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Friday, 12 October 2012

Managing Scope Creep

‘Scope Creep’ – the “tendency to improve [a] project’s output” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton & Kramer (2008) can easily show its face in the best planned and simplest of projects. I participated once in an informal project that very well demonstrates how scope creep can occur.  At the time of the project, none of the members of the organizing team had any knowledge of project management and therefore was not able to identify what was happening.
            Our church decided to host a ‘food war’ competition for our youth group.  The plan was simple – divide the group into two teams, have them bake pizza, announce and reward the winner.  The actual activity was certainly a lot more complex – three teams that each participated in a baking and three other competitions, each of which needed to be separately judged and rewarded.  The organizers found themselves having to seek additional manpower to assist with monitoring and judging the different activities, as well as sponsorship for prizes for all the teams for each activity.  Upon reflection, we realized that the following things occurred under our noses:
  • ·       The event generated so much excitement within the youth group and the church that a lot more persons than expected started to get involved.  With more persons involved, more activity ideas were generated and embraced.  The increased activities called for an increased budget to meet expenses for increased ingredients and increased prizes.  The budget also had to be spread to include refreshments for the audience members on the night of the event, which numbered about four times the count of regular attendees.
  • ·        The organizing team spent much more time than anticipated in the organization of the event. Because of the continuous increase in activities and planning, the organizers were constantly trying to pin down new logistics for the night.  This resulted in many of them neglecting other church responsibilities that they had, having to focus on so many unexpected tasks for this event.
The way that the main organiser dealt with the scope creep was to attempt to delegate as many of the new and arising tasks to available hands.  This in itself was a project risk as such delegate was sporadic and done without any overall project management view in mind.  The event in itself turned out to be successful in terms of the interaction and collaboration it generated among the youths.  However, the hype of the night and the fact that quite a number of donations and last-minute offers of assistance were received shrouded the fact that the event was way over-expensed and nearly undermanned. 
            Knowing what I now know about Project Management, had I been the organiser of the event, I would have definitely been able to identify and control the project creep.  I would have carefully selected which additional activity ideas were within the scope of the project and which could not be entertained.  I would have been able to budget appropriately for additional activities and also be able to assign manpower as needed. Now that I know better, I would be looking out for such sneaky project creep in the future.

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.

Friday, 21 September 2012


As a backdrop to this entry, I am to give my interpretation of a piece of information as it was delivered in three different modalities.  The message and interpretations follow:

Message: Hi Mark.  I know you have been busy and possibly in that all day meeting today, but I really need an ETA on the missing report.  Because your report contains data I need to finish my report, I might miss my own deadline if I don’t get your report soon.  Please let me know when you think you can get your report sent over to me, or even if you can send the data I need in a separate email.   I really appreciate your help. Jane.

In the written format, I sensed urgency from Jane’s communication, perhaps to the point of desperation.  I also get the impression that Jane has tried several times to obtain this report from Mark.

In this format, Jane comes over as authoritative, rushed and angry.  Had I been on the receiving end of this voicemail, I would feel as if I were given an ultimatum for producing the report.  Jane in this format comes over as being Mark’s superior or one who would mete out discipline as the next step if the report is not received.

This time around, Jane has a less rushed or demanding tone.  She rather sounds a lot more pleading than in the other formats.  Body language cues are available here and they convey a more casual and friendly approach.  Jane here seems to be Mark’s equal colleague, attempting to explain how the submission of Mark’s report affects her work.

From this exercise, it is clear that each modality has its own features, advantages and disadvantages.  This connotes that each modality would also have a best fit, depending on factors such as context, desired outcome, meaning, audience, and so forth.  In my purview, apart from being the most formal mode, written communication is the most controlled and therefore should be the staple mode of communication for project teams.  Whereas tone and body language can often send wrong or ambiguous signals, written formats can be used utilized to objectively confirm and clarify meaning. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton & Kramer (2008) advise that while “informal communications occur continuously in the normal course of business”, all communication should be confirmed in writing.  This is a practice that I myself have seen the value of, seek to apply to my work, and will encourage others to also apply.

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.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

I was once placed on an in-house document management project team at a company where I worked.  The team was mandated to come up with a document management system and process that would replace the company’s then filing and document management systems.  The team comprised persons from each department within the company; the thought being that each department needed to give input into how their documents should be handled.  A member of the administrative department led the project; the thought here being that the admin staff would have a good handle on the company’s documentation and filing processes and improvements needed, as they were the ones primarily responsible for maintaining these functions. I represented the human resources function/section on the committee.
             In terms of meeting its mandate, this project failed at so doing and was abandoned midway.  Post-mortem evaluation of the project reveals the following contributors to the failure of the venture:
1.      Lack of Definition – The project turned out to be much more complicated and involved than anyone had imagined and what needed to be done was beyond the skill set of the project team.  According to the aspects involved in defining a project, as outlined by Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton & Kramer (2008), thorough project scoping would have given light to its background, scope and strategy, thereby providing a better understanding of what exactly needed to be done and who needed to be involved;
2.      Lack of technical expertise – None of the members of the project team was trained in the business of the project.  No one therefore could really give clear direction to the venture.  The company’s eyes were opened after a trained project manager was assigned to the task and after he conducted thorough research and commissioned technical consultancy.  Then it was revealed the enormity of the project’s scope.  This however, took place two years after the initial failed project and the wastage of resources that went along with that attempt.
3.      Incorrect technology – Again, without doing the proper research, the company went ahead and purchased expensive hardware and related software for the project.  As it turned out, the software was outdated and the entire package was no longer supported by the manufacturers at the time of this project.
In hindsight, some critical steps that needed to be taken to avoid the failure that occurred include:
·         Defining project and preparing a statement of work – This would have required research and proper thought and would have produced a clearer view of what needed to be done;
·         Consult with the experts – Whether through a workshop, research or by hiring a consultant, expert direction would have revealed the depth of what needed to be done;
·         Getting the two preceding points right would have lent direction to the required and correct resources for the project.
All in all, the company learnt a big lesson from this horrible first attempt and did things much differently the second time around.  As mentioned, a trained project manager was hired, the project was carefully defined and consultation was made with a technical expert.  Although there is still residual amazement within the company now that the actual scope is realized, the project is well on its way and successfully meeting its targets thus far.

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.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Project Management Intro

Hello All,
This post serves as my blog intro to my project management blogs, for this my eighth course in the IDT program at Walden University.

I really have been looking forward to this course a whole lot as I've always wanted to acquire some project management skills.  I'm also looking forward to the views and insights that my classmates will share.

Feel free to comment on my lines, offering any tidbit that should be useful to my, or the world's understanding of PM.

Divia Lewis

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Reflection: Future of Distance Learning

What do you think the perceptions of distance learning will be in the future (in 5–10 years; 10–20 years)?
Dr. George Siemens, in the video presentation titled ‘The Future of Distance Education’, spoke to the growing acceptance of distance learning (DL), which he attributes to factors such as increased online communication and persons’ experiences with new tools (Laureate Inc., n.d.).  When considering that DL is also scalable and learning is accessible (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012), the future looks bright.  Bearing these points in mind, I envision that in the next 5 to 10 years, most, if not all, institutions of higher learning will offer DL programs. Many more primary and secondary learning institutions will begin to explore distance learning options and experiment with blended learning. In the corporate world, organisations would begin to turn to DL for personalised, ‘just-in-time’ training options for their staff.  To take the vision further, in the next 10 – 20 years, distance learning can very well replace brick-and-mortar institutions and classroom-type training with virtual realities, gaming and simulations becoming an embedded part of the learning process.
Getting to this point though, would take a significant amount of resources as approaches and processes would have to change at many levels. The impact that is possible through Distance Learning is significant.  I share Siemens’ view that such changes would require inputs from governments, contribution from subject matter experts (Laureate Inc., n.d.).  I also think that DL will, or for that matter, will continue to ‘truffle feathers’ as it will be a great change factor for current learning methods.

How can you as an instructional designer be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning?
            As a result of my pursuit of this degree with Walden University, I have changed from being a sceptic of DL to a believer that DL is here to stay.  In my current employment, I have responsibilities for training.  I have already been proposing that our department considers DL learning training options in the place of classroom-style training, where we bring in an SME to deliver instruction.  My managers themselves are still sceptical and have not fully embraced the option, for reasons including fear of poor training quality resulting from technology failure and uncertainty as to the validity of DL programs.  I plan to pursue this using knowledge gained for this course, to present a thorough proposal as to how we can maximise DL opportunities for the company’s benefit.  I have already been talking to many of my co-workers about the benefits and value of DL; this I will continue to do.  I will also consider stirring up media dialogue in my country on the value of DL.

How will you be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education?
            According to Gambescia & Paolucci (2009), with the proliferation of DL, particularly at the college level, “major stakeholders were...quick to assess distance learning...for its quality” (p. 1).  In my country, we currently have a few institutions that offer DL options, and some of our schools are experimenting with blended learning.  I would seek dialogue with these institutions, particularly the private ones, on their methods for ensuring academic quality or fidelity of their programs and offer information to assist them if necessary.  Also, I happen to have open access to a column in one of our weekly newspapers.  As part of the media dialogue I mentioned above, I would pursue a series on Distance Learning, seeking to promote and highlight best practices in DL and how they can be applied to our local setting.

Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university
online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from
Laureate Education, Inc. (n.d). The future of distance education[DVD]. In EDUC 6135 Distance Learning. Baltimore, MD.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a
distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.