Scope Creep

05 Dec

It was a positively beautiful, sunny, warm southern California day – outside.  In the classrooms, we were facing a storm.  Although on many fronts the pilot of our new class appeared to be a success, we all knew the inside truth of what had just happened.  We were never going to be able to get it released on time!  We boarded our respective planes to go to our homes around the country with a mixture of satisfaction and dread – satisfaction because our pilot students had thoroughly enjoyed and been challenged by the material; dread because of the mountain of work that still lay before us.

This was the milepost result from the efforts of a core team based all around the country who had been working for the prior four months to overhaul our company’s sales training program.  It had been some time since the last refresh, and the old process had not addressed the fact that many of our walk-in customers now came in for service-related issues as well as to shop.  We needed to address the transition, and many, many ideas had come across the table.

The refresh should have been simple: help reps that were used to sales-only interactions to find ways to assist customers with their service issue and then bridge to a sales conversation.  As more people got involved, though, they brought more ideas about how we could “enhance” those conversations; then came more ways that we could communicate those ideas.  We had started out with a simple two-by-three foot wall chart based on a bicycle wheel design; by the time we got to California, we had something of a weird robot whose arms represented sales and service.  Then someone got the idea that we could break off the initial portion of the training course into its own course, and… scope creep.

We went back to our respective home bases and looked for ways to bring the beast under control.  We had to spend extra time cutting away portions of the class that did not advance the central message, and we had to pacify some who had brought those “cut away” portions to the table!  All in all, the project came in solid and not far from the original schedule, but the stress of the realization that we had overextended and the resulting extra work made the experience difficult for all of us.

Portny et al (2008, p. 350) define scope creep 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” (italics mine).  It’s important, when combating scope creep to understand this simple concept: it is the natural tendency of the client and the team, and it is based in a desire for improvement.  Note that a good intention leads to a stressful and potentially damaging result.  Back then, I was simply a member of the project team – I had very little input that could have combated scope creep.  In fact, I likely contributed to it!

If I had known then what I know now, or had been either the PM or a lead on the project, I would heed the advice of Porty’s team (2008, p. 346) and instituted a specific change control system, which would then be communicated to all members of the team and our stakeholders.  Any change to the original focus would need to be requested formally, analyzed for impact, and implemented only if the benefit outweighed the impact. Such a system would go a long way toward keeping our class project on time, on budget, and on point!


Portny, S. E., Kramer, B. E., Mantel, S., Meredith, J., Shafer, S., & Sutton, M. (2008). Project Management: Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling Projects. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.

1 Comment

Posted by on December 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


One response to “Scope Creep

  1. Sandra Gonzalez

    December 8, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Hi Gordon!

    Thanks for relating such an honest assessment of this scenario.

    You are absolutely correct in stating that a formalized control system would have helped in managing scope creep. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008) also noted “A major source of trouble with changes is typically that the project manager, in an attempt to avoid bureaucracy, adopts an informal process of handling requests for change.” (p. 346). The emphasis being on “informal”… 🙂

    Thank you.
    Sandra G.


    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.


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