know for the future and since I've been at the school for four years now, I can be bolder about voicing my opinions and offering help in these kinds of situations.

  3. Hi Lesley,

    As a fellow teacher, I can certainly relate to the pressures and deadlines imposed. Can't believe they threatened to withhold paychecks!

    Were they asking you to complete calendar and consensus maps for the current school year? It seems like those should be updated and ready to use at the beginning of a school year. Maybe it would have been better to set aside enough time towards the end of the year for teachers to collaborate and update the calendars so they are ready for the next year. I know that I use those to guide my planning over the summer for the next year.

    I've had similar experiences where a project has been started at school, not enough time allotted, and then you are expected to find time (typically your own personal time) to complete the projects.

    What would you have done if you hadn't gotten appendicitis??? :)

    Thanks for your post,

  4. Hi Lesley,
    The pressures and the deadlines as a teacher remind my why public education is so stressful and upper management is so busy deleting projects and want out comes they forget about what goes into a project that size and resources such as time are limited...we still need to teach.
    We did curriculum mapping and spent hours putting this together and the outcome. Nothing was ever done. We eventually went with another districts curriculum that was "Beyond Textbooks" and was based on the internet. Very frustrating. Thanks for sharing

  5. Lesley
    I am not sure that using threats and intimidation is a good method of managing scope creep. Threats do not bring out the best in people. In my experience threats only achieve meeting timelines and do little, if anything, for increasing quality. “In boosting staff morale, there are two methods: managing your staff by intimidation, or by praise and incentives. In the latter, the methodology is widely known as "management by objectives". By this, it is meant that employers are only interested in the employee's performance and achieving project or corporate goals and objectives. Bosses evaluate and appraise the employee's strengths, weaknesses and performance objectively, not the performer. It is important for employees to know where they stand in the organization and how employers perceive and rate their performance. The overall objective is for the management and staff to work in harmony to achieve the organization’s goals” (Tan, 2004).
    Even Portny, Mantel, Meredith Shafer, Sutton and Kramer (2008) talked about how “establishing effective bases of power enhances a project manager’s ability to lead a project and inspire cooperation from the project team and other key audiences and stakeholders” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith Shafer, Sutton and Kramer, 2008, p. 253). I would not be inspired working in the environment that you described.
    Was “scope creep” managed effectively at your school? It depends on what you considered effectively but if all the teachers turned in their curriculum map and consensus map then yes. Is it at the quality that it should be then I would have to say no?
    By the way I am not sure if it is my version of Internet Explorer or if something else is going on but I couldn't see your posting where you talked about what a curriculum map and consensus map were. I couldn't even see your recommendations that you would do if you were the PM. I had to open up your blog in Mozilla Firefox to see them.
    Andrew A.L. Tan. (2004, Jul 03). Evaluating performance. New Straits Times. Retrieved from
    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.

  6. Lesley,

    WOW!!! What a task and a scope creep. Putting pressure on someone usually gets results but it can also over work & over stress everyone involved. Being threatened with your last paycheck for the school year was not very professional. The project manager should have setup schedules and time frames for everyone to follow. Checking up on everyone would have also been appropriate. Holding weekly meetings and having more in-service days would have also been helpful.


  7. Lesley,

    This is crazy!!! I have participated in the production of curriculum maps and know how labor intensive they are. I did have the opportunity to work together with peers and we worked as SMEs for the county. I cannot imagine having to do all that as a new teacher and for my paycheck to be threatened. I have a new found respect for you and your dedication to the project. Thanks for sharing,


  8. Hi Lesley

    Amazing, my school is going through a similar curriculum mapping process and the teachers are having the very same reaction, “these maps aren't that difficult to create; however, they are time-consuming”. There is some scope creep and the project manager is very worried about completing the project in the time allotted. I showed her your post, which made her stop blaming herself for a short while, but she reminded me that is still accountable to the stakeholders for bringing in the project on time. She now convenes bi-monthly meetings where the teachers work on their curriculum maps in subject area groups. In these meetings she gives clear instructions and answers questions. Some teachers are working at a steady pace but others have fallen behind.