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Understanding scope baseline for project management 8 min read
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A scope baseline should be part of any comprehensive project plan. In addition to maintaining your schedule and budget, it also provides guidance on the necessary steps to complete the required deliverables, driving your progress toward success. Find out how a strong scope baseline can shield your project from the impact of scope creep and keep everything on track.

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What is a scope baseline?

A scope baseline is a critical section of a project plan that includes three key components:

  1. The scope statement: Breaks down the full scope of the project including the necessary work, the promised deliverables, and the intended objectives.
  2. The work breakdown structure (WBS): Distills deliverables into smaller, manageable tasks.
  3. The WBS dictionary: Defines the deliverables alongside their associated activities and tasks.

The scope baseline serves as a formal agreement among all internal and external parties. If you need to change the project scope, you’ll need to complete an agreed-upon process and seek approval again from all stakeholders.

You’ll use this document throughout the project to evaluate progress and adjust activities as needed to stay within scope. This prevents scope creep from impacting project success.

“Scope baseline” is a part of our Project Management Glossary — check out the full list of terms and definitions!

Scope baseline vs. scope creep

Scope creep occurs when project stakeholders add new deliverables during the course of project development without accounting for the necessary resources.

Scope baseline provides protection from scope creep by defining all components of a project in advance and ensuring approval from stakeholders before moving forward. This step-by-step guide shows you how to create a scope baseline.

How do you develop a scope baseline for your project?

You know you need a scope baseline, but how do you get started with creating one? Follow these four simple steps.

Establish your work breakdown structure

First, you’ll need to establish your work breakdown structure, or WBS. The WBS distills each part of the project into a hierarchy of smaller tasks to be completed. Larger tasks are called “project packages.” At the lowest level, tasks are called “work packages.” Each project package consists of several work packages or even several smaller project packages, depending on the complexity of the project. You’ll add more information in the next step.

Document the WBS dictionary

Once you’ve fleshed out the WBS, you’ll write the corresponding WBS dictionary by adding the following information to each component:

  • The title of the planning or work package
  • A detailed description of the package boundaries, including deliverables and scope exclusions
  • Name and contact information for the individual, team, or organization assigned responsibility for the package
  • Final deliverables for the package, including intermediate deliveries required for completion
  • Criteria for acceptance of project deliverables, including quality expectations, physical and functional requirements, and the person or team responsible for approval
  • Budget, resource information, and assumptions
  • Schedule for completion, including start dates, end dates, milestones, constraints, and task interdependencies
  • Assessment of possible threats to successful completion and the plan to mitigate these risks

Now that you have both the WBS and WBS dictionary in place, the next step is the scope statement.

Develop the scope statement

Next, you’ll express the project goals, purpose, and key deliverables in a concise statement, along with assumptions that drive the goals of the project and possible constraints, such as limited time or budget. Optionally, you can include details about acceptance criteria for the deliverables, the underlying business objectives supported by the project, and project exclusions, which are specific items that fall outside of scope. Finally, it’s time to get the draft scope baseline approved by project stakeholders.

Get the scope baseline approved by stakeholders

Generally, you should seek scope sign-off from all internal and external individuals or teams involved in the project. Many organizations use a project steering committee that consists of the project manager and senior representatives from each team. If you work for a larger organization, you might have a standard project governance or approval process to follow. Your scope baseline should serve as a standing reference throughout the course of the project. If you find the scope starts to shift, gain consensus among stakeholders about whether it’s time to engage in the formal change process established at the start of the project. You can gain support for this process by expressing the pros (and potential cons) of the scope baseline.

Benefits and drawbacks of a well-defined scope baseline

As discussed, scope baselines primarily protect the project from scope creep, which can dramatically affect cost and schedule. Once the baseline document has been approved by all stakeholders, changes to the scope require a formal process and the development of an updated scope document. A well-defined scope baseline protects your project from scope gaps, which occur when stakeholders have different expectations about the scope of the project and its final goals and deliverables. You’ll also have documented agreement about the scope of the project with buy-in from all involved parties.

With a solid scope baseline in hand, you’ll be able to create an accurate project budget and timeline, which can prevent conflicting expectations about the final product. You’ll also have a performance measurement baseline in place as a benchmark to evaluate the success of the project once it wraps up. Regardless of your industry, a scope baseline can help improve productivity.

What industries are scope baselines used in?

Including a scope statement in your project charter makes sense for most types of projects. Some examples of areas that commonly use scope baselines include:

  • Construction and remodeling
  • Web design and development, including user experience
  • Product and software development
  • Event planning
  • Service contracts
  • Project management and consulting
  • Government and nonprofit proposals
  • Marketing and PR campaigns supports scope baseline tools for all these purposes and more.

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Using for effective scope baseline creation and monitoring makes it easy to create and share schedules and cost baselines for all types of projects. Our Project Scope Document Template provides a simple, intuitive way to write and keep track of your scope statement, work breakdown structure, and WBS dictionary. Change it up with multiple views so you can present the info in a way that works best for your business. For example, access the workload view that shows everyone’s tasks or a calendar view that links dates to your document.

When the Project Scope Document Template is used in conjunction with’s Work OS, you can create and monitor your scope baseline throughout the course of the project, improving transparency and communication across your entire project team. The template creates the foundation for a proactive approach to productivity with’s suite of project management tools. You can save valuable time by automating your most common repeated actions and integrate them with your go-to apps to accelerate each step toward success. Detailed dashboards show you your progress at a glance with the ability to add task dependencies, responsible parties, and other details so your team will have everything they need to push the project forward.

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Frequently asked questions

What are the three components of a scope baseline?

The three components of a scope baseline include the scope statement, the work breakdown structure, and the WBS dictionary. The scope statement describes the project and concisely defines its scope. The work breakdown structure, or WBS, breaks each part of the project into the smallest possible tasks, called work packages. The WBS dictionary provides the necessary details for the completion of each work package.

What is a scope baseline?

A scope baseline is a document that establishes the deliverables included in a project. Items that do not appear in the scope baseline are considered outside of scope. Teams must complete a formal change control process for new deliverables introduced after approval of the baseline document.

Solidify your scope baseline for project success

Starting a project with a clear scope baseline puts everyone on the same page. It prevents misunderstandings and unclear expectations among stakeholders while providing a road map for developing the agreed-upon deliverables. Whether you’re a newly minted project manager or have already spent years in the career, a scope baseline template deserves a permanent spot in your toolbox.

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