Scope Creep

Birthday Boy and Pinata

It was my husband’s birthday and we had planned a simple, but fun party.  My first phase of planning this party was to define the scope, which is the boundary of what is included and excluded in the project (Gurlen, 2003). The scope of this project (i.e. birthday party) was as follows:

What project includes:

  1. There will be a theme for the party. It is a Mexican theme.
  2. There will be Mexican food, in keeping with the theme. The food will consist of one main dish and two side dishes.
  3. There will be some specific, pre-purchased decorations
  4. There will be a piñata at the end for the guests to break.

What the project will not include:

  1. There will be no alcoholic drinks.
  2. There will be no “goodie” bags.
  3. There will be no live bands.

What specific scope creep issues occurred?

I had communicated with my “helpers” to keep them in the loop of planning the party (Laureate Inc. a, n.d.).  Everyone had been assigned their tasks and knew what to do.  I had created a schedule to help me map out activities and allocate resources (Mindtools, n.d.).  While looking around the party area, I decided that there were not enough decorations and sent my sister out to buy some more.  This is the scope creep number one.  Since my sister already had a task assigned to her, sending her to the store disrupted her timeline and caused a ripple across the project step of preparing for the party.  She was involved with the food preparation; unfortunately, it was a dish only she knew how to cook. So, to make up for this, I changed out the dishes for the party.  This new dish required different ingredients and some extra prep.  Scope creep number two.  When my sister returned with the new decorations, we discovered that they were a little more complex than just hanging up with tape.  This now meant extra effort was diverted to put up the new decorations. Scope creep number three.

How did you or other stakeholders deal with those issues at the time?

Although it sounds comical now, it was quite stressful back then.  With just two hours before guests were scheduled to arrive, the decorations were still not complete and the food was not close to being ready.  Since this was a problem that I could not solve alone (although I had pretty much created it), I did what Dr. Stolovitch recommends in this situation, and conferred with my team (Laureate Inc. a, n.d.).  We devised a new plan and brought in extra resources.  The birthday boy himself was made to hang decorations, which freed up my sister to help with the cooking.

Looking back on the experience now, had you been in the position of managing the project, what could you have done to better manage these issues and control the scope of the project?

Of course, looking back now it seems clear that if I had not decided to change decorations, the birthday party preparations may have been a lot smoother.  To avoid making that decision, I could have checked the decorations earlier, or consulted with my team to get their feedback prior to the day.  Also, I could have designated some responsibility to other team members (Laureate Inc. b, n.d.) so that impacts to the timeline could be compartmentalized.    Finally, in order to control the scope in general, I should have involved team members more in the decision making process.  Their feedback could have acted as a gate to incurring scope creep.


Gurlen, S. (2003). Scope creep.  Retrieved from

Laureate Inc. a (n.d.). Monitoring projects. Retrieved from

Laureate Inc. b (n.d.). Project management concerns: Locating resources.  Retrieved from

Mindtools (n.d.). Project schedule development.  Retrieved from


8 responses to “Scope Creep

  1. Hi Yuna,

    It sounds like you did a great job of responding to the obstacles. I was looking at some of our resources to find something that relates to your story, and it sounds like you followed the plan of action that Dr. Stolovich suggested this week. You prioritized the tasks based on the time constraints. I’m sure you even thought enough to prioritize them. You delegated work to others, but retained responsibility for the results. (Monitoring projects, N.D.) Great job!


    Monitoring projects, [Video Podcast]. (N.D.) [With Harold Stolovich] Retrieved from

  2. Thanks, for the vote of confidence, Robert! It was a chaotic day, but the party turned out quite well in the end, so it was all worth it in the end.


  3. Hi Yuna,
    I sure hope your husband appreciated all the work and second guessing that went into this special birthday party! At the beginning of the project, I really liked how you defined the project boundaries. You also discussed how you “communicated with my helpers to keep them in the loop of planning the party.’ Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008) believe that a project manager should project managers should get a commitment in writing. “After team members commit verbally to specific project duties, project managers should confirm these agreements in writing (2008, p. 257).” I was just curious if this step was completed. Probably one of the best ways to ensure that everyone was in the loop was weekly emails updating everyone on the progress of the party. Also, by announcing everyone’s commitment levels, the more committed they will be to getting the work done, thus, ensuring the project’s success (2008). You might have also been able to ask another team member to pick up additional party decorations because your sister was in charge of the food. That was probably a higher priority than additional party decorations.
    Overall, I bet the party was just wonderful. I wish I was able to see the piñata. You should have posted some pictures !

    Take care, Jennifer

    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.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      There was no written agreement to document the verbal agreement, it honestly didn’t occur to me since I only asked family members to help. However, it would have been helfpful to have the overall plan and schedule for the day written down so that each person could refer to their own copy. I think I will do that in my next project where “helpers” are involved.

      I posted a picture of the hubby with the pinata. 🙂

  4. Yuna,

    I love the comparison! I never thought of applying project management skills to something as “everyday” as planning a party.

    Sounds like you did a great job in handling the potential of scope creep. The e-book, “The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects”, states: “Project managers should approach changes of scope in a business-like (as opposed to emotional) fashion…Results are (1) Adjustments to the project plan to deal with additions, reductions or modification to the deliverables or work process, (2) Formal documentation of each scope change, and (3) Formal approval of each scope change” (Greer, 2010). A birthday party may not require the level of attention as a business project. However, the Seven Step Process to handling scope creep may have lessened the stress involved with such an endeavor (Greer, 2010).


    Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from URL

  5. Rocky,
    Although the party planning started out with a business approach, as we all got more tired and scope creep (imposed by myself!) piled on more work, you can believe that things got a little more emotional 😉

    It would definintely have been advantageous if I had a plan to deal with the scope creep instead of just “winging it”.


  6. Yuna,
    I loved your blog post!
    I think you did a very good job at explaining concepts learned in class relating them to personal experiences. The ability to do this shows that you have a good grasp of project management concepts.
    In your example you stated, “While looking around the party area, I decided that there were not enough decorations and sent my sister out to buy some more.” “The natural tendency of the client and team members to try to improve the project’s output” which is also known as scope creep (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 346).
    I think you did good job explaining where scope creep occurred throughout your project. I believe that team chemistry is very important and a key to success but what’s more important is that the birthday boy is happy. Assuming that the happiness of your husband was a project goal; should you have re-thought the “no alcoholic beverages” rule before asking him to “hang decorations?” (jk)
    “She was involved with the food preparation; unfortunately, it was a dish only she knew how to cook.”
    I wonder what kind of value is put on project team members that have crossover skills. If there was someone else that could have cooked the dish, you would have been able to maneuver around one of the more critical issues. I often appreciate how well rounded our skill set will be when we are done with our courses. Some of us are entering the workforce without real world experience in ID. I assume our chances of employment are increased by our ability to show how many different skills we have acquired through our schooling.

    Take care,

    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.

    • Joe,
      What a great point about cross over skills. An ID is expected to wear many hats, and with the advent of rapid elearning, more hats are added daily.

      I should have taken Greer’s advice and made a responsibility matrix (2010) prior to the preparations, this would have been a good way to plan out activities vs. skills.

      Thanks for your comment,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s