The Ins and Outs of Project Scope

Paul Dobinson | April 14, 2015

“This isn’t what I wanted? This project is driving me crazy, will it ever end? They didn’t understand what I meant!”


Does this sound familiar? If so, you’ve probably entered into a project with a poorly laid out project scope. You’re not alone – 85% of projects go overtime and over budget!

Wikipedia defines Project Scope as “the work that needs to be accomplished to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions.” Too often, we enter into a situation where the project is loosely defined and we experience the dreaded scope creep – new features are added as the project progresses and the longer the length of the project, the greater the chance there is of this happening. Scope creep increases the cost of the project, the complexity and time to completion and ultimately the profitability of the organisation.

So, what can be done to prevent it? When defining the scope, what does the project manager need to understand at the outset? How do we keep a project on track and on budget?

Requirement analysis – customers don’t always know exactly what they want and often provide vague ideas of the solution they require. As their knowledge of the project increases through the process they then have new ideas which change the original plan. It is therefore vital to have an initial understanding and education of the process and what needs to be achieved.

Involve users from the outset – don’t make assumptions about what people need. A Project Board needs to include representatives from the executive, supplier and user.

Understand the complexity of the project – has it been done before? What were the lessons learned? How can we improve next time?

Process of change control – any project will likely have changes. How we manage, document and approve them is important to keeping the project on track and on budget.

Communicate – often a project can run off track because of unclear internal and external communication, or using the wrong tools to manage the project. Clear communication at all levels is key to success.

So what should the scope include? It should contain, but not be limited to, the following:

Justification – a brief statement outlining the business need the project will address. This is the business case for the customer.

Product scope description – the unique characteristics of the products, services, and solution your project will produce. For example, in a website build, the description of the sitemap and unique functionality.

Completion criteria – how will we know the project is complete? These are the conditions that must be met in order for a project to be considered finished.

Deliverables – the objectives, or what the final result will be.

Project exclusions – statements about what the project will not accomplish or produce.

Constraints – restrictions that limit what you can achieve, how and when you can achieve it, and how much achieving it can cost.

Assumptions – statements about how you will address uncertain information as you conceive, plan, and perform your project.

Get the scope right. Work closely with the client and make an effort to truly understand and implement the right solution for them. This will give the project the best chance of being delivered on time and on budget, creating a solution that meets the expectations of all parties.

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