Let me first begin by saying that I am guilty. I have let meetings get out of hand and I have had to learn how to run meetings the hard way. Scope creep is something that I have to consciously, and constantly, be aware of needing to avoid at all times.
So, what is scope creep? It is not a guy who hangs out in the mouthwash isle too much.
Scope creep happens when a group doesn’t stay on task, and allows themselves to get entangled in details outside the original parameters of a given project. That’s one definition. What that means in regular English is that scope creep is ADHD in a group format. If allowed to run unchecked, nothing of value will get accomplished except to blow peripheral issues way out of proportion.
Something I have witnessed is that scope creep can skew a project way out of shape in under a minute. Here’s an example of a meeting where scope creep runs away with itself:
Susie: Good morning everyone, thanks so much to joining us today to discuss Cat Herding 101. Today’s topic will be how to provide structure in a project.
Bob: Herding cats sounds like fun, Susie, but what about dogs? Dogs have way more personality…
Diane: I like my hamster better. They take up less room and are easier to keep penned up, so don’t need any herding.
Ralph: I don’t know why we have to talk about herding cats, they sleep most of the time anyway.
I have literally been in meetings where the discussion got out of control this quickly, and the meeting facilitator didn’t do a very good job of making sure everyone stayed on task. There are a few things that one can do to keep the meeting on track and stay focused on the topic at hand:
1. Provide an agenda giving some details about the topic to help get the group started with what needs to be accomplished.
2. Begin the meeting by sharing your expectations about what will be discussed, and how much time the group has to get everything accomplished.
3. Everyone’s time is important. Make sure that the meeting has a purpose and get it accomplished as quickly as possible. Keep something with you that displays the time so you can make sure not to lose track. One of the things I despise most is a useless meeting, and especially if it goes on for an hour and nothing is really accomplished.
4. The instant someone gets off topic, drag the group back to center. You don’t have to be rude about it…. be kind, be funny, but be insistent that the group needs to focus.
5. When a topic pops up that is peripheral to the purpose of the meeting, but still needs to be talked about, form a “parking lot”. A parking lot is a list of things that come out of the meeting that need attention, but aren’t necessary to accomplishing the task set before the group. Make a commitment to the people who bring up the topics to discuss it with them at another time soon, and then bring the group back to center.
6. Keep the group engaged in the topic by making sure to speak concisely and keep the flow of the meeting going. There’s nothing that will kill people’s attention so quickly as someone who drones on and on about the same thing several times over. Say it once, perhaps reiterate it at the end of the meeting if it’s super important, but don’t beat it to death.
7. Ask their opinions. People will better stay engaged if they can participate. This is especially important in brain storming session. Commonly the quiet ones, who might never speak up on their own, will pop out with some fantastic idea or worthwhile details when asked to share their thoughts.
8. Delegate/assign tasks to the group if possible. Just because you are the meeting facilitator it doesn’t always mean that you have to carry the lion’s share of the work. The group was formed for a purpose, and unless you as the facilitator are only there to provide information, the group needs to actively participate in the project at hand.
9. Send an email to all the attendees detailing what occurred at the meeting, and what the follow-up expectations are (who is to provide what for the next meeting).
10. Be aware that scope creep is something you must be constantly vigilant about. It can happen at every turn in your project. This is true whether you are in a work meeting, a religious meeting or just running a home improvement project. Always come back to the task at hand so you don’t get bogged down in the extra topics/situations that arise.
Well, that’s my cat herding lesson for today. Here’s hoping that your meetings run smooth, your project participants are engaged, and your project focus stays clear and uncluttered with wandering cats.