ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Embracing Scope Creep

Posted by Plish on July 23, 2010

We’ve all experienced it.

We’re cranking along in a project and someone comes in with a ‘brilliant’ idea or a new documentation requirement. 

AUGHH!  Time is ticking, money is being spent.  Why couldn’t this have been brought up at the beginning of the project?!?!

There are basically three responses:

  1. Ignore the request and move forward promising to fold features into the next version
  2. Agree to the request and try and get more time/money
  3. Agree to parts of the request and move the rest into the next version.

All three of these cause angst to the team, to management, and perhaps even the users.  They result in more time and money being spent.  Creativity likewise drops as people go into crunch mode trying to accomplish more with less. 

It’s Scope Creep.

So, why would anyone want to embrace this?

Let’s step back a moment.

We all have a tendency to look at projects as totally linear processes.  Everyone  agrees up front what needs to be done,  money is allotted, a timeline is set and everyone is off to the races.  The project moves into execution mode – efficient execution.

But, we also know that projects aren’t linear phenomena.  They’re a combination of fits and starts, looping back, problems and solutions.

So what happens?

When we first embark on projects, we keep our fingers crossed and hope that nothing gets in the way of launching the product  – that there is no Scope Creep.  As the project progresses we continue with the same mentality, constantly moving forward but at the same time looking over our shoulders, trying to anticipate what might occur before it does.   We hope nothing will knock us off our tenacious trek towards launch – especially no new product requirements.   Nevertheless, these new requirements seem to come and wreak havoc. 

But, there is a bright side.  

Scope Creep is more than something that should be avoided and/or grudgingly dealt with because where there is Scope Creep, there are opportunities to learn.

“…opportunities to learn…”

That, my friends, is what Scope Creep really is.

Scope Creep is ultimately about learning.  It’s about  learning what’s important to stakeholders, to marketing, to  users, to ourselves. 

Think of it like a typical family day.  You’re on your way to get something from the store and you get a call from your husband/wife saying that your cousin just called and that he’s coming to town tomorrow.  You can pick up more food and plan on having the cousin over or you can get your original list of groceries and tell the cousin to find a hotel and you’ll meet up for dinner… hopefully. 

During that process of thinking about your cousin, about your plans, about your meals, you’re prioritizing.  You and your wife (and perhaps even your cousin) are learning what’s important to you.  If you really enjoy your cousin’s company you’re happy to change your plans and perhaps even put additional plans into place, like a trip to a ballgame or shopping.   If you don’t like your cousin, you huff and puff and feel guilty for telling him you’re in the middle of project at work and will only be able to do dinner.

Same with Scope Creep.

If you or people on the team like the idea, you will push it through even if there is a tornado warning and sirens are blaring outside your window (which actually happened while I was writing this post).  If you don’t, at worst you’ll make excuses and find ways to make sure it doesn’t get implemented, or at best, give a less than spirited effort in bringing it to fruition. 

Remember, Scope Creep is about learning the depth and breadth of all the different needs in the project.  The solution then is to embrace Scope Creep and use the power of that embrace to help you all work together and get that product launched.    To further that here are some suggestions:

  1. Don’t wait for a project to get started to wait for Scope Creep.  Throw out ideas about possible directions the project could take early and often.
  2. Most things that pop up as Scope Creep are probably important enough to have their own project.  Resist the temptation to make them a feature of Product 2.0.  Give them their due.
  3. Extensive Scope Creep often happens when needs are being found out on the fly.  Learn and understand constantly, but especially early. (See Number 1)
  4. Make sure there’s plenty of cross-pollination so that what is learned is learned by everyone involved –  think empathy.

If you think of Scope Creep as the process of learning, it will lose much of its sting.  It won’t be looked at as something to be avoided but as something that exists in the every day, as something that brings more knowledge and interaction; that when embraced, ultimately leads to better products.

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2 Responses to “Embracing Scope Creep”

  1. […] Embracing Scope Creep « ZenStorming – Where Science Meets Muse… […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Plishka, Paper.io . Paper.io said: Embracing Scope Creep http://paper.io/rd/167910http://innovation.paper.io […]

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