I found this definition on Urban Dictionary, and while not necessarily a legitimate academic source, I understand (this is a blogpost, after all), an accurate descriptor nonetheless. Scope creep, I’d argue is a natural phenomenon impacting highly energetic and/or creative people working on exciting and successful projects.
The reason for this is, I’d posit, is because the creative process is iterative and we don’t necessarily see the potential for a project’s full realization until we begin to immerse ourselves in what it may be fully capable of. Personally, I find myself particularly vulnerable to scope creep appeal where prototypes are part of the workflow. There is something especially powerful that happens, I’ve noticed, when an idea takes physical form, even when it is a crude basic model.
Design Thinking rules
Tim Brown, co-founder of IDEO, the company often credited with designing the first computer mouse. Mr. Brown describes the concept of Design Thinking in his book Change by Design as an approach to innovation that is broadly accessible and can be used to come up with breakthrough ideas on a regular basis. Design Thinking uses rapid prototyping early in a project to quickly define the essence for an entire team to gather a vision of and then move in lockstep toward creating and honing it. It is through this iterative process designed to focus the idea where new options suddenly become more feasible.
But this energy is not necessarily a bad thing... There is tremendous power in creative thinking and the ideas generated during this writhing should be captured, collected, to ultimately (perhaps) be acted upon. But at the right time and under the right circumstances. This, then, if it is such a good idea should not be thwarted, I’d contend, but harnessed. In turn, if this is the case then, as project managers and team members, we must learn to say “no”. No, as in not now, not for this round, not at this time.
The Obstacle is the Way
Ryan Holiday is probably best known as the author of The Obstacle is the Way, an interpretation of stoic philosophy that was applied by coaching staff of 2014 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots who credit his book for their come-from-behind winning season. In blogpost, Holiday noted:
Time? Time is our most irreplaceable asset—we cannot buy more of it. We cannot get a second of it back. We can only hope to waste as little as possible. Yet somehow we treat it as most renewable of all resources.
Perhaps this is a critical reason why we need to be on the look out for scope creep, despite the really great features it would add to this project.
Be the Linchpin
Author of some 19 books on these sorts of conundrums and ways to manage them, Seth Godin has also weighed in on the importance of being able to say no without completely shutting down a relationship or process. From a list of ideas he posted, perhaps the most relevant pearl of wisdom on managing scope creep is If it's going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.
The Four Hour Project
And last but not least, Tim Ferriss, best known for his Four Hour series of books, has given credit to his meteoric success to his ability to discern genuine opportunity from distraction and stay on the course he has set for himself by offering wisdom on saying no to those looking to engage with you and offer a wide variety of shiny objects in exchange. Among other solid suggestions he offers in his podcast on this topic, “Yes. what should I deprioritize?” is probably the best response I found on engaging with those threatening to encroach upon a project’s sacred boundaries.
Wrap It Up
So there you have it, doing more by saying no seems counter intuitive at first glance, I understand. I hope this covers the topic. If you have questions, let me please preface any reply you’d likely to get from me with this helpful response template Tim provided in an article on the subject for Inc.:
Thanks so much for reaching out and apologies for my delayed response. I have been trying to do too much of late, which makes it hard to keep up with correspondence. I also have to admit I am not good at saying no, because I enjoy meeting people and discussing new ideas. Unfortunately, the truth is that I am maxed out and need to take a step back. Over the next few months, I will not be taking any new calls or meetings outside of my existing commitments to my business, family and myself. This will give me the energy and time I need to complete some big projects and be more successful in reaching my most important goals. This is my blanket policy until I am caught up. Thanks in advance for your understanding.
It has taken me a long time just to get organized enough to feel confident enough where I can take on the role of Project Manager. It's not about the subject matter, it seems, but in my experience, finding systems that work and developing clear communication skills are vital. This I learned the hard way.
Estimating costs and allocating resources is a critical element to successful project management. Nowadays, online portals are key to keeping teams moving in lockstep. Project management tools need to be accessible by all team members on a variety of platforms and via different devices (desktop, tablet, phone), they need to be flexible and expand based on the size of the team and the scope of the project, and perhaps most importantly in my experience, they must be easy to use and widely accepted as the place where communication will take place (Haden, 2018).
Last week, I shared two project management sites that I routinely use to keep both myself and teams I am working with on track, on schedule and on budget. This week, I’d like to take a deeper dive into one of those sites and introduce another that I use for tracking time and budgets exclusively.
Basecamp is the PM site I use to coordinate participants with tasks, timelines and budgets, driving the team towards successful completion of our project. The power in Basecamp comes in that it is a platform, the single place where we all agree notes, documents, photos and videos, schedules and to-do lists. When someone on the team makes a comment or uploads a file, everyone else on the team gets an email notification. The team member can then respond to the email (which will include a link to Basecamp directly) or depending on the respective team members role in the project, simply stay in the loop on progress.
Here is an introductory video explaining the best features Basecamp has to offer.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced with Basecamp has nothing to do with the software but with my people. There is a classic path most people I introduce to Basecamp to. First there is a reluctance: “I’m not that techy”, is the most common response. Try it, I say, it’s easy to learn and you’ll love it”. The learning curve just isn’t that steep and after a few weeks of my responding to emails and texts requesting that I resend files or reminders on details related to projects with, “it’s in Basecamp”, they get the hang of it and become the next generation of evangelists. Rarely have I had anyone not drink the proverbial Basecamp Kool-Ade in relative short order.
The other resource I use independently but related to PM work that is focused specifically on time and budgets is Freshbooks. Think of Freshbooks as Quicken but online and more simple. The features I use most often are time tracker, expense report, inputing mileage, and sending invoices and estimates. I encourage team members to log their time on Freshbooks so it can be viewed by all team members in an effort to maintain transparency and open lines of communication. I am still working out the details but so far, Freshbooks seems simple yet powerful - two key attributes I look for to make the best use of my role as PM.
If you're anything like me, you have had some bad experiences, taken time-consuming diversions down deep rabbit holes, fallen into every pitfall on the path to success and and been mired in the muck of disorganization. The good news is it's not you, it's your tools. I always to learn from these deviations and implement what I discover into the next iteration, failing forward, getting up and doing it again - this time better than before.
Haden, J. (2018, January 24). Project Management Tools: 7 Features You Need Most. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/project-management-tools-7-features-you-need-most.html
In our studies this week, the emphasis was on the role of the PM: assigning roles and responsibilities, tracking budgets, establishing timelines, benchmarks and milestones. All of this are clearly is clearly attributes any good PM must possess in order to be successful. But I'd argue there are other attributes - softer skills - that also must be part of the mix...
It seems I am on the eternal quest for the perfect project management solution. Beyond the technology, it seems I’ve tried every system on the “Self Improvement” bookshelf in the local Barnes and Noble.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done is the quintessential method for the busy professional, but I found the system too rigorous for my tastes. The GTD workflow is based on moving projects forward by first capturing, then clarifying, next organizing and reflecting, then finally engaging. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful system but I just could not manage it.
The latest method that I’ve discovered and have had relative success in implementing is based on the Work Clean system developed by Dan Charnas in his book Everything in its place. The book describes the rigorous requisite system aspiring chefs must follow when the first enter the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The Work Clean method is based on the notion of mise en place a methodical framework that has been practiced by professional chefs for generations. “Mise-en-place comprises three central values: preparation, process, and presence. When practiced by great chefs, these three mundane words become profound. The by-product of these values may indeed be wealth or productivity, but the true goal is excellence” (Charnas, p. 37).
The tenants of mise en place are:
When my mise en place is strong, my work is at its best.
What are your favorite hacks for staying organized? Please leave your comments below. Thanks!
I have been adjunct faculty in an online emergency management bachelors program for about eight years now. At the beginning, I had the opportunity to develop the class I now teach and serve as course lead. We are currently completing a forth revision and I have learned a great deal since first starting. I have always been proud of the course but as the iterations came to fruition, I liked the results of our work and the course was better from a number of perspectives. At the beginning, now nearly ten years ago, the course was rather static. Communication with students was limited and the LMS didn’t seem to have much horsepower or potential. While the team I worked with were all experienced professionals, the general feeling was that the distance classroom was just not ready for primetime. Graphics were limited, reliable high-speed connections were difficult to find and wireless internet was not a commonly found feature, not to mention mobile devices. The frustrating part was that the team was aware of the potential of the technology and how it would be groundbreaking once it was fully realized but the progress seemed painfully slow. But we stuck with it. And with each iteration, we’d reviewed the wish lists we’d made from prior scopes of work where the ideas were inspirational but not practical. As the technology became more ubiquitous, the costs of accessing it came down and the interfaces to manage it became more simple, the classes got better.
Needs and Feasibility
Overall, the program I work on has been widely successful. The 10-week class has typically run five or six times per year (with overlapping sections) with anywhere between six and thirty students. The needs and feasibility are primarily aimed at keeping the course content current and reviewing the technology to see how and where improvements can be implemented. The process and methods have been successful in the past and have not changed much since I have been involved with the university, about 8 years now. That stated, serving as the SME on this particular team, I don’t have a great deal of input on the need and feasibility front. I am primarily tasked with reviewing content to ensure it is current and suggest articles and other resources that keep the syllabus accurate. Overall, in my experience, all team members participate effectively and while I can not reference budgets, I can confirm that timelines are adhered to and tasks are completed by deadlines.
The Project Plan
Creating the initial project was quite an undertaking. In the past, when working for other institutions (primarily community colleges) I was responsible for everything. Curriculum, project management, submitting administrative documentation and of course, subject matter expertise - which, of course, was the main reason I’d been selected to teach. The project plan was a one man show with very little oversight. While there are certain advantages to working independently, having now worked on a fully functional team, I would be reticent to return to the days of yore, left on my own devices. Effective teamwork far outweighs having full responsibility for completing every deliverable, meeting every milestone by a deadline on my own. Beyond simply an issue of workload delegation, in my opinion, the end product is just better. In my opinion, diverse teams create better work than independent makers.
The specs for every iteration of my class were determined by the PM and the administrator. Working within such a large company, my class was just one of dozens undergoing the update and from what I understood, there is a cycle at work. We are just one of many so there just isn’t an opportunity to have flexibility with deadlines and deliverables. We’re working to specifications set by a separate team removed from ours. In some ways I can understand how one would resent this, but I don’t get too wrapped up in it. The course is good. We do good work. The students are challenged and presented with legitimate academic assignments and engaged at an appropriate level. There are no shortcuts. Yes, we are proud of our deliverables and beyond making updates, the course was built strong from the bottom up so there just isn’t all that much to do.
From time to time, and often based on feedback from students, we have revised some assignments, added new resources and even overhauled an entire unit. The comments we solicit at towards the end of a term are submitted and provide both qualitative and quantitate analysis. When we see consistent feedback that indicates there is room for improvement, we have implemented changes. In one case, we even took advantage of two sessions running simultaneously to test different versions of an assignment in order to determined which version was more engaging.
It is through this methodical practice of conducting an after action review to identify what is working well in the course and the team and what needs improvement, that the course I teach has made steady improvement, thanks in great part to a solid team, strong support from the administration and diligent adherence to our process.
Have you discovered Walter Isaacson’s podcast, Trailblazers, yet? It follows the integration of technology in a variety of field. If not, you may find episode 2.5, Head of the Class, a good place to start. Over the course of about thirty minutes, Isaacson (2018) brilliantly describes the role technology has played in education, beginning in the early 1800’s with the chalkboard in the one-room schoolhouse, progressing over the course of the 20th century using a variety of hardware including transparency projectors, broadcast radio, films, “teaching machines” and “magic lanterns”, ultimately transitioning to computers and the internet as a way of augmenting - and in some cases, as a substitute for the traditional classroom (much as we are learning here in this course). Isaacson even concludes with his predictions on the next evolution of technology in education: artificial intelligence (AI). But in the end, it’s not so much about the technology, Isaacson, concludes, it’s about people. "When integrated correctly, technology is used to serve and enhance what the teacher is doing in the classroom. And it gives students ownership of their education. When it's not done well, the technology is imposed on the teacher without proper training or preparation.” (Isaacson, 2018).
With that as context, the four components that make up distance learning (Simonson, Smaldino, Zvacek, 2015) were outlined in our reading for this first week in EDUC 6135. First, Institutional affiliation, separation of the teacher and the student, interactive communications, and using media to convey data, information and knowledge (Simonson, Smaldino, Zvacek, 2015). Nadiu (2014) augments this definition with the addition of occasional meetings to reinforce didactic and practical aspects and the industrialization of education - a process by which the traditional form of teaching is dis-integrated and distributed across a platform, sharing it among different subject matter experts - much in the way EDUC 6135 is being delivered.
Among many other brilliant observations, Seth Godin, in his self-published 2012 manifesto to inspire those who care about changing our outdated educational system, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?), notes “We’re entering a revolution of ideas while producing a generation that wants instructions instead” (Godin, p. 76). Godin’s premise is that, like the economy did just about a decade ago, school (at all levels) must be updated to reflect the challenges that today’s students will be facing, namely, solving interesting problems with creating solutions. He explains that the traditional educational method is based on what was needed during the industrial revolution when management needed people that could comply and deliver consistent results within clear parameters. Thanks to breakthroughs in technology and major social and economic shifts in the world today, those traits are no longer in demand. Rather, they can be the very things limiting them in advancing to recognize their full potential in the workplace and in life.
Is distance learning as disruptive as Simonsson (2015) posits? While Clayton Christensen’s work is primarily from a business perspective, he did have an article published in the NY Times sharing his thoughts on how online education is the transformation agent in modern education. He uses his now well-established approach that makes a strong case for the online venue as the most disruptor to the education industry. Previously, Christensen (2013) posited that community colleges ate the traditional four-year college’s lunch by offering their primary audience comparable credentials for a better price, typically in an overall more convenient package (location, for example). That battle waxed and waned for a few decades until a new player entered the field: the for-profit institution. Christensen compares the for-profit colleges embracing of developing technology and application to online education with steamships in the early 1800’s that were initially struggling to take over the business from sailing vessels that were the standard. Initial voyages were noisy, messy and not always as reliable, but ultimately through trial and error and driven by the entrepreneurial spirit and the law of natural selection in business, they triumphed. Of course, until they were gobbled up down the business-evolutionary timeline somewhere.
It is our job, as leaders in education to break down these pillars and foster the conversations that lead to what education in the 21st century will be and how it will propel students ahead in the generations beyond. But before we can do that, we must first have a general agreement among instructors, administrators and other stakeholders about where we are going and then build a roadmap telling us how to get there.
Christensen, C. (2013, November 2). Innovation Imperative: Change Everything. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/education/edlife/online-education-as-an-agent-of-transformation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Godin, S. (2010). Stop Stealing Dreams. Dobbs Ferry: Seth Godin.
Isaacson, W. (n.d.). Head of the Class | Dell Technologies. Retrieved from https://www.delltechnologies.com/en-us/perspectives/podcasts/trailblazers/s02-e05-head-of-class.htm
Naidu, S. (2014). Looking back, looking forward: the invention and reinvention of distance education. Distance Education, 35(3), 263-270.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015).Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education
Simonson, M. (2015). Distance Education as a Disruptive Technology.Distance Learning, 12(1), 47.