It doesn’t matter whether you are a beginning instructional designer or a seasoned veteran, you have most likely already experienced “scope creep.” Like most of us IDs, you have probably even been guilty of allowing a little bit (or a lot) of scope creep to enter into a project. Christopher Butler says the following about scope creep: “It is the kind of thing that accumulates so slowly and subtly that you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late, like when you’ve already promised it or, worse, when you’re already building it.” (Butler, 2012)  Scope creep can easily wreck an otherwise “well laid out” project because it upsets the balance of the project management triangle.

Scope creep is generally seen as something a project manager controls, but what responsibilities do instructional designers have to keep scope creep in check?  (More often than naught it’s us, the instructional designers, who bring scope creep into the project in the first place—not the project manager.) So, what can we, as instructional designers, do to avoid letting scope creep enter into our projects? Here are a few suggestions I found in some online instructional design articles that may help (Butler, 2012; Doll, 2001):

1) Thoroughly understand the project’s goals and vision.  Be sure that you know the project’s scope in its entirety during your “analyze” and “design” phase of the project–before engaging in the develop phase. This will eliminate the need to keep adding features and/or updates to the project that are unexpected. Here at eLearning Brothers the bulk of our training as instructional designers is based on thoroughly understanding the project’s overall goals and vision before we do any work on the course as IDs.  This has helped us to better utilize the “analyze” and “design” phases of the project and foresee the assets and resources that will be needed for the project before we even begin developing it.

2) Don’t become an order taker.  This can be very difficult to avoid. If you are merely agreeing to all the requests of the client during design and development, you can easily lose control of the scope of the project.  Your role as an instructional designer is to lead and direct the client into helping you design the content of the project within the constraints established at the very beginning of the project.  I have found that when I merely went along with a client’s request for updates, the scope of the project always increased.  However, when I created a relationship of trust with the client up front and established myself as the design expert, I was better able to consult with the client about any proposed changes and make my recommendations for updates based on the scope of the project.

3) Be able to let go of the project.  You have to be able to let go of the project after you’ve designed it. It’s easy to justify making some “final tweaks” or some “upgrades” to the project after seeing it more fully developed, but this leads to scope creep. A former project manager of mine would meet with the team at the end of both the analysis and the design phases of a project, and we would go over the project to make sure everyone was ready to “let go” of the project at that phase and move on to the next phase. This collaborative transition was very helpful for me as the instructional designer.

By following these three suggested approaches to doing ID work, we can minimize scope creep from entering into our projects. We welcome your comments and feedback.  How have you been able to minimize or eliminate scope creep from your projects?

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Butler, Christopher (2012). Why Scope Creep is Your Fault (and what you can do to prevent it.)

Doll, Shelley  (2001). Seven steps for avoiding scope creep

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