What Is Scope in Project Management? | Lucidchart Blog
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You wouldn’t consider sewing a dress without a pattern or building a house without blueprints. But for some reason, many projects get underway without a defined scope in place, and that’s just as big a mistake as making baklava without a recipe. 

The concept of project management scope can be tricky, so we’re here to help. From defining project scope to knowing the best templates to use, this article will get you started down the path to project scoping mastery.

What’s project scope?

You’re likely familiar with the four phases of the project management life cycle, which means you already know that “scope” exists within the initiation phase of a project. It’s one of the very first steps you’ll take to manage and complete a project, and it’s an important step because it’s here that you’ll determine:

  • Goals of your project
  • Justification of the project
  • Project requirements
  • Project strategy
  • Constraints
  • Cost estimates
  • Budget
  • Breakdown of required tasks
  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Deliverables
  • Deadlines

Once you have a clear understanding of what the project’s goals are and what the deliverables are, you can proceed to set responsibilities, but it’s important to have a scope in place before that. The scope will be a guiding force throughout the project and will help you keep the project on track. 

Take a deep dive into how to conduct a project cost estimation.

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Project scope management process

The purpose of a scope management process is to create a scope management plan that keeps your project on time and on track. This process is a process group in our Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide, which we recommend reading for additional context.

1. Plan scope management

During this phase, you create a scope management plan to determine how you will define, manage, validate, and control the scope of the project. This part of the process will require you to gather input from stakeholders and review the project charter/project plan.

2. Collect requirements

According to PMI, “47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management.” Before you can begin to define the project, you’ll need to know the exact requirements for the project to accurately predict costs and ensure that deliverables meet the expectations of your stakeholders. 

Consider creating a project charter, business case, or other documentation to gather the necessary information. Based on the PMBOK Guide, requirements can include: 

  • Business requirements: Explanation of why the project should be undertaken and how the project aligns with the company’s strategic objectives
  • Stakeholder requirements: Requirements determined after identifying and engaging with stakeholders
  • Solution requirements: Features, functions, and characteristics of the product required for it to meet business and stakeholder requirements
  • Transition requirements: Any actions needed to implement or transition from as-is to future state
  • Project requirements: Events, processes, and constraints on time and budget
  • Quality requirements: Criteria and conditions to validate that the project has been successfully completed (i.e., success factors)

Without knowing exactly what the project’s expectations and targets are, there’s no way to know if the project is successful or unsuccessful. 

3. Define the scope

Even the most seemingly straightforward projects can fall victim to scope creep (the ballooning of a project’s original goals). 

For instance, you may initially have been tasked with building a landing page for a white paper that includes a simple form, but after the project is underway, the stakeholders change the project’s parameters to include a fully animated embedded video, an interactive quiz, and a customer service bot. Suddenly, something that should have taken only a week to complete ends up taking well over six months because things kept getting added to the project.

Scope creep is common, but you can avoid it with a project scope statement. This detailed documentation includes a list of what’s in and what’s out of scope so that, when someone asks you to add to the project, you can politely (but firmly) point that person to the change control process.

A project scope statement should include:

  • Need for the project
  • Desired results
  • Deliverables
  • Acceptance criteria for project deliverables
  • Exclusions
  • Limitations, including timeframe and cost
  • Procedure to follow in addressing uncertainties

Create a project scope statement template so your team can consistently follow this process for each project that comes up. 

As you determine and communicate realistic timeframes for the project, consider these tools. These are also great to show shareholders so they can weigh in on timelines and deadlines.

PERT charts/project network diagrams

PERT stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. It provides for variables the time required to complete each activity in your project scope, which will help you plan for the worst case scenario and still finish the project on time.

PERT chart example
PERT Chart Example (Click on image to modify online)

Timelines

A timeline allows you to map out milestones within a project to their respective deadlines, defining how much time deliverables should take to complete. A good timeline will also help you after the project has started, letting you see, at a glance, which components of the project are in danger of missing their deadlines and which are on track for successful, on-time completion. 

project timeline with data example
Project Timeline With Data Example (Click on image to modify online)

4. Create the work breakdown structure

By this point, you have a fairly clear understanding of the project. You know what the parameters are and how the project will be considered a success. You even have deadlines and budget constraints. 

Now, you can take your completed scope template and begin developing a work breakdown structure. Get started with the template below.

First determine the biggest deliverable or product that will be completed at the end of your project. Then, divide those deliverables or products into their component deliverables, and then divide those into their component deliverables or products. The end result is both an overview of the larger project and the smaller deliverables that compose it. 

work breakdown structure example
Work Breakdown Structure Example (Click on image to modify online)

5. Validate scope

Once you have your work breakdown of the project’s deliverables, you’ll need a validate scope process. That’s an established structure of who needs to approve each portion of the project. There’s nothing worse than completing a deliverable and not knowing who needs to sign off on it to keep the project moving forward. You’ll need to define who has the authority to formally approve deliverables before you begin the project.

6. Control scope

We talked about the change control process earlier, and this is when you’ll want to define what that change control process looks like. There will be people constantly wanting to add or change your project—you need to define how people can propose a change, how to determine the impact of the proposed change, and how to decide whether the change is accepted. This process is important for keeping your project in line while still allowing for necessary changes.

Defining the scope of a project is much more involved than just scribbling some project characteristics on a sticky note. With these steps and the templates shown above, it’s much, much easier to work efficiently and systematically as you prepare for projects.

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