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How to create a clear project scope

Last updated

21 December 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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During the project planning process, there is perhaps no step more important than setting boundaries and defining scope. Without creating a project scope, you won’t be able to define the project realistically, create a budget, or determine your timeline. This could negatively impact the project’s success.

To define your project scope, you must have a good understanding of what it is, why it’s important, and how to manage it.

What is project scope?

You need to set certain criteria to define the project’s perimeters before the planning process can be completed. Sometimes, this list of boundaries and responsibilities is outlined in a scope statement created by and shared with various project stakeholders. Here are some of the sections to be completed:

  • Define project goals. Defining the goal of the project is an important first step. This allows boundaries to be set, enabling you to define and prioritize other tasks.

  • Set a deadline. Creating a realistic deadline is important to set appropriate expectations among stakeholders. Unreasonable deadlines lead to unsuccessful projects.

  • Assign tasks. Depending on your project’s scope, tasks may be assigned to those within or outside of your team. When assigning these tasks, ensure the person knows what the task entails and when to complete it.

  • Define and allocate a budget. It may be easier to allocate a budget to a smaller project. Even so, try breaking down a large or complex project into smaller tasks or phases for easier estimation and management.

  • Set up procedures to verify and approve the completed work. If parts of your project need to be verified or approved before the next step can be completed, ensure the people required for the approvals are aware and ready to participate. You can assign deadlines to verification processes to prevent bottlenecks.

Managing project scope requires good communication skills between all team members. Everyone needs a thorough understanding of the project goals, timeline, and their part in the project. Carefully and thoroughly document all facets of the project, as this enables teams to stay focused and within the timeline.

Product scope or project scope?

It may be subtle, but there’s a slight difference in the definition of product scope versus project scope—although both are essential parts of the process.

Product scope often refers to the end result of the project scope. It refers to the features and characteristics of a final product or service that can be functionally evaluated to see if it meets the set criteria.

Project scope is the work required to deliver the product. It identifies and documents the goals, processes, timeline, and budget needed to successfully complete the end product. The project scope keeps the project on track, on budget, and confined to the boundaries previously set.

Why it’s important to define project scope

Defining a project’s scope in a project scope statement is essential for keeping the team focused and on task. It’s an important initial step in project planning and provides many benefits for the project and stakeholders alike.

Establishing project scope ensures projects are focused and executed to expectations. The scope provides a strong foundation for managing a project as it moves forward and helps ensure resources aren’t diverted or wasted on out-of-scope elements.

Project scope also sets the boundaries for meeting timeline, review, approval, and budget commitments, as well as defining each team member’s and stakeholder’s responsibilities. Importantly, it also helps avoid scope creep.

What is scope creep?

Scope creep involves the unplanned addition of expectations and provisions to a predetermined scope of work. Improper planning, miscommunication, or a lack of focus could “creep” into areas not previously defined as being within scope.

Not documenting project scope could cause your project to go over budget or exceed the given timeline. This is why project scope is so important.

How to define a project’s scope

The best way to define a project’s scope is to break it down into steps and work through each one methodically. This saves time in the long run and creates a project scope that is inclusive and straightforward.

Step 1: Define the project goals

This initial step is important and lays the foundation for defining the rest of the project scope. It’s important to be specific about what your end result should be. Measurable, reasonable, and realistic results set the project up for success.

Step 2: Consider roadblocks

Most projects have probable obstacles that could cause them to run off track. Identify and record these roadblocks upfront so that everyone knows how to deal with them and what the contingency plan is.

Step 3: Determine your needs

Consider everything you need to complete your project—staff, location, time, materials, and money. You’ll need to do extra planning if one of the things you need also appears on your list of potential obstacles.

Step 4: Identify stakeholders

Determine not only your team members but everyone else who has an interest in the project. Include everyone who could influence the project, benefit from it, or offer or contribute money or people power.

Also, identify people who are directly or indirectly involved with the project. This could include the CEO, investors, the production manager, and the quality control and marketing teams.

Step 5: Create a timeline

The timeline shouldn’t just include when the project begins and ends. It should also include when you expect to complete different segments along the way.

What will you do if you don’t meet the deadline? Create a plan for this, too.

Writing a project scope statement

A project scope statement or definition details the project so that everyone involved knows what’s going on. It guides managers to assign tasks and schedule work accordingly. Meanwhile, the statement gives team members a focus point and keeps the project from being affected by scope creep.

Your project scope statement should include the following:

  • An introduction defining why this project is needed, how it will benefit stakeholders, and what it involves

  • General goals, who will be involved, and the tasks required

  • A deliverables section that provides information on the project’s desired results and how long it will take (you can also include requirements, such as the budget needed or additional staff)

  • Metrics to show how the project’s success will be measured and the degree of acceptance required

  • Any foreseen exclusions or constraints

How to manage project scope

Once you have created your project scope statement and have distributed it to all appropriate stakeholders, you’ll have to stay on top of the project scope to prevent creep, distraction, or lack of communication.

It’s essential to understand your stakeholders’ needs so that you can manage them appropriately. For example, the CEO might ask for monthly updates on costs, the production manager may need updates on labor or equipment needs, and the marketing team may ask to be informed of changes to functionality or key dates that impact their marketing campaign.

By the same token, stakeholders should be accountable for executing their assigned tasks.

Communication is key. Be sure that all stakeholders and team members are on the same page when it comes to deadlines, goals, and obstacles. Make sure your key objectives are clearly defined so that everyone has the same expectations. Work with the team and stakeholders to stay focused and within deadlines.

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