How to define the project scope?


One of the most common causes of project management failure is the lack of a clear definition of the project scope. Like a beacon for seafarers, the scope guides us towards the project's destination, indicating what the project intends to create and which path we must take to achieve its objectives. 

What do we mean by scope?

The project scope represents all the work, and only that work, required to deliver the product, service, or result of the project. 

Defining the scope means clarifying the objectives, deliverables, limits, and endpoint of the project. It means, therefore, providing our project with certain foundations to build upon.

How to define the project scope?

The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge - VI Edition defines the "Define Scope" process as "the process of developing a detailed description of the project and product. The key benefit of this process is that it describes the product, service, or result boundaries by defining which of the requirements collected will be included in and excluded from the project scope."

The output of the process

Let's start by defining what our goal in the process is: to produce a Scope statement

The Scope Statement is a programmatic document containing a detailed description of what the project intends to create, the deliverables, and the work required to produce them. 

Although there is no standard format for drafting, the document should include at least the following elements:

  • the description of the project product;
  • the description of the project deliverables;
  • the acceptance criteria for the deliverables;
  • the exclusions from the scope;
  • the constraints of the project.

The Scope Statement will therefore govern what is and what is not included in the project. It is an important resource for the planning and execution of the entire project: 

  • in the planning phase, it will be the primary input to create a Work Breakdown Structure and to define the project activities, estimate costs and schedule;
  • in the execution phase, it will be the guide to carry out the project work within those limits and criteria, which, if accurately defined, will allow generating the value for which the project started.

The inputs

The primary source for creating the scope description is the Project Charter. The document briefly describes the project, its objectives, and how this contributes to the organization's strategic goals, the main milestones, and, above all, the high-level requirements. 

Inputs for this process are also the Scope Management Plan, which identifies how the project scope will be defined, developed, monitored, controlled, and validated, the documentation of the project requirements, the Risk Register, and the Assumption Log.

Moreover, the following elements may influence or support the scope definition:

  • organizational cultural, infrastructure, personnel administration and market conditions (Environmental Enterprise Factors);
  • policy, procedures and company's templates for creating a Scope Statement, together with lessons learned from previous projects (Organizational Process Assets).

Tools & Techniques

Among the tools and techniques we can use to define the scope, as identified in the PMBOK Guide: 

  • expert judgement, i.e., consulting specialists, stakeholders, technical and professional associations, industry groups, and experts, to help us identify the requirements;
  • product analysis, i.e., the breakdown and consequent analysis of the product's components, the analysis of its functional requirements and the value that the product has for the customer and the main project stakeholders; systems analysis and engineering.

Considerations for Agile projects

In Agile projects, the scope is defined only at a higher level at the beginning of the project and detailed progressively for each iteration. Unlike WaterfallWaterfall projects, where changes to scope are strictly controlled, changes are expected and contemplated in Agile projects.

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