How to write a project scope

By Anwar on Nov 25
Project scope how-to

We have come a long way in understanding how to be more streamlined in achieving our goals and objectives. Project management is a highly sought-after field, and the demand to have skilled leaders who can achieve project goals is increasing day by day.

But what defines a project? A project needs to be a time-bound endeavor with specific goals and objectives that is expected to have a unique outcome. The opposite of a project is thought to be an operation, which is not time-bound during its inception, includes routine work and is focused on achieving the same results over and over again.

Think of an operation as chartering known territory (for the most part), and a project as chartering unknown territories, and naturally, when chartering unknown territories, it is crucial to take precautions and plan on maximizing the chances of the best outcome, i.e., achieving your goals.

That is where project scope management comes in. Scope management is perhaps the most important of the ten knowledge areas of project management, and the work on designing one starts soon as a project charter is signed off.

As the name suggests, scope management manages what comes under the project’s umbrella, and what does not, depending upon the project's unique objectives.

Project scope management

As simple as it sounds, it is perhaps the most critical of all project management knowledge areas since it lays the foundation for each and everything that is going to be done in the upcoming project. It affects what will be done, who will be doing it, and then, lastly, managing how it is being done to ensure things outside the requirements are not dwelled upon.

It trickles down on everything that is going to be done in the upcoming plans: the schedule management plan, the risk management plan, and especially, the cost management plan, since increased scope means increased work and hence, increased costs (The triple constraint of projects).

What is project scope

Project scope statement

A project has distinct goals and objectives that need to be achieved for it to be successful. Project scope is defining what is included within the bounds of the project, and what is not, with respect to the goals and objectives allocated for that project. Project scope management includes all the processes required to ensure that the project includes all the work required (i.e., not cutting any corners), and only the work required (i.e., not doing more than necessary. See: Gold-Plating ) to complete the project successfully and achieve the objectives in a timely and cost-effective manner.

The crux of it is the project scope statement, which is taken as a baseline for any work defined in the future, and its scope. Defining the scope of a project is a delicate mixture of science and art.

For instance, constructing both, a house and a hotel has the same fundamental processes involved, but how it needs to be built and what needs to be prioritized is worlds apart for the two. A hotel needs to have an open, welcoming reception hall in order to attract potential customers’ business, while a house with a reception hall could just about be the biggest waste of resources it could have.

You could get away with using sup-par cement in a couple of rooms for the house, but the same could not be applied to a 50-story hotel due to the obvious structural risks. You could take your time with constructing your house, but constructing a hotel has to be a time crunch since it is a business and stakeholders are involved. Add modern day projects, which especially includes software projects and digital endeavors, and things get exponentially complicated.

Team spirit

A project scope-defined to help the deaf understand verbal communication just includes translating to basic sign language, whilst a project scope-defined to help the deaf experience the exciting flow and emotions of a conversation opens dozens of creative doors for the developers, albeit potential difficulties.

While it rigorously uses science to streamline the work, there needs to be a touch of art to ensure that the umbrella of the work included allows for creativity and expansion of the objectives in lieu of adapting to changing circumstances.

Why do you need a project scope

Why scope projects

In one word: scope creep. The triple constraint of project management mentioned earlier can quickly bring down the biggest and the best managed projects around. According to PMI, the project management institute, a whopping 70% of all projects fail – including the ones that were planned according to the project management principles. Scope creep is a significant factor of this substantial cut, and it needs to be managed sternly from the get-go to ensure the scope is managed effectively.

There are many reasons why a project scope (or project scope management) is required:

  • High level project goals are never clearly defined, which introduces confusion, indecisiveness and eventually scope creep later in the project lifecycle.
  • Clients are usually too occupied in drawing out the requirements early in the project cycle, and complain later down the line when the project ends up producing undesirable results (especially software projects/ Agile projects).
  • It is effortless to attain incorrect requirements and specifications by talking to the wrong people (non-customers, for example).
  • All the “experts” have the project scope within their own minds. Too many cooks ruin the broth!
  • If things are ambiguous later in the project lifecycle, they need to be filled by second-guessing, which deviates the project from its mission and vision.
  • Requirements are interpreted differently by all the stakeholders, and this could result in a lot of effort being wasted down the line (or even failure of the project!)
  • Scope creep – without a defined scope, the project could take up a lot of more time to be completed, a lot of more effort, and a incur heavy financial penalties – all the while risking the completion of the project.

6 steps on how to write project scope statement

Project scope steps

The final extract of all our labor is the project scope statement, which concisely and explicity summarizes what is included in the scope of the project, and what is not. While it is fairly easy to find a project scope statement templates online, constructing a meaningful scope statement requires deep understanding of the project, it’s objectives, the environment it is being worked on, and an iterative mindset to restructure the scope as the knowledge surrounding the project deepens. While this can be a daunting task, it can be loosely molded into the following steps:

1. Understanding the project goals

Project goals and objectives need to be clearly defined and deeply understood before attempting to limit the scope of the project. It is especially crucial to understand why the project was initiated, and under what circumstances. The environment of the organization plays a pivotal role in this and needs to be taken into consideration as well. Then we can move onto the project charter the define objectives of the project.

The purpose of a project is to simply achieve the given objectives within the given constraints (resources, time, expertise), and understanding the goals leaves room for creative problem solving. Defining the scope too strictly or too loosely can be disastrous down the line.

2. Outline crucial objectives

Not all goals and objectives are created equally. It is very important to understand what goals and objectives are critical to the success of the project objectives. For example, it might be imperative for a project to be completed within a certain amount of time, or budget, while the quality is preferred in others.

The construction of Burj Khalifa is a project widely accepted to be successful because of how luxurious it has turned out be, but by standards set by PMI and the project management Principles, it is thought to be a failure because the scope needed to be contained, it’s schedule and timeline was a disaster, and the actual cost was a multiple of the estimated cost. But since the crucial objective was to have a one-of-a-kind wonder of the world, the project is successful in the eyes of the stakeholders.

3. List down major deliverables

Listing down the major deliverables allows us to have a bird’s eye view of what the progress should look like, and then decide upon what skills and resources are crucial to the success of the project. The effects of these deliverables can then be factored into the scope statement, which can be highlighted as the “pain points” when the lower order of work (Work Breakdown Structure) is compiled.

4. Identify major constraints

List all of the foreseeable major roadblocks at the time of the inception of the scope plan. This should enlist manpower, budget, resource, technology, or any geographical limitations that could directly or indirectly affect the scope. Expert opinion and judgement is paramount to getting this right.

5. List exclusions of the scope

This is where the bounds are actually going to be defined, explicitly stating what lies outside the scope of the project. For instance, a software project built to help the deaf have a conversation does not need to teach basic sign language to people. Decisions would need to be made here that will have lasting effect on the lower/working level of the project. Again, goals and objective might need to be recursively revisited, and expert opinion and judgement is crucial to making these cuts optimally.

6. List all the assumptions

List all the assumptions while defining the scope of the work. For example, assuming that a sufficient workforce will be available from 9 to 5 during the workdays; required technology and manpower would available; no unexpected events (natural disasters, pandemics) will occur etc. This not only helps with the scope creep but also with the legal obligations down the project’s lifecycle.

Avoid scope creep with project management software

Once all of this information is extracted and compiled, use a project scope statement template and carefully write down the project scope that will serve as a guideline to all future activities related to the project. Congratulations, you’ve just potentially saved your project from incurring unwarranted financial losses, wasting valuable time, and even the risk of a total crash and burn.

Project board tasks

Following all the project management principles to ensure smooth, practical and cost-effective execution of all the project objectives is an exhausting responsibility. To ease this burden, various project management tools are available to help make the ever-evolving science of project management not only widely accessible, but easier, meticulous, and satisfactory.