Everything you need to know about project scope

by Jan Schiller

Managing your project’s scope is critical to managing the expectations of your stakeholders and ensuring your project’s work breakdown structure (WBS), budget, and schedule remain aligned with the project’s scope (avoiding over-or under-delivery). 

What is project scope?

The English word ‘scope’ is the extent or range of view or the area covered by an activity. Project scope defines and describes the boundaries of the project. It defines what the project is, and what it is not. For example, a scope element for building a house could be that a one-story home is in scope, and a home of two stories or more is out of scope.

How does project scope differ from product scope?

Project scope is work-oriented; product scope defines features. The project scope for building a home would address the design, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, painting, and landscape. Product scope for building a home would include descriptions of the types of flooring, walls, fixtures, windows, and plants.

Who developed the concept of scope?

In 1987, the Project Management Institute (PMI) published a white paper that became the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide in 1996. This is probably the first reference to the topic of scope and scope management.

When was scope defined?

The word ‘scope’ has been around since about 1535, derived from the Italian word ‘scopo.’

Who values project scope?

Project scope is valuable to project managers, their teams (internal or external resources), and their stakeholders (especially the stakeholder paying for the project).

Why is a project’s scope useful?

Moving forward with a project without a project scope is like building a home without a foundation; it is not reasonable to believe the project will be stable and enduring. A complete, accurate, and current scope:

  • Ensures project success by supporting effective control and management of the project’s costs, schedule, and quality.
  • Provides transparency into the thought process of the team developing the project estimates.
  • Contributes to a statement of work that defines how suppliers will add value to the project.
  • Avoids scope creep and never-ending projects.
  • Organizes the team effectively because everyone is working together towards the same result.

When should you define and manage scope?

For best results, define the scope collaboratively during the planning phase of the project management process.

Manage the scope of the project from the time the project’s scope is finalized until the project’s closure phase begins. This includes managing changes to the scope of the project.

How to define project scope.

Defining the scope of a project is the basis for successfully managing your project and ensuring project success. Here are the steps involved in defining your scope.

  1. Make, document, and communicate assumptions. Assumptions are those elements that relate to the project that are assumed to be true for the duration of the project. Assumptions are necessary to provide an estimate of the cost and schedule to deliver the project’s scope during the planning phase of a project.
  2. Develop a scope statement collaboratively. This can be two simple lists (in scope, out of scope). For more complex efforts, a table representing project elements as rows and timeframes as the columns (such as In, Next, Later, Evolving, and Out) can be used.
  3. Include the scope statement in the project’s charter.
  4. Introduce the scope statement at your project kick-off meeting to ensure a shared understanding.
  5. Align your work breakdown structure (WBS) with your scope statement.

How to manage scope.

In addition to regularly reviewing the project assumptions and communicating scope of the project, there are four steps to scope change management:

  1. Identify changes in your project’s requirements.
  2. Analyze the change for their impact on the project.
  3. Approve (or deny) the change.
  4. Implement the approved change.

What is the most important scope consideration?

Unless your project has a very short schedule, its scope will change. Expect the scope of your project to evolve and be improved throughout the process. It is common and customary for a project’s scope to be progressively elaborated through the initial phases of the project. To maximize project success and stabilize the project, limit changes to requirements and scope after the solution or product has been designed.


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