Boundaries aren’t just about safety, they also focus your efforts on desirable and achievable objectives. An artist’s painting is naturally limited by the edge of the canvas, which they carefully select and size according to their initial plan. In the same way, businesses must establish clear boundaries around all sides of their project to keep it moving in the right direction.

Overview: What is project scope?

The scope of a project is a series of detailed goals along with milestones, deadlines, and other constraints for reaching those goals. At its simplest, a project’s scope includes preset start and end points as well as success or failure standards.

Documentation of these details, known as the terms of reference or scope statement, includes a detailed description that officially establishes the boundaries, responsibilities, objectives, and processes for each part of the project. It is essentially a complete, written plan for the entire project with specific steps taking it from initiation to completion.

3 benefits of project scope

There are plenty of reasons to engage scope management practices in all of your major projects. They help keep various teams and employees on track while protecting them from unwarranted blame should something go wrong.

1. Set clear boundaries

One of the main reasons to establish a project’s scope is to clearly establish the boundaries on the project. For example, team leaders need to know the maximum amount of money or time they can spend on each stage to stay within budget for the entire project.

2. Working with a roadmap

A complete roadmap from start to finish keeps you moving in the right direction. Scope documentation provides a single framework for concept engineering and reference guide for everyone involved, which prevents the kind of miscommunication that often plagues project management efforts.

3. Maintain efficiency

Strategic planning for all of the critical processes ahead of time gives you the opportunity to set them up in the most efficient order possible. Avoiding needless repetition and coordinating efforts between departments or teams are both crucial for maintaining overall efficiency.

Why is project scope important to understand?

Understanding scope management isn’t just about knowing about terminology; it’s about understanding the underlying challenges this process seeks to address.

1. Scope control

So-called “scope creep” is a serious threat to your project. This happens when decision makers keep moving the goalpost by modifying the objectives of the project, like adding new features to a product design that’s already in the engineering process. There should be clear guidelines and procedures in place for modifying milestones or goals to avoid endless scope creep.

2. Collective responsibilities

Many projects are managed on the principle of collective irresponsibility. Without a clear chain of command, everyone will just play the blame game and avoid taking responsibility when something isn’t right. Good scope management also means setting specific responsibilities for every single stage of the project on specific people, ensuring collective responsibility from start to finish.

3. Managing expectations

Controlling stakeholder expectations is another key element of scope management. Developing a firm plan and assessing its viability through sufficient research minimizes the risk of unwelcome surprises for leadership. It also protects workers from unrealistic demands or goals set by stakeholders once the project is underway.

An industry example of project scope

A married couple hires a general contractor to consult and direct a kitchen renovation project. The couple are the stakeholders of the project, so they are the ones who have certain expectations or desires to meet. They want specific amenities or appliances, ample storage space, and a certain aesthetic standard.

During the planning meetings, the general contractor goes through each of these points and manages their expectations to keep the whole renovation within their total budget. All of these objectives, deadlines, and budgetary constraints are written down and formally agreed upon. The contractor then develops a plan for each stage of the process to ensure that the final result is on time, under budget, and is according to the agreed goals.

3 best practices when thinking about project scope

Developing and managing a project’s scope isn’t as easy as you might think. There’s no shortage of problems that can arise, which is why you need to set yourself up for success from the start.

1. Plan to make a plan

Before you officially establish a project’s scope, you need to plan to have a plan. This includes consulting all key stakeholders and going over the details of their concerns, goals, and limitations. It also requires thorough research to ensure that the goals, methods, and deadlines are actually achievable.

2. Always be specific

Ambiguous terminology is fine for motivational speeches, but not for scope documentation. Every deadline, budget, and responsibility should be recorded in full detail. Leave as little to the imagination as possible. Clear boundaries and objectives helps everyone involved measure their progress and determine if they are going in the right direction.

3. Document all decisions and plans

There’s nothing wrong with verbal agreements and discussions, but the conclusion of these matters should always be recorded according to the scope modification guidelines. Any change in expectations should see a corresponding change in the documentation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about project scope

1. How do you write scope documents?

Charts, pictures, and graphs are always great to include, but be sure to organize all pertinent details into the text as well. Scope documents should be written in a simple, orderly format oriented around stakeholder expectations followed by a procedural roadmap for achieving the stated objectives. Don’t forget to follow basic process documentation best practices, like adding introductions and conclusions to each section to summarize the goalposts of each phase.

2. What is “in” and “out” of scope?

Since “in scope” simply refers to the established objectives and milestones of a project, all scope documentation should include this information. However, it can also be helpful to specifically identify things that are “out of scope.” While you can’t define everything that’s out of scope for a project, you can mention specific things to clarify the boundaries of the project regarding specific issues.

3. How do project deliverables fit into scope management?

Deliverables are anything that the project team hands to the stakeholders or clients. This can range from blueprints and written plans to the finished product itself. Typically, major milestones in a project have an accompanying deliverable associated with completion. Even if the deliverable is just pictures or a quick walk-through, it helps keep everyone in touch with the project as it moves forward.

Look forward, not behind

The real benefit of scoping ahead now is so you don’t look back with regrets later. Scope management keeps your project moving towards an acceptable and achievable outcome. Failing to develop proper scope, or failing to stick with the plan, has disastrous consequences. Even if hindsight is clearer than foresight, that’s no reason to rush ahead blindly. Never pass up the opportunity to make a plan and manage your scope.

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