What is Project Scope?

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Definition:

The project scope defines all of the work to be completed during the project. The scope describes what is to be accomplished with the project. It defines the end-product to be delivered to the customer ​by a particular point in time and at a specified budget or cost. Additionally, the scope defines the boundaries of the work, allowing team members to accurately assess what is and is not part of the required effort.

 

The Power of a Carefully Constructed Project Scope:

A carefully specified scope statement is a critical enabler of project success and an integral part of the practice of effective project management. Benefits include:

  • The statement allows the project team and the customer(s) to ensure that they share a common view of the expected features, quality and timing of the project. 
  • The scope allows the project team the ability to clearly identify and engage with stakeholders: individuals or groups who are impacted by the project and gain their support and involvement. 
  • The scope serves to help team members focus on just the work required to meet the customer's needs. 
  • If changes are suggested that are beyond the boundaries of the original scope, the statement serves as a guide for estimating and proposing modifications. If the changes are accepted by all involved stakeholders, the scope statement is revised. 

    Creation of the Project Scope:

    The project manager in conjunction with team members, customers, the executive sponsor and key stakeholders works to understand and describe the required output from the project initiative, often referenced as the deliverable. This deliverable includes a cost or acceptable cost range that is validated in planning and estimating activities.

    It also defines the key features to be included as well as the time-frame for final delivery of the project. Once agreed upon by the customer, the project manager, project team and executive sponsor, any changes to this scope statement must be made using a carefully controlled and documented change process. 

    Cascading Impact of the Project Scope on Others:

    Once the scope statement or document has been agreed upon, the involved work teams use the information in the statement to estimate their own work, timing and costs. The more precise and accurate the scope statement, the more likely it is that the work teams will produce accurate estimates and resource requirements. 

    Project Scope Statements Identify What's Not Included in the Initiative:

    It is not uncommon for the project scope document to also list specific items that are not part of the project scope and thus are excluded from the work to be delivered. For example, a project to build a house might stipulate that obtaining environmental permits is to be done by the owner and is outside the project scope of the contractor building the house.

    The Impact of a Poorly Constructed Project Scope:

    Lack of clarity around the project scope is a common source of project stress and failure.

    A vague or ambiguous scope document leaves many issues open to debate and uninformed judgment calls, impacting the features, the quality, the timing and the cost of the initiative. 

    Another challenge with a vague scope statement coupled with weak change processes is called: scope creep. Scope creep occurs when the customer requests and work teams add additional capabilities to the deliverable, beyond the intent or boundaries of the original plans. 

    Changing the Scope:

    While frequent scope changes will delay the completion of the project and potentially add significant costs, there are some situations where it is necessary and reasonable to adjust the scope. Project Managers rely on a "change management" process that identifies the requested change, revises all corresponding time, cost and workload estimates and reassesses the project for new risks given the change.

    Typically the project manager and executive sponsor make the final decision on changing the scope once the situation has been fully analyzed. Changes are documented in a decision log and then communicated to the larger project team. 

    **See the full Glossary of Business Management Terms and Abbreviations

    Also Known As: Project Requirements, Project Goals

    Examples: The project scope was the delivery of a one-page web site, conforming to the project specifications, within 2 weeks.

    edited by Art Petty