First steps in Instructional Design!

An out of control Christmas Party


Scope creep is something it seems we must become accustomed to handling in project management and in instructional design. And, as we know, scope creep is not limited only to these disciplines, but it exists in most other areas in our workplaces and personal lives. Portny et. al. (2008) said that “avoiding scope creep is not possible” (p. 347). They go on to state that the best way to deal with it is to have a change control system already in place “whereby changes can be introduced and accomplished with as little distress as possible” (p. 346). Having a change control system will help keep costs down, as the later the changes are made in a project the more costly they become, and it will help the project likely succeed without unnecessary delays.

Having a change control system would have been very beneficial in many ways for the small healthcare company I worked for last year. One case in particular was in planning the company Christmas party. My immediate supervisor enlisted myself and the other members of the marketing team to do the planning and preparations. Fortunately we started in July, but as the planning progressed, my boss changed nearly everything we had previously agreed on right until the last moment people started walking in the door, which left the marketing team constantly scrambling. The party was quite complex in that we had to arrange for 250+ people coming from all over the southeastern US to stay overnight at the Opryland Hotel during its busiest weekend of the year, the weekend before Christmas. We had to arrange shuttle buses, catering, gift baskets, hotel rooms, parking, entertainment, and breakfast, not to mention close to 20 separate tags, brochures, information cards, menus, and signs I had to create just for the party, all of which had numerous (countless!) changes and reprints made after they had been formally approved. In most cases a budget would have been the reason to keep the scope creep under control, but my supervisor was the president’s wife, so she wasn’t given a budget or any accountability for her decisions at all. This was a project out of control due to the myriad of changes having been made and there was really nothing the marketing team could do about it, except make the changes she wanted. In the end, it all came together, but not without a lot of unnecessary frustration experienced by the marketing team. As Portny et. al. said, “A major source of trouble with changes is the project manager… adopts an informal process of handling requests for change” (2008, p. 346). I believe that if my manager had kept a formal record of the changes she had requested, in addition to the expenses of the party, she would have had a much greater sense of how the Christmas party was easily exceeding the original scope she had envisioned.

If I had been in the position of project manager for this party, I would have made sure to follow the project management process by establishing a statement of work (SOW), a work breakdown structure (WBS), a change management plan, a schedule, and I would have had a clear budget established (Lynch & Roecker, 2007). Making decisions and approving them with minimal changes would have been my goal as project manager, not only to stay on budget and on track, but to avoid unnecessary work, stress, and headaches for the marketing team. I would have also made sure that when changes were necessary, they were simply to ensure the project’s success and not based on personal preference. For example, changing the restaurant to ensure there was enough comfortable space for our large group, and not changing the restaurant at the last moment simply because the interior design and colors didn’t suit someone’s preferences (yes, that really happened..). By following the PM process, everyone understands their role and responsibilities. And by making minimal and only necessary changes, the project is more likely to stay on track, on time, and on budget. Projects don’t have to be out of control, chaotic, and unpleasant for the people who are working on them. With preparation, planning for inevitable changes, and a determination to stick as closely to the original scope as possible, any party or project can be a success.

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.

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.


6 comments on “An out of control Christmas Party

  1. renaeklee
    October 11, 2013

    This does sound like an incredibly stressful endeavor. You listed all of the correct things to do-creating a SOW, WBS, project schedule, change of scope forms, etc. By using this experience as knowing what not to do, in addition to your organizational skills and the tips provided in this class, hopefully you will be able to tackle future projects with ease.

  2. lucasmontrice
    October 13, 2013

    Hi Genah,
    Wow, I’m sure this was very overwhelming for everyone involved in the labor of giving the boss’ wife what she wanted. I agree that she should have been more involved and should have kept up with all the changes she wanted to happen. It definitely would have gave her a bettter understanding of how it was growing out of control. I’m glad everything turned out great though.

  3. Matthew Pittman
    October 13, 2013

    Hi, Genah,

    That sounds like quite the planning project! I can imagine how frustrating that must have been and it sounds like you all had little recourse given who was in charge. I agree that a formal change management plan and a firm budget would have been very, very useful in this situation. I discussed a sort of similar approach where the original project plan and budget for the work went out the window because of the project manager. I can see clearly what happened now but back then I was thinking, how could this happen?


  4. Meredith Wolfe
    October 13, 2013

    Hi Genah,

    Your post makes me laugh because it sounds a lot like projects that I have been a part of and I can sympathize with you! I definitely think that using some of the tools that we have learned about in this course would have focused your project manager. Having something visual like a Gantt Chart would really cause him/her to stop and think about what is going on and how changing the plan could really strain his/her team members. Thanks for sharing.

  5. tonishirleyidt
    October 14, 2013

    Some people function best (so they believe) under pressure or under the gun. They subconciously avoid things that “control” and “manage” because they do not know how to function in an organized environment. You will never fix these people, but rather learn to work around them. The sky will always be falling.

  6. authenticlearner
    October 17, 2013

    When I read this blog, I felt like I was reliving a similar scenario years ago at a conference with several software engineers. At the time, I was just volunteering at the conference and in return had free access to some really amazing workshops in design. I remember how incredibly complicated the conference was with hundreds of people and rooms that had very poor traffic flow due to the age of the building.

    You stated that it is important to stay within decisions made and make minimal changes. I couldn’t agree more because this is definitely important with very large groups and complex gatherings. Even very minor changes such as the case at the conference where I volunteered, there was an incredible amount of confusion over simple surveys at the end of each workshop and which bin they should be seperated in.

    Organization is best overall but even more critical when you have many people gathering in one area!

    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.

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2013 by in Uncategorized.


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