Jeepers Creepers…

Curriculum writing seems to be a never-ending process in education, whether it be writing curriculum for new courses or adjusting curriculum for existing courses. A few years ago, the Assistant Superintendent of the school district where I work decided that a new curriculum revision project was to be started, and the department in which I teach would be the first to go through the process. The entire department curriculum needed to be adjusted to meet the requirements of yet another state-mandated test. And so we began the initial meetings to plan a new scope and sequence for K-12 science in the district followed by the actual preparation of the adjusted curriculum documents. The revisions were moving along well, and were nearly complete when the Assistant Superintendent was fired and ultimately replaced.

The new Assistant Superintendent had a different vision for the end product of this project. He decided that having the curriculum documents link to all of the activities that would be done in each lesson of each unit would be beneficial. In addition, all of the documents needed to be put in a new template so that they could be posted on the district website. So even though the majority of the work was complete, we now have to go back and change the formatting on all of the documents to fit the new template and link all of the resources we have available for our lessons. This change in the scope of the project has caused significant stress in our department. It was expected that this project would be completed by the end of this June, which is impossible now. And because the district needs to compensate us for our work, the cost of the project will increase as well.

The additional expectations added to this project are a classic example of scope creep, which is defined as “the natural tendency…to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 346). Specifically, this type of scope creep is known as “Feature creep – requirements changing during development” (Crabtree, 2000, para. 1). As with the curriculum project described here, feature creep is likely to cause problems with schedule, with budget, or with both. However, if a project manager monitors the project and protects against significant changes, it can be controlled. Clearly identifying how the suggested changes would affect budget and schedule are key when deciding how to make the adjustments to the scope (Crabtree, 2000).

The curriculum project we are working on has become much more complex than was originally anticipated. Unfortunately, in this case the project manager instigated the feature creep. His priority is not the schedule or the budget, but the added features he has decided are necessary to have in the curriculum. If I were the project manager, I would want to determine if these changes are really necessary and then communicate a new schedule for the completion of the project, both of which are important steps in dealing with scope creep (Portny et al., 2008). I’m not sure that the time and effort we are going to put in to link all of the activities to the curriculum is worth it. There is nothing to indicate that parents/students need this service, and the teachers who will be using these documents already have access to the activities through other means. And as things stand, the teachers working on this project have not been given any idea when the work will be done or when it is expected to be completed. Finishing the curriculum without the feature creep would have been enough, and then taking the time to determine if the added features were necessary could have been the start of a new project.

References

Crabtree, S. (2000). Killing feature creep without ever saying no. Retrieved from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131534/killing_feature_creep_without_ever_.php

Portny, S., Mantel, Jr., S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. (2008). Project management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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4 thoughts on “Jeepers Creepers…

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Renee,
    I enjoyed reading your post and the new definition that you brought up “feature creep”. Also, I can feel your pain when there is a program manager who instigated the feature creep. It brings to mind what Lynch & Roecker (2007) described in our article that a PM can focus on a new feature (i.e. course) to keep the project exciting (p. 96). However, they really don’t know that it can throw the project off balance and schedule.
    Reference:
    Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge. Copyright by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis Group, LLC via the Copyright Clearance Center

  2. Jenny Hogg says:

    Hello Renee,

    Great post. I really enjoying reading something I can relate to so much. I have been teaching for 6 years and it seems like every year there is a new set of books coming in for both reading and math every year. I have heard it takes a few years to fully implement any new program, but I haven’t had a program that long so how will we ever know. I am worried that constantly changing the curriculum will assure teachers and students never get comfortable with the design/layout of one textbook. I truly feel researching a curriculum that has shown great results elsewhere for both reading and math would be best. Then, sticking to those books and materials so students can use that same program from kindergarten through sixth grade would be in the best interest of the students. Do you agree in the possibility of this working as the best case scenario for students and teachers alike?

    Jenny

  3. jordynheche says:

    Renee,
    I truly appreciated your post. It is difficult enough to complete a project on time and within budget. Having the vision of the project change mid-stream makes it nearly impossible. I am not sure why the Assistant Superintendent would not have the “schedule or the budget” as a priority. I know this is almost a must in public education, so this is somewhat surprising to me. I agree with your assessment that the “time and effort we are going to put in to link all of the activities to the curriculum is worth it”. In my own position we have a project rewriting a course curriculum and have discussed embedding links into the course materials. We decided not to include the links, simply because they change periodically. We decided it would be better to have a list of compiled references which would be easier to update the list and not try to find each of the links embedded in the content, in the case they change.
    I wish you the best with completing your project on time without having to spend a great amount of overtime because of the scope creep the new project manager has introduced to the project.
    Jordyn

  4. Karen Bellitto says:

    Hi Renee, what an excellent example of scope creep. It is unfortunate that so much work went into the project only to get a new ‘leader’ who has a much more complex vision. As an outside looking in, (and not having to feel the stress it is causing) it does sound as though this new assistant superintendent has some good long term ideas that will make the project more comprehensive. I completely agree with you that a new schedule and plan need to be presented and some consensus obtained on whether or not these changes are necessary. I am not in the K-12 arena, so I am not that familiar with the frequency that curriculum gets revised due to standardized tests. It seems like the project could have continued on track for completion in June and that maybe the links and website could have been phase II enhancements for the following year provided things don’t change again.
    Thanks for sharing this example!
    Karen

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