After considering my lived experiences, I realized that most of my life has been affected by scope creep. As proof of this, consider the number of degrees I have pursued in education, the variety of positions I have held, and my five children and 10 exchange students. Scope creep does not have to be negative in and of itself; it is the issues associated with the creep that are of concern.
I was tasked to act as the SME during a revision of an online biostatistics course I was teaching at a small university. I was paired with an instructional designer and assumed I would produce content in response to the IDs plan and design. I was paid a small sum of money and given 2 months to complete the project. The first issue that affected my time commitment to the project was associated with the assigned ID. The ID was neither trained nor experienced in course design. She did not know anything about biostatistics or the challenges of creating a graduate level math course for online use. I had to become the ID as well as the SME. As there was also no assigned PM, the timeline was one agreed to by the ID and me, prior to my understanding that I was to produce everything on my own. The ID’s sole role was managing the timeline by sending me frequent emails asking about progress and presenting the finished project to the technicians who would enter it into the LMS.
The issues with this course revision included much more than the demand on my time. Scope creep, though I did not recognize it as such as the time, became a significant threat to the project’s success. Without a clear design, I was not sure what was required of me. Though I had been aware of the original courses’ issues, I was not fully aware of what the program director expected of the revised course. As I worked on the revision, my scope of work kept increasing. All of the discussion questions required revision, as did all the assignments. I had to add some quizzes, additional topics, a new final exam, and new content material; what had been scheduled as a relatively minor revision became the creation of a new course. I was able to convince the program director that the project was a major revision and get a little more money, but I was given no additional time. The ID sent emails to me daily asking about my progress but providing no direction or assistance. The situation grew direr when the company for which the ID worked changed the rules and required me to submit detailed forms with the product. My appeal to skip this was not granted, so an extra hour or so per week was added to my responsibilities.
Finally, I contributed to the scope creep but adding additional materials, including videos that I created to the SOP. I felt the additional materials were needed to provide the students with the best possible learning experience. Given my history of scope creep in my personal life, this was not surprising, but in this instance, my scope creep had serious consequences. The result of this consequence was delays in the completion of the course, which reduced the time available for evaluation, a work week of 50+ hours for 6 weeks (I had other work responsibilities as well), and an hourly rate of compensation between $5 and $10. These were in addition to mounting frustrations and stress. The most egregious consequence, however, was the lack of time to evaluate the course before implementation. Having participated as a student in new courses that have many mistakes, I know the frustrations minor mistakes can cause. Those frustrations extended beyond the students to me as I had to spend weeks after implementation finding and correcting mistakes for which I was and was not responsible.
The question is how this scope creep and its consequences could have been prevented. While not all of the issues were avoidable, there are several things a PM and properly trained ID could have done to mitigate the risks of scope creep. Here is a partial list of them:
- PM (there was not one assigned):
- Feasibility study
- Risk assessments
- Communication plan
- Project maintenance
- Evaluation prior to implementation
- Trained ID:
- Acted as the PM in the absence of one being assigned to the project
- Provided a clear design prior to course development
- Worked with the ID to create content to translate the design into an effective course
- Created materials with the advice of the SME
- Communicated with all the stakeholders
In the absence of a PM and a trained ID, it fell to me to control the flow and scope of the project. I was a professor with a background in biostatistics and epidemiology and no formal training in education or instructional design. With what I know now I could have better managed the project by completing the steps listed under the role of PM.
For those curious about the final product, here is what happened nest. I taught the revised and evaluated course successfully for 2 terms. When I was asked to teach it again, I was told it had been revised again by an instructor with one year of experience teaching online and no previous experience in course design. I decided to teach it and see what had been done to my work product. I began the course as objectively as possible, but soon discovered that the newly revised course was a disaster. The assignments had been changed from ones requiring interpretation (the main objective of the course) to ones that required students to fill in cells in given excel formulas and report the results numerically. This greatly reduced the workload for the instructors and students, but did not meet stated objectives or industry standards. The final exam was altered to place greater emphasis on writing per APA6 requirements, then on providing the correct interpretation of published material. After one term teaching that course, I resigned as an adjunct to that university.