Defining Project Scope: The Ultimate 2021 Guide

When you start working on any new project, especially one you’re excited about, it can be challenging to stop yourself from getting started right away. Why wouldn’t you want to get started right away? The answer lies in an essential step of your project process known as defining your project’s scope.

Ultimately, projects have a beginning and end phase in mind that will produce some desired product or service that will benefit your business or customers. Without properly defining the bounds and goal of any project, you run the risk of running off course, encountering inefficiencies, or ultimately producing something different from what you and your team had initially intended.

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What do we mean by ‘project’ and ‘scope’?

When we talk about a project, we refer to any temporary initiative put in place or the purpose of creating some result, whether that means a product, service, or other finished product. A project is only completed when the end goal is achieved or when it is deemed that goals cannot or will not be able to be achieved. Any successful project must begin with a plan, and defining a project’s scope is an integral aspect of any project plan.

Next, when we talk about scope, we refer to the vast array of tasks that your team must complete to accomplish a specific project’s objectives. This process includes identifying the various outcomes, milestones, and overall goals that make up the larger project’s accomplishment and success. This will identify points such as timelines and costs to be planned for and accomplished without roadblocks.

Team Working to Define Project Scope at Meeting

Necessary Steps For Defining Your Project Scope

While the project scope is just the first step in actually getting started on your project, there are many steps that you should be careful to take into account to ensure the success of the rest of the project.

Step 1: Planning

This step should be completed by the Project Manager (PM). To identify and outline the project’s purpose, the PM should list and answer questions such as, what are the project objectives and goals? Or how is success measured and defined as progress is made?

After some of these questions are answered, the scope may come a little clearer into focus. However, the scope can be made even clearer by identifying those tasks or items that are not within the project’s scope. Identify the products and areas that will be focused on and which will be not. Additionally, identify which team members will use capital infrastructure to complete the project and what should be left out. The more detail included in your scope, the better chance of your project ending successfully. 

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Step 2: Definition

This part of the process involves identifying keep players, employees, or ‘stakeholders’ involved in helping to make the project happen. This involves delineating tasks, determining who has the authority to make project decisions or individuals who are the go-to for providing project information.

Step 2 includes identifying the needs of the individuals who will be benefiting from the growth and implementation of your project. Your team can complete this step by conducting focus groups, interviews, or surveys to tell you more about the population of focus. You’ll also want to identify the specific compliance standards by regulatory and industry authorities to keep in mind when moving forward with the project.

Step 3: Documentation

For the first aspect of this step, you’ll want to physically write or type out the justification behind the project’s implementation. Make sure to write down what the project deliverables are, the deliverables’ objectives, and how your team should accomplish each aim to achieve the deliverables. Making a hard copy of the plan and expectations helps keep the entire team on the same page and ensure that the project doesn’t drift from the original intended purpose.

Step 4: Change Management

No matter what your project is and no matter how sure you are that nothing will change over its journey, changes will always occur. Thus, it becomes necessary to establish a scope management control process and plan. 

That said, it can be difficult to properly manage a project and its scope if it is poorly planned for in advance. Changes can lead to increased time, money, and energy spent on specific steps of the project or the project as a whole, which in the end, might not be beneficial to the overall success of your business. These changes are called scope creep.

Identifying Problems with Project Scope

Preventing Project Scope Creep

Scope creep refers to the additional steps, responsibilities, and jobs that are added to a job that you initially did not draw up in the original plans for the project. As previously mentioned, this can lead to deviations from the initial amount of time, money, and resources that you initially delegated for the project. It’s easy to understand how this could be detrimental to the project’s success and your organization.

In order to prevent the presence of scope creep, it’s advised that pre-project scope planning is taken as seriously as possible. All and all, the more detail you can include in the scope defining process, the better off you will be, long-term. Be sure to set clear measurable objectives and steps that can help you to moderate the progress of the project. This all requires communication acuity with all parties involved in helping to bring the project to fruition.

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