Thursday, June 7, 2012

scope creep ...

I have been learning a lot about “scope creep” in a Project Management course I am taking. Scope creep is “the natural tendency of the client, as well as the project team members, to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses” (Portny, et al, 2008, p. 346). As an eternal optimist and a bit of a perfectionist, I am a very guilty scope creeper – I just want everything to be the best it can be! Prior to this course, I had not really heard of scope creep; however, knowing about it now, I can see how project managers I have worked for before have worked successfully to keep me from going down this road. I actually cannot think of a professional project I have worked on where the scope was allowed to creep in any significant way. Big kudos to the PMs I have worked under!

Looking at my personal life, I have a few more examples. The most recent is the house that my husband and I purchased six months ago. As first time homeowners, we have grad visions for our new home. While, I have adhered to and been successful with some key aspects of project management (priorities, budget, delegating), I am guilty of allowing my scope to creep.

Recently, we agreed to paint the living room walls. We built it into a moderately busy weekend, but there was a large enough window to complete the painting as planned, we already had the paint, and we were going to be out of the house for much of the weekend – allowing the paint plenty of time to dry before needing to move furniture back in. The good news was we painted in record time! We were ahead of schedule and on budget – Project Manager win!

Sadly, I did not stop there. We had planned to paint the ceiling in a couple more weeks, but since we had finished so quickly, I talked my husband into doing the ceiling as well! While we didn’t go over budget and came in just a hair over the allotted time schedule, we did so with mixed results: the client (my husband and me) went into our next project (a night out on the town with friends) a little grumpier than planned, with sorer muscles than anticipated, and created the hassle of squeezing around furniture left in the hallway upon returning from the night out. And a stubbed toe while navigating the furniture in the morning to brew the coffee needed to get the room put back together.

As the project manager on our future house projects, I must manage my tendency to allow the scope to creep by:
- recognizing the creep,
- identifying the impact the change might have on other areas,
 contemplate alternative options that could achieve the same end results,
- evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of making these changes, and
- clearly communicate the changes to the stakeholder for sign off (Portny, et al, 2008).

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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

that’s not what I meant …

We have all sent or received an email that was misinterpreted. Regardless of whether we are the sender or the receiver, the experience is crummy. We feel defensive, misunderstood, unappreciated, angry, sad … the list of adjectives could go on and on.  In good scenarios, we recognize that there is a communication break down, pick up the phone, and the issue is happily resolved five minutes later. Too often, we reply in an increasingly cold way ensuring that the sender also feels the alienation we experienced.

While it is more than possible to misinterpret what someone says in person, the odds are higher with email communication. “Face-to-face interaction … is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us not only from their tone and facial expressions, but also from their body language and pacing, as well as their synchronization with what we do and say” (Goleman, 2007).

side by side …

This communication demo illustrates how a brief email, a voice mail, and an in person conversation can use the same words but create very different experiences. The email is not offensive, but it seems cold and allows room for interpreted blame – which leads to room for defensiveness. If I had received this email, I would have felt like I needed to explain why I had not gotten my piece completed on time. The voicemail is slightly warmer; however, I still felt slightly defensive. While the in person interaction does still have the urgency of needing the completed work, the body language, her smile and relaxed tone feels more like a reminder. I’d be more likely to respond pleasantly and collaboratively.

what can be done …

When working on a project, these steps will help increase the positive communication:

-       Create an audience list to ensure everyone who needs information receives it. Clear communication will help keep everyone informed and avoid hurt feelings (Portny, et al, 2008).
-       Meet with key players at the start of a project to talk about communications. In the meeting, clarify the benefits of strong communications and identify any potentially problematic issues - words, analogies, approaches, etc. (Laureate, 2012).
-       We are less likely to misinterpret email communications from people we know and have communicated with in person (Goleman, 2007). Develop initial face-to-face relationships and nurture those throughout the project.
-       When informal conversations occur, follow up with a formal written summary (Portny, et al, 2008). I have found this helps tie the feeling of the in person communication to the more formal email communication method, buying me an emotional buffer and increasing the chance that subsequent email communications will read as less cold and stiff and decrease the chance for misunderstanding.
-       Finally, you may need to tailor your communications to meet different needs of project team members, stakeholders, or key players. As the project manager, it is your job to communicate with them, not their job to conform to your preference (Laureate, 2012).

I fear workplace miscommunication is not going away any time soon, but we can take steps to minimize the occurrence and mitigate the damage. An acknowledgement of the derailment usually goes a long way toward getting communication back on track!

Goleman, D. (2007, October 7) E-Mail is easy to write (and to misread) The New York Times. Retreived from
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2012). Practitioner voices: strategies for working with stakeholders [Video webcast]. Retrieved from
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2012). Project management concerns: Communication strategies  and organizational [Video webcast]. Retrieved from
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.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

reflections on project management ...

Having worked on projects both professional and personal, I am grateful to think back over them with mostly fond memories of overall success. A few wildly successful ones, a few mostly successful ones, and only a handful that would fall into the “um … yeah” bucket. For this, I am grateful. Not only for my mother who instilled in me a natural “plan-y-ness,” but also for a company of strong project managers to work with and for. One project sticks out as less than successful.

here’s the scoop …

I was asked to join a group dedicated to reviewing different aspects of the company all from the customer’s perspective. The team was not only cross departmental but included some really strong people. While discussions were energetic, involved, and really good conversations, the group never seemed to be going anywhere. Finally, after the leader of the group was moved into a different role, the group fizzled.

post mortem …

As I study project management, one of the aspects that was a pleasant surprise for me was the idea of conducting a “post mortem” on projects. While called by different names, the importance of reflecting on the project – successes and failures – is a running theme (Allen & Hardin, 2008; Greer, 2010, & Portny, et al, 2008). This is something I stress in my current job as a consultant, so I am happy to see it carry over to the project management world. While it is common to reflect and learn from your mistakes, it is also important to reflect on your successes. What aided that success and can be replicated in future projects or across the company?

where we fell down …

This was something I had not done for the previously mentioned customer experience group. As the group fizzled without a formal closure, I had not taken time to reflect on that experience. No time like the present:

While there was a clear need for the group and we had some amazing brainstorming sessions, no purpose was defined, no support gained, and no formal approval was ever given for the group – all key aspects to successful projects (Allen & Hardin, 2008; Greer, 2010, & Portny, et al, 2008). Ultimately, the project never actually formed. You will notice, I keep referring to “the group” rather than “the project team.” Essentially, we wanted to be a project, but we really weren’t.

Not all groups are meant to be – this is a reality of the project management world. Projects should be presented to senior management for approval to help ensure employees are focusing their efforts in the areas that are in line with the company goals (Allen & Hardin, 2008; Greer, 2010, & Portny, et al, 2008). However, in this case, the project “lead” never got things to that point. She lacked the management skills to go through those initial planning and approval steps.

What the group needed was for a Project Charter to be completed and presented for approval or not. While the group “lead” was in the default place to spearhead that task, any one of us in the group could have brought that need to light as either a recommendation for her as a next step or to offer to transition into that role. As a team member, here lies my greatest post mortem “take away” – to recognize that all team members have a responsibility to help keep the project on track. While the project manager should bear a large portion of that responsibility, every member can take an active leadership role to help keep things on track and heading in the right direction – and do so in a respectful and professional manner.

Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practices. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 19(2), 72–97.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.
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.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

the future of distance learning ...

Each year, the Sloan Consortium (“an institutional and professional leadership organization dedicated to integrating online education into the mainstream of higher education, helping institutions and individual educators improve the quality, scale, and breadth of online education” (About Sloan-C, n.d)) conducts a survey on trends in online education (Allen & Seaman, 2011). It is likely that you won’t be surprised to hear that:

-       Over 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2010 term; an increase of 560,000 students over the number reported the previous year;
-       The ten percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the less than one percent growth of the overall higher education student population; and
-       Thirty-one percent of all higher education students now take at least one course online (Allen & Seaman, 2011).
However, just because something is growing in popularity, doesn’t mean it is good. Ellen and Seaman explored this area as well finding that “the only dimension among those examined where online was seen as inferior to face-to-face instruction was in the area of student-to-student interactions. For most aspects, the two were rated fairly equally” (2011, p. 16).
Despite these growing numbers, general success and student satisfaction:
-       One-third of all academic leaders continue to believe that the learning outcomes for online education are inferior to those of face-to-face instruction (Allen & Seaman, 2011).
Academic leaders are not alone there. In a survey I conducted of 15 of my friends, I too found that one third (33..3%) felt that the quality of face-to-face learning could not be replicated online (Distance learning impressions, n.d).

what can be done?

As more and more people experience distance education and/or valuable distance communication, the overall perception of distance learning will improve (Siemens, n.d). However, as professionals we have an obligation as well.

As instructional designers, we are uniquely positioned to influence societal perceptions of distance learning and the continuous improvement in the field of distance education by consistently and faithfully employing strategies rooted in best practices, contemporary research in learning theory and utilizing bleeding edge technologies in the design of learning solutions. (Loebel, 2011)

It is through our actions that we can work to increase the value and positive perceptions of distance learning. We can speak to our positive experiences and (most importantly) go out and do good work. Demonstrate that our training has been just as good as that completed face-to-face. Through these actions, both the enrollment and positive impressions will continue to grow over the next 5-10 years.

About Sloan-C (n.d). Retrieved from

Allen, I. & Seaman, J. Going the distance: Online education in the United States, 2011. (2011). Retrieved from
“Distance learning impressions.” [Survey] Results retreived from
Loebel, D. (2011, August 21). The future of distance learning-Reflection [Blog message]. Retrieved from:
Siemens, G. (n.d) “The future of distance learning” Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved April 17, 2012, from