We’ve all been part of a project that exceeded time or budget, and we know how frustrating it can be to keep up with shifting (or growing) expectations when you’re responsible for the final product. One of the best ways to cut out this frustration? Write a project scope that sets boundaries at the start of a project.
What is Project Scope?
The project scope details exactly what will be delivered at the end of the project, and the parameters of the work to be done. The purpose of the project scope is to get your stakeholders and team on the same page. It also provides a concise summary of your meetings, deliverables, and agreements for everyone to refer back to.
Throughout your project, you’ll practice scope management, which begins by writing a thorough project scope document. Having these elements laid out in plain language ensures everyone’s expectations are aligned, and prevents you from overcommitting your resources.
How to Write a Project Scope
Writing a scope of project doesn’t need to be a long or complex process. Using a project scope template can expedite the process. And following the steps below will help you create a detailed project scope that helps your team track progress, manage work, and put it together in a simple, useful way.
Step 1: Collect all crucial project information
Writing a project scope begins with collecting information. Project requirements come from many different places. The following information will come from a variety of sources: your stakeholders, your team, and your project sponsors; others you’ll create from templates, research, and experience on other projects.
This is a list of the final products you will deliver at the end of the project. You may be creating a document, website, marketing campaign, video, event, work process, or combination of these deliverables.
Deliverables should be agreed upon and approved by all involved stakeholders, presenting a unified vision of the project and giving you something substantial to measure your final product against. Think about your deliverables as your finish line—the big picture goals that will guide your schedule, budget, and resource allocation.
Pro tip: when you dig into your deliverables and start to look at work packages assigned to individuals, that’s a sign you’re moving into a different document—your work breakdown structure.
Laying out your project’s resources as part of your project scope will help you see exactly how you will complete your deliverables. Ongoing resource management will require visibility into team members, budget, and capacity.
When you examine who is available to work on your project, keep in mind that their time may be partially allocated elsewhere—it’s common for workers to be assigned to multiple projects at once. Don’t assume a team member is at 100% capacity for you. Be sure to check with other managers about how they are allocating overlapping resources to their projects.
In addition to which team members will take on specific work, be sure to articulate resources like specific software, which will impact how the project is carried out.
Inclusions and exclusions
Once deliverables and resources are agreed upon, you need to turn your attention to establishing expectations for how much work will go into the deliverables. If this sounds like an unnecessary level of detail, consider the varying expectations that can come with a project, like creating a website. Such a deliverable may sound simple enough, but will the launch include user testing? How much market and competition research will you be expected to perform? How many design iterations will you create for your stakeholders to choose from?
Stakeholders need to know what you will create and how. Otherwise, unclear expectations can lead to much dreaded scope creep, derail your budget and deadlines, and expand a project to the point of unsustainability.
It’s important to list what will and will not be included in the project to avoid misunderstandings based on assumptions. Remember, you can always leave room to agree on how you will handle change orders. Just be sure to weigh any changes against how it might affect other project constraints (see next section).
There is a standard set of project constraints. Regardless of how many constraints your project has, remember that changing any one can impact the rest. Balancing all project constraints together is a crucial project management skill, as is laying out all constraints within your project scope. Project managers should clarify the limitations or parameters of the project so stakeholders and team members are fully aware of what may impact a project’s time and budget.
Listing project constraints in your scope can also be a good way to reinforce your list of exclusions. For example, you might list that you’re not including animations in a video project due to budget constraints, or that you’re excluding any more than two rounds of revision due to time constraints.
You don’t yet need to list a detailed project timeline at this point because you will be creating a project schedule next. But if there are time constraints beyond normal protocol, it’s important for your team to know up front to plan around them.
Step 2: Build out a project schedule
Once you’ve collected information about the project itself, you can determine how the project will progress toward its final deadlines. Begin with your list of deliverables and drill down from there.
Major tasks and milestones
Major tasks are one level of detail below your deliverables. These are big team tasks, not individual pieces of work, that lead to completion of deliverables. When it comes to determining how long each major task will take, let quality be your guide. Don’t just schedule tasks to completion, but rather to be completed with the kind of quality your scope has promised.
This schedule should then be used by individual team members to plan their own schedules around major deadlines, so be as thorough as possible and include all the tasks your team will be accountable for. And of course, it’s always smart to build in some buffer periods for each task whenever you can.
For projects that have an especially long timeline or multiple launch dates, it can be helpful to break the project up into phases to help your team with planning. This isn’t mandatory, but it can give a sense of accomplishment along the way and help with organization.
See "Best Practices for Scope Management" for more on how to make sure scope creep doesn't take over your next project.
Step 3: Tailor the scope to your project and organization
Because projects, stakeholders, teams, and organizations are unique, there might be information you want included in your project scope that hasn’t been covered here. For example, you might consider how your scope reflects your organization’s preferred methodologies. Or, you might find stating the purpose of your project helpful. Perhaps your stakeholders have a set of acceptance criteria they want met before the project can be completed.
In short, if there’s something important you feel should be added, make sure its inclusion helps your document achieve its purpose: encompassing the entire scope of the project to ensure that time and resources aren’t spent on unimportant additions.
Step 4: Compile and review
Now that you’ve done the legwork, you’re ready to write your project scope. The project scope should be concise and easy to read. While it can be tempting to create an all-inclusive project scope, save the thorough write-out for your project plan. A project scope doesn’t need every conceivable piece of project information. A good rule of thumb is to keep your scope to one or two paragraphs.
- Asking yourself the following questions will help you as you review and finalize your scope:
- Is it clear why this project is necessary and important?
- Do I know exactly who the project stakeholders are?
- Will my stakeholders see a value and benefit in the project?
- Are resources adequate to complete this project?
- Are timelines realistic for the deliverables?
- Does my team have access to the necessary resources?
- Is the list of inclusions and exclusions specific enough?
- Is there too much room for tasks to be added after the project has kicked off?
- Is there any project task or constraint I haven’t considered yet?
Step 5: Put your project scope to work
Your project scope will serve as a basic agreement with stakeholders as well as the foundation for several other crucial documents, including your project plan, work breakdown structure, communication plan, budget, and more. You will refer to your scope throughout the duration of your project, and it will serve as a guide when making decisions or changes, making it a great tool for standing firm when people want to make changes that will require time or money you don’t have.
A thorough and specific project scope will give you the big picture grasp you need to create and shape a project. Done right, a good scope will ultimately make it easier to plan, manage, and successfully execute your project.
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