Ready to start working on your project? Hold on… first we need to define the project scope. The scope of the project is all the work required to achieve the deliverables. Project leaders plan scope management during project initiation so everyone is clear on what needs to be done.
Managing scope also includes managing the inevitable changes while still balancing the need to complete the work on time and on budget.
Common tools for scoping projects include the work breakdown structure, change control procedure and the scope statement. We have a range of expert interviews covering all kinds of project scoping topics, so you’ll be sure to find something here to expand your knowledge and learn some practical tips!
Listen now to this featured podcast on Scope Management.
Product scope defines what the customer wants from the product. Project scope refers to the boundary for the project work.
Product scope could be a wide-ranging selection of improvements that could take many years to deliver and are probably part of a product roadmap.
An example of product scope would be: “A new product to sell digital services to existing and new clients via online consultations.” This scope is managed by a product manager who will guide the product's development direction as well as taking into account business strategy.
The project scope includes all the work required to deliver the new product. The scope of a project in this example would be: hiring a graphic designer to create a website for the new product, building the website, training staff on the new internal processes, providing supporting marketing materials to promote the website, setting up payment processors, creating a process and email sequence to support customers who have purchased, creating help documents for customers and so on. They are all examples of what needs to happen to deliver the new product.
In other words, your project scope statement defines what work is required to deliver the product scope.
Scope management is essential for project managers because it is the process that helps you control what work is to be done. It's important because staying in control of scope helps you save time later. When everyone understands what the project is doing, you avoid miscommunication and that helps prevent unnecessary change requests and conflict later on.
Even when you invest time and energy into confirming the scope, you'll still find that it changes as the project progresses, and that’s to be expected. As you learn more about what it is you are delivering, stakeholders and the project sponsor may update or change their ideas about what they want. A robust approach to managing scope helps make sure everyone's views are heard early enough for their ideas to make it into the scope document, so you can focus on the significant change requests.
The scope management process lets you adapt to those changes in a controlled way so you always have a clear view of what the project is delivering.
All that sounds easy enough, at least in theory! However, in practice, managing scope is a challenging exercise. Often, high-level project goals are not clearly defined. Customers and key stakeholders don’t have the time to participate in requirements elicitation or show up for scope meetings. They simply want the work to start. Many stakeholders expect to be able to influence the development of the project as the work unfolds, but sometimes it’s too late to make changes at that point, or changes are very expensive. There’s also rework to consider and the waste of the team’s time for redoing tasks that could have been done right the first time.
Customers themselves can sometimes struggle with the process too, even if they are prepared to make time for it. You ask them what is important and they say everything is important! They find it difficult to prioritize requirements. They might be very clear on design or look and feel, but find it harder to talk conclusively about functionality and what they want the thing to do.
You may also receive a challenge from subject matter experts who don’t see the need to write scope down. If they know what they have to do, what’s the point in wasting time documenting it? The act of discussion and documentation provides clarity and helps validate and uncover assumptions.
Project scope management is an important contributing factor to project success, so it’s essential we meet the challenges head on. We can have difficult conversations with stakeholders and experts, and our projects will be better because of our focus on scope.
However you document your project scope, your goal should always be to reduce ambiguity as much as possible and to get the fullest picture possible. Then you can be sure that what your project delivers is going to meet the needs of stakeholders. Work together with the project team and key stakeholders to cover as much ground as you can, and consult widely to ensure all possible scope elements are included (or excluded).
The primary challenge that projects have is that they don’t define their scope well. There are a lot of things associated with that besides just the work breakdown structure. If you don’t define your scope in clear and concise terms in the beginning and go through that process of working out exactly what you are going to deliver to your customer, then you’re going to be missing things. When we have schedule overruns and cost overruns it is because things come up halfway through the project.
If you want your project to succeed, you need to invest time in project scope management. The resources on this page will help you take the first steps in building your skills in this area, and if you are already confident with the basic, take a look at some of the episodes discussing advanced topics or search the website for those on interpersonal skills. So much of managing the scope of a project is talking to stakeholders, negotiating, and really listening to what they want. Then you can manage those expectations to what is achievable within the time and budget and deliver successfully.