Scope Creep- and other reason projects take forever

Right now Isaiah and I are in the hard part of our current comic. That point in a project when you’re maybe halfway through, and the project has already taken longer than you think. You start questioning whether to stick with it or move on. It’s been making me think about production management. There’s a whole world of project management, studying how things get done. The hard part is none of it is specific to animation but there are many principles that are useful. Here are some of the project management maxims that have helped me.

Scope Creep

Scope creep is when the length or complexity of the project increases continually over the course of development or production. Once you become enthralled in an idea it’s easy to rationalize why things have to be a certain way. The danger is with personal projects there’s no limit and no deadline. You can easily convince yourself that this project is worth the 5, 7 or 10 years that it will take to make. Comic artists Lars Martinson has an excellent video about how his comic Tonoharu took 13 years to complete.

“I was 25 years old when I started Tonoharu and didn’t wrap it up until the age of 38. If I were to continue, at the same glacial pace, for future projects I could finish two or maybe three more things before I died or was too old to work.” Lars Martinson

Lars makes the point that it was decisions early on about the scope of the project that commited him to taking so long to complete the project. The only way to avoid scope creep is to keep an eye on it. Define the scope clearly and early on. Then during production check in with that definition. Adjust and keep moving.

Hofstadter’s law

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

— Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Every project does take longer than I expect. Hofstadter’s Law is really about the variables you didn’t account for or didn’t know about. New projects always take longer because you have to spend time figuring out what you’re doing. You often start with the beginning of a good idea, not knowing how to make a real thing. Hofstadter’s law is impossible to avoid. It’s at this point that you make a choice keep going till it’s done, change the project so you can finish it. In the end it’s your call to make.

Parkinson’s Law

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

Parkinson’s Law is sort of funny, but seems to be true. Sometimes when pressed with a pressing deadline you can produce your work in record time. Or how in the final hours you get 90% of the work done. One idea behind Parkinson’s law is that we should allot the shortest amount of time to a project to waste as little as possible. For indie creators I think it’s more important to make any schedule. If you never make a schedule you could end up creating a project that expands to fit all your time.

When I read these adages, it reminds me that this stuff is hard. I’m not the first person to face these problems. Those problems have been solved by many people. Part of building a project is figuring out how it’s managed. Most of what we know about project management comes from business. In the 20th century it was driven by the auto industry and assembly line. Now it’s being influenced by tech and the open office plan. In the end the best project management for animation will come from us. You too can solve these problems and how they uniquely occur in animation and art.

PS. Yesterday morning  after finishing this post about Scope Creep, I went to draw the illustration at the top of the page. I had this idea for this isometric drawing of a factory. I thought, “My drawing program has an isometric guide this will be easy.” I was wrong. Halfway through I was like, this drawing really needs characters. Then I really needed to clean up the drawing. There were many layers. Even when you know the perfect adage, it doesn’t protect you from it.


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