The practical guide to project scope management
Without a project scope, most projects fail. Plain and simple.
There’s not enough direction. No one understands who’s doing what…or when.
Without a project scope, things either fizzle or spiral out of control. Either way, nothing is accomplished–but a lot of resources are wasted in the meantime. Precious resources. Like money. And Time.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In this post, we’ll be diving into how you can practically determine and perfect the scope of your projects so that they’re efficient, effective, and objective-focused.
What is project scope?
First, let’s get on the same page about what project scope really is.
Project scope is a manner of setting specific limits and boundaries to the project. This involves defining goals, tasks, deliverables, deadlines and expectations around what is needed from all parties involved, as well as a definition of what is and what is not part of the project.
Project scope is not a technical specification of deliverables written in broad brush strokes. Instead, it’s a very defined, specific, and detailed with lots of clarity and no gray areas that could lead to ambiguity around the project.
So why does project scope matter, anyway?
Author Basil S. Walsh was of the project management methodology that said this: “An intelligent plan is the first step to success. The man who plans knows where he is going, knows what progress he is making and has a pretty good idea when he will arrive.”
Makes sense, right? A project scope is the plan behind your project that helps you keep everything (and everyone) on track over the course of its execution.
There are some other specific benefits to having a project scope as well relating to clarity, focus, and organization as well. Let’s explore each in more detail.
The clarity that comes from project scope means less time is spent guessing or making assumptions about what needs to be done and by whom. That means everyone involved can feel more confident about their roles and a stronger grasp on what’s expected of them during the course of the project.
A focused project scope keeps the project from inflating or falling short of the original vision by defining what is part of the project as well as what isn’t. This keeps things from derailing or ballooning to a point where it’s no longer manageable. No one wants to be part of a project that ultimately feels directionless.
Having a project scope helps kick off a project with an organized roadmap for the ideal order of operations so that things flow smoothly in a logical progression with benchmarks along the way. This helps all stakeholders see their parts of the larger whole and saves the team from feeling like every decision is being made in a “pants on fire” manner.
Guiding principles for determining project scope
First, you need to know the “why” behind your project and the core elements that need to be in place for the project to be successful. This means starting with research and information-gathering to be sure you have a strong grasp on what the project really is. Don’t rush this step–take your time and get all the facts in place before moving ahead.
Define your parameters
As you build out the project scope’s parameters, include clear objectives, phases and due dates, tasks, resources, budgets, and responsibilities. A key part of this will be defining SMART goals, which means goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-possible. This also means taking the time to ask (and answer) important questions related to the project.
For example, if the project is installing new PM software for the members of the sales team, determining the project’s scope means asking yourself and the relevant stakeholders questions such as: Does the project include making sure that the new PM software is actually adopted by the sales team? Does it include maintenance service? Does it include onboarding every team?
From here, it’s time to start assigning tasks. You know your team members’ strengths, so assign project tasks that speak to their best skills–but don’t overload people. Delegation is the name of the game, but be clear about their role within the larger project and explain how their piece will be part of the whole so they can visualize what they’re helping work toward.
Spell out what’s not included in the scope
Be clear about what’s beyond the project scope. Hard boundaries and constraints to the project keep the tasks (and the people assigned them) focused. It helps move people from a mindset of “I’m not sure I can do this” to “I don’t do this.” Eliminate ambiguity and brainstorm as a team to spot the holes in a project scope or to find what questions are naturally prompted.
For example, if you are bringing in outside contractors to scale up your efforts within a specific department, you’ll need to be clear with them about what you need and when. A project scope helps ensure both parties are on the same page and that together you’ll reach the desired end goal, on budget and on time. Be clear about responsibilities and ask questions like: Are they responsible for implementation, or just strategy? How many phone calls are included? How many rounds of revisions?
As you work on different phases of the project, be sure that everyone is staying on track and that deliverables aren’t falling through the cracks. Set clear benchmarks and deadlines along the way to help gauge the momentum of the project and use them as indicators of progress toward the final goals.
For example, if you’ve hired a web designer to help build out a new website, deliverables tied to deadlines and phases will help keep things moving and from getting too far ahead or behind. You may even parcel out that professional’s pay so that they’re only paid once certain benchmarks are met, as this can act as a powerful motivator for progress on both sides of the business relationship.
Project scope management: Stay on target
The bottom line when it comes to project scope management: Less isn’t more.
The more specific you can be about the project, what it entails, who’s doing what, and the timeline for deliverables, the more you can build a roadmap for a successful end result that everyone involved can be proud of.
Don’t be afraid to get down in the details when building out your project scope. When you do, everyone benefits.