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Project scope is the single most defining aspect of your project. Not your goals, deliverables, or stakeholders. Together these pieces complete the puzzle that is finishing a project on time, within budget, and without overstressing your team. 

Defining what project scope is early on in the project life cycle and evaluating it throughout your project planning keeps your goals achievable. In this guide, we’ll cover all the steps needed to define and hone your project scope.

What Is Project Scope?

Project scope is the definition of a project's objectives and deliverables. It basically defines what will be done in order to complete the project successfully. It is the key guiding statement at the outset of your project.

Project scope defines key stakeholders, resources, and timelines that are essential to a successful project. The scope defines what your completed project includes and just as importantly, what it does not.

The project scope also states any limitations or constraints that may affect how the project is completed. Project scope determines the boundaries of a project and helps project managers ensure that all tasks required for successful completion are finished within the project timeline and budget. It’s one of the most important factors to define when you start a project

What Is A Project Scope Statement?

A project scope statement is a document that outlines the project's deliverables. It includes details such as project objectives, the scope of work, the project timeline, and the project budget. This document helps project managers communicate project expectations to stakeholders and team members.

You will reference the scope statement throughout your project to ensure you are within the scope and on track to meet your goals. Defining project scope will help you keep the endgame in mind without distractions or additions to the initial goal. 

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What Is Scope Creep?

Scope creep is the phenomenon where project scope increases over time. It occurs when project managers add tasks or features to a project (often at the request of a client) without properly assessing the impact it will have on the project timeline and budget.

This can lead to project delays and cost overruns, which can be damaging to any project.

The scope of a project will be your guide to completing a project. Therefore important stakeholders should be consulted when determining goals and deliverables. Anticipating everything a project needs early and including it within your scope will help you prevent scope creep.

By implementing a project scope management strategy, you can work to eliminate distractions and hurdles that may impede your timeline and overall success. 

Why Is Project Scope Important?

Having a project scope is important because it serves as a reference for project managers, stakeholders, and project team members.

Understanding the project scope helps project managers track project progress, assess project risks, allocate resources effectively, and ensure that the project stays within budget. 

Writing a project scope allows project managers to present and share a project with managers and task owners in a simple and effective way. Without a project scope statement, project managers would find it difficult to keep the project on track and complete it

What Should Project Scope Include?

A project scope should include project objectives, project deliverables, project timeline, project budget, and any constraints or limitations.

These items will help project managers set realistic expectations for the project and ensure that all tasks are completed within the project timeline and budget. It is typically included on the statement of work or contract for the client. 

Also, make a note of anything that’s explicitly out of scope. For example, if you’re conducting a marketing campaign that involves Google Ads or pay-per-click ads, but you are not responsible for a landing page for those ads, make sure this exclusion is noted in your scope statement.

How To Define Scope

1. Identify The Project Goals 

This is the first step in a project scope definition. It involves defining project objectives, understanding project requirements, and understanding any constraints that may affect project completion. It is also imperative to define any exclusions, which states what the project will not be covering.

2. Define The Deliverables

Once project goals have been identified, project managers can define project deliverables. This includes listing out the tasks that must be completed in order to achieve project objectives. It also includes who will be in charge of defining and reviewing acceptance criteria of the final deliverables.

As part of this step, you’ll likely create a work breakdown structure (WBS), which lists all tasks, sub-tasks, and deliverables.

3. Set A Timeline 

Project managers need to determine the project timelines, deadlines, and workflows for project completion. This will help project stakeholders understand when the project is expected to be finished and how to manage the overall project schedule.

Milestones can break it down so each part of the project can feel like it’s adding to the overall success with measurable goals. 

Here, consider creating a Gantt chart as well. Gantt charts provide a useful visualization of the order that tasks needed to be completed in, which tasks are dependent on others, and how long each task is estimated to take.

4. Estimate The Resources Needed

Having an accurate estimate of project resources ensures that project team members have the necessary tools and materials needed to complete assigned tasks. It’s important to define task owners early and include them in the drafting of the scope of your project.

Conduct some preliminary resource management activities and start putting a team together. Factor in resource availability and budget. 

  • What skills are required to complete the deliverables?
  • How many developers and/or designers do I need?
  • Are the team members I need available to work on this project? If not, what are my options?
  • Is there enough budget for a more senior designer? If not, can I find a way to use less of their time by pairing them with a more junior designer?

Project Scope Example

If you were a project manager heading up a new project for delivering finished computers from the manufacturing warehouse to clients across the county, a simple project scope may look something like the following:

Introduction

Ship ABC manufactured computers to distribution centers across the United States in time for the holiday shopping season.

Project Scope

  • This project will include shipping 500 computers manufactured in October 2022 by ABC
  • Defining how many computers ABC’s 10 distributors need
  • Planning routes and deliveries for ABC delivery trucks
  • ABC shipping activities will be handled by John Doe shipping manager and all distribution information will be provided by Mary See of procurement.

Project Deliverables

500 shipped computers to ABC’s 10 distributors no later than 11/30/2022.

Acceptance Criteria

Mary See will review the number of computers shipped to each distributor and ensure all computers have been shipped appropriately.

Exclusions

All products manufactured after October 2022 will not be included in this project.

Project Constraints

Shipping deadlines and communication between ABC and outside distributors.

Using a template can help ensure you have a consistent and effective project scope document every time. 

Project Scope Defined

Now that you know that project scope defines project deliverables, constraints, and timeline, you can use these tools to begin your next project on the right trajectory and keep it there.

Defining your project scope can help you keep the boundaries of the project at the forefront and ensure the project's success remains the priority. Using project management tools can help you keep the project schedule on track and ensure that scope creep has no chance of sneaking in.

To learn more about project scope and how to present it to others, check out this article on creating a project roadmap.

Also, project management software can help track project progress against the scope of the project, as well as with managing change requests that can cause scope creep. Here’s some of the best options for project management software currently on the market.

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By Galen Low

Galen is a digital project manager with over 10 years of experience shaping and delivering human-centered digital transformation initiatives in government, healthcare, transit, and retail. He is a digital project management nerd, a cultivator of highly collaborative teams, and an impulsive sharer of knowledge. He's also the co-founder of The Digital Project Manager and host of The DPM Podcast.