When it comes to project management, you don’t want to aim too big or too small. Rather, you want your project size to be just right: big enough to capture all of your project deliverables, but small enough to be an achievable goal.
The way to do that is to define your project scope. Defining the scope of your project helps you hit your project deliverables on time and within budget—without overworking your team. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to define and manage your project scope.
Project scope is a way to set boundaries on your project and define exactly what goals, deadlines, and project deliverables you’ll be working towards. By clarifying your project scope, you can ensure you hit your project goals and objectives without delay or overwork.
Defining your project scope isn’t a one-person job. Rather, you should align with any important project stakeholders and ensure that you’re all on the same page. For example, if you’re working on a product marketing launch, you want to make sure you align with stakeholders on relevant teams at your company, like the product team, the design team, and the content team. Depending on how complex your project is, you may also want to define a change control process—we’ll get into how you can do that later.
A project scope statement is simply a written document of your project scope. Depending on the complexity of your project, your scope statement could be a section of your project plan, or it could be its own stand-alone document. Additionally, if you’re working with an external team or agency, you may turn your project scope statement into a statement of work (SOW) to cement the agreement between you and your vendor.
Scope creep is what happens when project deliverables exceed the project scope. For example, imagine you’re working on a product launch, but you haven’t drafted a project scope statement. Halfway through the project, a stakeholder adds a press release to the project’s deliverables. A few days later, a different stakeholder adds a blog post about the new product. This added work that your project team was not expecting or prepared for could cause unnecessary stress or even delays to your project’s original deliverables.
When your project suffers from scope creep, you end up working on tasks you didn’t expect at the beginning of the project. This can lead to project delays, overwork, or low quality deliverables.
The best way to prevent scope creep is to create a solid project scope statement and share it with any relevant stakeholders as early in the process as possible. That way, everyone is on the same page about what your project does—and does not—cover.
Defining your project scope is a key element of project planning. Without a clear scope statement, your project could warp and grow beyond your team’s ability to complete it, causing delays or burnout. Your project scope helps you envision the entire lifecycle of your project and make sure your end goals are achievable. Specifically, defining your project scope allows you to:
Before you can define your project scope, you first need to outline your project objectives. Project objectives are the assets you plan to deliver by the end of your project. Your project scope, ultimately, will help you get there—but you first need to know where “there” is.
In addition to project objectives, you also need a sense of which resources you’ll have available to you. In project management, a resource can be anything from project budget to team bandwidth. A resource management plan outlines which resources you have available for this project—and how they’ll be used.
Plan to define your resource management plan before creating your project scope. That way, you’ll know exactly what resources you have available when you’re drafting your project scope statement, and you can adjust the project scope based on that availability.
There are other, important elements of early project planning. But right now, you should be focusing on anything else that might impact your project scope. Remember: project scope is your way of documenting your project’s boundaries, and what your main objectives, budget, resources, and deliverables are. If there’s anything else that might impact those things—like your project timeline, for example—collect that now.
It’s time to put all of the research you’ve compiled into one place: your project scope statement. Your project scope statement should explain what you will and will not do, and why.
Depending on the complexity of your project, your project scope statement could be a bullet-pointed list, a longer paragraph, or a full blown SOW. No matter how long it is, your project scope statement should outline what your project objectives are and indicate what your project will and will not cover.
If you need help defining scope, start by answering these questions:
Let’s say you’re rebuilding your company website. Here’s what the project scope might look like:
Project objectives: Transfer website backend onto CMS platform in order to improve page speed and flexibility.
Project roadmap and timeline:
Out of scope:
Before you sign off on your project scope statement, make sure you get buy-in from your project stakeholders. This is your chance to change things around, rethink your project’s objectives, and decide what is and isn’t part of the project. Once your project is underway, it’ll be harder to change any element of your project scope statement, so communicate your scope well to any important stakeholders.
If you have a lot of stakeholders, or if you’re managing a complex initiative, it might also be worth establishing a change control process. With large or complex projects, some things will inevitably have to change. Maybe your timeline was way too optimistic, or new customer feedback came in and you have to change several important deliverables. You don’t want your project to be impossible to change, but you also don’t want anyone to be able to make a change willy nilly, because that can lead to scope creep.
A change process is an established set of processes that stakeholders have to go through before their change is approved. To create a change control process, establish a way for your project team and stakeholders to submit change requests—for example, through a centralized intake Form. Then, a pre-selected set of important stakeholders should review the change and see if the change request is important enough to merit addition. If it is, see if you can deprioritize some work you were planning on doing, in order to avoid scope creep.
Your stakeholders have seen and signed off on your project scope—the next step is to share it with your project team. Make sure your team has a one-stop shop to access all of your work, like a work management tool.
It’s helpful to reference your project scope document frequently to make sure you’re on track and not at risk of scope creep. If anyone introduces new elements to the project that haven’t gone through your change control process, refer them to the project scope statement and encourage them to submit their idea as a request or fast-follow.
A project scope statement is a great tool to make sure your project is on track and going to be successful. It’s also a great way to support your project team and prevent burnout. But a project scope is only useful if it’s been effectively communicated. Make sure to surface the project scope document early in your project. Then, continue referring back to it frequently during the project.
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