Defining Project Scope — Your Shining Light in the Darkness

project managementDefining the scope of your project is one of the more important steps in the planning process. Creating a project scope statement will provide you with clarity and guidance as you begin your project and team members or external sources try and modify the direction of your team. Losing focus on your ultimate goal can create delays and possibly kill your project. As a project manager, your responsibility, I would even say your reason for coming to work, is to keep your project team on task and deliver your results on time.

The project scope statement is a formal document that details the project objectives, deliverables, and the work that will be required to produce the deliverables. The document should be referred to frequently to help make future project decisions as you are pushing through the project implementation. It will also provide the criteria so you know when your project is complete. The importance of this document cannot be underestimated. Trying to successfully complete a project without a project scope statement is like trying to cross the Atlantic without a compass — you might make it, but success will probably be an accident.

With my clients, we create a project scope early in the planning process. Scope creep is a real danger with my clients and the project scope statement can help you keep it in control. My clients are all well-intentioned an as we begin project implementation, great ideas related to the project flow like water. While introducing some of these ideas in the project may sound like a great idea, they could derail our efforts to the level that we are unable to produce the intended outcomes. The formalized statement also helps me because I use it to create the work breakdown structure (WBS) and subsequent work packages. I also send it to the executive management team early in the process so I can get their buy-in and feedback.

But once project implementation begins, I can’t tell you how many times I use the scope statement to give my team direction. Invariably someone will passionately pitch a new deliverable to the project team. With the clearly defined scope statement that I have gotten approval for by executive management and buy-in from my implementation team, I usually will make the team decide if the new deliverable can be included in the current project. While I can say with a straight face that they will usually make the right choice, there have been times where I will have to step in and put the suggested deliverable in a docket for another project.

The good news is with the scope statement, it is easier to keep your team focused on key performance indicators (KPI) and the intended outcomes and deliverables of your project. It is important to spend time on this step of the planning process, making sure you include lots of details. Your statement should include: 1. scope description, 2. acceptance criteria, 3. deliverables, 4. exclusions, 5. constraints, and 6. assumptions. I will go into significant detail for each of the six components of a scope statement in a later article.

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About the Author

I am the author of this site, and what I say goes. I love talking about the benefits of formalized and professional project management and getting stuff done.