Project scope — definition, best practices, examples, and more

Project scope

Project management can be challenging. Budget issues, low stakeholder engagement, and poorly defined goals are just a few problems that can impede progress. If you find yourself running into these problems frequently, the real problem may involve project scope.

Scoping a project accurately can be tricky, but with a good understanding of how it works and a list of best practices, it gets much easier. This post will cover the concept of project scope with actionable strategies to help you successfully execute your next project.

What is project scope?

Project scope is a component of project implementation that helps determine goals, constraints, workflow management strategies, tasks, and deliverables. By defining project scope, individual contributors will be able to manage their workloads more easily.

A project scope is never set in stone and you may run into unanticipated issues. But the more clearly a scope statement is designed, the easier it’ll be to pivot and address obstacles.

The importance of defining project scope

Defining and documenting project scope is crucial for keeping contributors aligned. Outline important limitations and constraints that may derail timelines, budgets, and deliverables. Defining these parameters of a project helps alleviate unforeseen issues.

It’s important to determine what results you want to measure when defining project scope, like costs or conversion rate. Then discuss the team’s vision and allow project managers (PMs) to create compromise by diagnosing areas of concern or disagreement. This helps you to understand the goals of the project and how each team can contribute.

A clear project scope:

What is a project scope statement?

The project scope statement is a detailed written outline of the project, including timeline, budget, assigned tasks, project stakeholders, and workflow strategies.

With a well defined project plan and project scope statement, it’s easier for project managers to oversee each step in the delivery of a project. The scope statement keeps contributors on task, within budget, and on track to meet deadlines.

Team leaders should also map out a procedure for project changes within the scope statement. If a change is needed, stakeholders should inform the team and follow the guidance in the project scope statement to make sure the impact is minimal.

Scope statements may vary depending on the project’s needs, but it’s important to always include a breakdown of all project tasks, deliverables, constraints, and exclusions.

Example of scope creep

What is scope creep?

Scope creep occurs when unforeseen changes in scope alter the project plan without a formal request. It’s common for stakeholders to add or alter project goals after the project has been defined, increasing the likelihood of scope creep. Budget issues, missed deadlines, and increased stress are commonly associated with scope creep.

There are a few simple strategies that can help prevent and manage scope creep.

How to define project scope

There are seven main steps to accurately and confidently define project scope. Project managers will develop some of their own best practices over time — according to what their teams uniquely need — but the broad strategy is a good place for any PM to start.

1. Establish goals and objectives

Determining measurable goals and objectives is an important first step in project planning and defining project scope. If you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to determine how to get there.

Note that goals and objectives are not interchangeable — they describe separate considerations. Goals are high-level achievements that are larger in scale, while objectives are lower-level assets in every phase of the project that help you meet goals.

2. Collect project requirements

Every project has variables like budget limitations, anticipated level of quality, client contribution expectations, and timeline. Knowing the boundaries of the project allows you to set and manage expectations. These project requirements help finalize what to include in the project scope.

3. Identify and allocate resources

In order to oversee a successful project life cycle, it’s important to understand what resources are available. Resources are any asset, from finances to contributors, that are available to help a project through to completion. Accurate planning helps make sure teams have the resources needed and keeps the project on track.

4. Create exclusions and constraints

Identify exclusions that are outside the project scope — tasks and goals that won’t be accomplished during the project life cycle. You should also clarify and define relevant constraints to the project.

Knowing what’s outside of a project’s scope is just as important as knowing what’s within it. Listing each exclusion and constraint will help prevent scope creep because it prevents work from being added outside the capabilities of your team.

5. Define deliverables

Perhaps the most important step in determining project scope is defining deliverables. Outline what needs to be accomplished and when it needs to be done.

Relevant stakeholders should create a work breakdown structure (WBS), allowing the project to be arranged into smaller, individual tasks. Project managers should include workflow methods and areas of efficiency in the WBS. This will help visualize the scope of the project and what is needed to complete it.

6. Get buy-in from stakeholders

Before work begins, all components of the project should be reviewed and approved by stakeholders. This is an opportunity for revisions to be made to the project scope, goals, and objectives before work begins. Keeping all stakeholders included in the planning phase helps everyone stay aligned on project goals and deliverables.

Getting stakeholder buy-in will also help alleviate scope creep and ensure everyone understands the overall vision of a project.

7. Establish a change control process

No project scope is perfect, and it’s likely changes will need to be made. Creating a change control process allows project managers to submit change requests to stakeholders, who will approve or deny the requests. What’s acceptable and what isn’t should be well defined.

Project scope example

Project scope example

Every project scope statement should follow a consistent outline. Below is a basic outline and an example of what each section might look like.

I. Introduction

The introduction should define the purpose, goal, and stakeholders. An introductory statement might start with, “This marketing project is being undertaken to create an article to post on the blog to create brand awareness.”

II. Requirements and goals (project scope)

The project scope is the main piece of the project scope statement. It should define specific requirements like budget, timeline, or contributing teams. You can also offer a vision of the deliverables.

Include a statement like, “This project will include research, content strategy, content creation, and content publication on the company blog. It will also include sharing the article on social media. All activities will be conducted by the marketing team.”

III. Deliverables

Define the actual item that needs to be completed, whom it’s going to, and any deadlines. This could be a short write-up like, “Project deliverables include one researched, written article of up to 1,000 words to be delivered by email.”

IV. Project acceptance criteria

Use acceptance criteria to set target thresholds for your project requirements. Be sure to state who will be responsible for the final analysis and how the metrics will be measured. In the project outline, you might begin with something like, “The company will review and approve the final article before publishing.”

V. Exclusions

List the components that will not be a part of the project. Identify these in writing, prior to beginning the work. For example, your statement might include, “This project will not include payment to external vendors for research or outsourced services.”

VI. Constraints

Document project constraints like budget limits or timeframes. To clearly state the potential sources of scope creep, your statement could say something like, “Constraints may include communication delays, changes in scope, or technical difficulties. The budget for this project is $21,000 and it must be completed by the end of Q3.”

VII. Change control process

Clearly define the steps required to alter the project scope, and who should be involved in any changes. The change control process in your project scope statement may read, “Any modifications to the project should be submitted to the project manager, who will assess the request and approve or deny it. Necessary stakeholders should also be included in the initial request.”

Project scope management

Once your project scope is defined, project scope management is the ongoing process of tracking and monitoring each phase of the project.

To properly manage project scope, be on the lookout for potential changes. If needed, refer to the change control process within the project scope statement. If revision is required, determine the impact to the project and include stakeholders in the decision. Most importantly, try to minimize any impact on budget and timeline.

Getting started with project scope

Clearly stating goals, tasks, deliverables, and more creates a project scope that keeps projects efficient and on track. The project scope statement helps you manage expectations and ensure teams know what’s expected of them.

To start defining your project’s scope, determine your goals and how you’ll measure them. It’s also important to ensure you’ve allocated the necessary resources and that you understand any exclusions and constraints.

A world-class workflow software is key to successfully managing project scope, and Adobe Workfront will help you manage everything from deliverables, to stakeholders, to target metrics. Take a product tour today to learn how Workfront can help you make your next project a success.