What Is Scope in Project Management and Why Is It Important?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When working on a project, a clear definition of the scope can help stakeholders involved understand the boundaries of a project and the work to be done. If you're considering a project management career, it can be useful to know how you can define scope for successful project outcomes. In this article, we define scope in project management, describe why it's important and share some tips for effective project scope management.

Related: What Does a Project Manager Do?

What is scope in project management?

In project management, scope can refer to either product scope or project scope. It's thus important to know the difference between the two terms. Product scope refers to the functions and features characterising a product, result or service. It's typically the main interest for the end consumer. Project scope defines the work that needs to be done to deliver a product, result or service successfully according to its product scope. It outlines the project and describes how stakeholders plan to succeed.

Related: Project Leader vs. Project Manager: What's the Difference?

What is a scope statement?

Once the project scope has been defined, it's a good idea to document this in a scope statement or statement of work. This document typically defines the project's boundaries, sets up each team member's role and responsibilities and establishes the process for verifying and approving work that has been completed.

By clearly defining the following factors within the project, scope can be much easier to manage. The scope statement usually includes these points:

  • Project objectives: This describes why the project is required and what benefits are expected to be delivered.

  • Project description: This is an overview of the project's deliverables. Be as specific as possible and include all items, even those which may seem obvious.

  • Success criteria: The definition of success may be different to each person on the project, so it's crucial to identify metrics and methods for success. For instance, acceptance criteria can stipulate if testing is required to determine completion or if a final sign-off by a designated authority is required.

  • Project exclusions: It's important to include items that are excluded from the project scope. Clearly differentiating what's in and out of scope can lead to less confusion in the future.

  • Project limitations: This includes any resource or technology related issue or constraints that may limit the project, such as time, budget and scope, risk, quality, customer satisfaction, resources, organisation, sustainability and methodology.

  • Project assumptions: Detail any assumptions made that may affect the outcome. These can fall under several categories, such as budget, scope and resource assumptions.

Why is scope important?

The project scope clearly describes all the elements involved in the project and those that are not. It regulates what tasks can be added or removed as the project evolves. The definition of the project scope allows a project manager to estimate the time, cost and labour that the project may require.

Communicating the scope of the project ensures that all stakeholders agree on what to accomplish and how it can happen. Scope management reinforces this communication to limit the occurrence of changes during the project's development and defines control mechanisms to manage unforeseen events. It allows for a better cost forecast and schedule of the project, which can help prevent resource losses.

Project scope management process

There are typically six steps in project scope management:

1. Planning scope management

The first step in project scope management involves creating a scope plan document. A good starting point would be to use the project charter and project management plan. Consider the company's environment and organise meetings to create the document. The objective is to define the creation process for the scope statement, that way the team can handle change requests and disagreement on the scope elements, the acceptation procedure of deliverables and the WBS.

2. Collecting requirements

Next, you define both stakeholder requirements and expectations. To understand those requirements, you can conduct interviews, surveys, workshops and focus group discussions with the stakeholders. By using a variety of different approaches, this can better enable you to capture all the different project stakeholder's requirements that the project may meet.

There can be multiple objectives in a project, like creating a new service within an organisation or developing new product software. Document all information in an in-depth list with the intent of meeting these objectives. By having a clear and thorough understanding of all requirements, you can deliver the expected results. At the end of the requirements collection stage, these are what you may have:

  • stakeholder requirements

  • project requirements

  • business requirements

  • functional and non-functional requirements

  • support and training requirements

3. Defining scope

This is the step where you detail the scope statement, which can be referenced throughout the project. The project scope statement describes in detail everything that's included in your project, what's not included and its main deliverables. For instance, this could include the project's needs, the roles and responsibilities of each team member and the procedures to complete, verify and approve the work accomplished. It also explains the expectations in terms of project performance. The project scope statement is the basis for project decisions once all stakeholders have agreed on it.

4. Creating a work breakdown structure (WBS)

The goal of a WBS is to make a large project more manageable. Once you've identified the project deliverables in the project scope statement, you can further split them into smaller elements known as work packages, which are easier to manage. Different team members can perform tasks concurrently rather than sequentially, which may lead to better team productivity and easier project management. A project manager can assign tasks to team members, complete with deliverables and their respective deadlines. Listed below are some common WBS examples:

  • WBS list: The most straightforward approach, you can structure your WBS as a simple list of tasks, deliverable or subtasks.

  • WBS flowchart: Most WBS examples and templates are in the form of flowcharts, or a diagrammatic workflow.

  • WBS spreadsheet: A WBS can be easily structured in a spreadsheet, according to different project phases, tasks or deliverables.

  • WBS Gantt chart: A Gantt chart displays a spreadsheet, together with a timeline. This allows you to show both task dependencies and project milestones.

5. Validating scope

Scope validation is the step where stakeholders review project deliverables. This ensures they're completed according to the acceptance criteria defined during scope planning. In case of disagreement, you can revise according to the stakeholders' comments.

6. Controlling the scope

In an ideal situation, there would be no changes to scope once agreed upon during the scope planning phase, but unforeseen circumstances may necessitate a change in scope. Scope control is the process of managing the scope of the project to handle any changes to the project scope in a controlled way. The issue of scope creep occurs when changes happen in an uncontrolled manner.

In the event when there are changes required to the scope, a project manager can follow the proper change control process. This process usually involves a formal change request to the stakeholders. They analyse the impact of the requested change on the cost, quality and schedule of the project. Once approved, the project manager can then apply the changes to the initial plan.

Related: 15 Project Management Skills a Project Manager Should Have

Tips for effective project scope management

These are some important tips for managing a project and its scope:

  • Be clear: Define and detail your scope as clearly as possible, leaving no room for ambiguity. This can avoid unnecessary work on a project.

  • Be a collaborator: Make the process of defining scope an open and collaborative process to avoid any misunderstandings of requirements.

  • Involve your end user: Work towards getting end users involved as early as possible in the project, rather than only towards the end. Getting alignment among the delivery team, the client and the end user is key, as it can minimise unforeseen changes and rework further down the road.

  • Enlist help when needed: Consulting an expert or specialist to get their opinion can help you identify any potential issues during the planning phase of the project. Similarly, consulting the stakeholders through meetings or workshops is essential to gather all requested information and communicate about the project's scope to ensure success of the project.

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