Guide: How to Best Define Project Scope

project scope

Determining a project scope is the first step to putting together a project plan and schedule. However, when you first start working with a new client, one of the biggest challenges you'll encounter is defining the project scope in a granular fashion.

More often than not, companies have a high-level, strategic idea of what they want to achieve. They rarely outline what the project will deliver at every stage. A comprehensive project scope statement sets out to eliminate this confusion and lay out a detailed map for further project execution. In this article, we’ll describe the basic steps for creating a project scope statement, provide an infographic, and show you how you can do it in Forecast.

First of all, what is the scope of a project? 

In theory, the scope of a project is its breadth and depth. In practice, a project scope is an outline of the project that consists of phases (milestones/ deliverables), tasks, estimates, and resources assigned.

The purpose of the project scope is to keep stakeholders in the loop regarding what’s being planned to deliver by mapping out the project in as much detail as you can.

Here’s an example of a simple completed project scope statement:

what is a project scope

Scoping in Forecast, a platform for managing all project operations

Typically, a project scope document takes the form of a table or an outline. The phases are listed down the side with a subset of tasks, subtasks, resources, and timeframes nested below.

On another note, a project scope is a project manager’s best friend when it comes to scope creep prevention, controlling change, or simply making sure the project doesn’t swing in an unexpected direction. So making it rock solid from the beginning is essential for championing project execution.


The elements of the project scope statement

The level of details on your project scope statement will vary depending on the complexity of the project in question. However, there are common elements a project scope needs to cover. 

  • Milestones mark time and progress-related points in your project timeline. As a rule, every project gets broken down into several milestones, meaningful steps on the way towards successful project delivery. 
  • Tasks mean to show you the scope of work for a project in the tiniest detail, pointing at specific things to be done within a short period of time. Every milestone comprises several tasks, which, in turn, can get subdivided into subtasks. 
  • Subtasks stand for the smallest meaningful units that summarize a certain amount of work. When defining the scope of a project from A to Z, you will need to account for all the things that require time, no matter how small they are. 
  • Start & end dates aim to show where your project timeline starts and where it ends, giving the project a clear time frame to stick to. 
  • Estimations come in different shapes and sizes. That is, your scope of a project example will feature various estimations, including how much time and money the project requires, as well as what resources it asks for.  
  • Roles outline what expertise will be needed to set the project in motion. With all roles clearly defined, you will have a solid idea of what kind of experts you need to invite to participate in the project. 
  • Assignees stand for a list of people who were assigned to the project because they match the roles you outlined for the project and have enough availability to join the hustle. 


Challenges in scoping a project

The need to define the scope of a project, however, brings along various challenges. The truth is, whenever there’s a project scope, there’s scope creep. Despite PMI’s recommendation that the scope of a project should be clear and specific from the start, our in-house research has shown that 71% of tasks are actually created after the project begins.

Scope creep often begins with minor changes to the scope of a project, waiting for feedback from your client or underestimated tasks. Then, suddenly it turns into several days or weeks of extra work.

As a result, it could make the project run overtime, stretch your resources, and push other projects and clients further from their completion dates. That’s why you just have to know how to define the scope of work for a project and navigate through change.


How to define a project scope

There are a number of steps to follow if you want to create a comprehensive project scope statement. It's better if you use the same tool for scoping, scheduling, executing, and monitoring your project to keep things consistent for stakeholders. So below we’ve collected some actionable tips on how you can scope your project with Forecast.

The Scoping section is where you plan out your project, mainly determining and documenting the list of specific goals/milestones, deliverables, tasks, deadlines, and, of course, ultimately the cost of your project.


1. Understand the reason for the whole operation

When you initiate a project, one of the first things to set clear will be the reasons for starting the project altogether. You will need to develop a convincing business case and conduct a feasibility study to prove that the idea behind the project can actually be brought to reality. Your definition of a project scope, therefore, should not only explain what components go into the project but also the reasons for initiating it in the first place. 

Understanding why you need the project and what problems it is going to solve will give you an excellent start before you move on to the next steps on how to determine the scope of a project. Not to mention that it will reduce your risks and bring more clarity into the picture, giving everyone a bright beacon to swim to.

2. Determine the goals of the project

The importance of goal setting is the mantra they preach in every personal development or company growth book, course, and documentary. Project management is no exception: defining your goals is paramount at the early stages of your project scoping process. For the scope of a project to be clear and specific from the start, you need to set measurable goals, which will later help you estimate your progress. Interesting fact, a recent report by the PMI states that 37% of projects fail because stakeholders don’t have project goals or objectives that would help them see if the project is moving in the right direction.

In simple terms, goal setting can be presented as listing out the things you and your team will need to accomplish by the end of the project. These goals will not only give a strong foundation to your project — they will also make it much easier for you to outline relevant milestones and tasks when you get to project planning.

3. Collect project requirements

When you consider or, even worse, doubt the real necessity of collecting project requirements before starting the project, think of the typical “unfortunate visit to the hairdresser’s” scenario. You hop in that ungodly comfortable chair, already anticipating your new fresh look, accompanied by all the wows and compliments. But before you know it, your hairdresser leaves you with a bob cut that makes you want to self-isolate for the next two to three months. You are out of money and certainly not with the result you envisioned when booking the appointment. This is what your client will feel like when the project turns out to be a far cry from what they had expected. 

The moral of the story is this: make sure you understand the idea and expectations of your client from the very beginning of the project journey. Together with your client, brainstorm the idea and define the requirements. Being on the same page from day one will make it much easier for you to construct a project that will meet the client’s demands and achieve the targeted goals. 

4. Outline the scope of work

Create a work breakdown structure by splitting the project into smaller phases (milestones) and adding tasks and subtasks within a milestone.

It's equally important to make sure your team understands the vision as well when moving through the implementation funnel. When you put dates to your Milestones you will be able to see a Gantt chart of the scoped project in the Timeline view of your project.

When mapping a project scope, it is important to be as detailed as you can for easy navigation and to provide stakeholders with all of the information they need. However, it's also important to keep the scope within reason; otherwise, the project will become complex and overwhelming.

5. List resources required to complete the project

When it comes to resources in the typical examples of the scope of a project, it can be anything from relevant experts and equipment to finances and facilities required to reach all project goals. With a list of all the required resources on the table, you will instantly see if something is missing and if that something can make the project stop dead in its tracks shortly after the project launch. 

Another reason why you need to have all of your resources clearly defined is about the threats that come holding hands with scope creep. When that guest arrives unannounced, and chances are high that it will, you might need to stretch, replan, or replenish your resources to make up for the unexpected change. Needless to say, if you don’t have sufficient resources to start with or don’t have control over your resources all along the project progress, scope creep might wreak havoc on your project, as ugly as that sounds. Read our tactical guide to resource availability for a better understanding of this step. 

6. Identify the limitations

The true meaning of the scope of a project also requires you to understand your blind spots and limitations. To be in full control of your scope, you need to clarify what “out-of-scope” would denote. In other words, you need to understand your scope exclusions. Also known as project boundaries, scope exclusions need to point at the things that are related to the project but are not included in it. This is a necessary step to avoid an “expectation-reality” outcome when the things you planned to cover don’t align with the results the client expected to get. 

A whole different but no less important type of project limitation is your resource availability. When you have that list of required resources, a smart thing to do is to compare it to your current resources and make an estimate of what it will take for you to get all set for the project launch.

7. Verify the scope and get your client’s approval

Now you can use the scoped out project to present it to your client. This provides both you and your clients with a visual understanding and overview of how the project will progress and what will happen if any changes are made. At this point, a baseline is needed to make sure you have the right numbers to measure your project progress against and seal the deal with your client. Specify how many hours you’re about to sell for each role to tally up the price for different project phases and the project in total. A baseline plan carries numerous benefits for both fixed price and Time & Material projects. Mainly, it will facilitate the communication between you and stakeholders in the future and prevent scope creep. 

baseline in scoping a project

Learn how to set a project baseline in our ultimate guide here.


8. Monitor the scope and control change

No matter how clear the direction on the deliverable requirements initially was, change always takes its toll on the project. So you'll have to figure out what change control process to stick to and create guidelines for coping with scope creep.

Giving your client a view into your process by inviting them to Forecast can be a great way of ensuring a more collaborative and transparent workflow. Forecast allows you only to give the access you find appropriate, whether that is a limited view as a Client or the perspective of a team member as a Collaborator. In case new requests pop up along the way, make sure to explain to your clients the process of adding new tasks to the project.

You can create a Workflow, a Kanban board, in other words, that allows your client to submit tasks requests.

defining a project scope

The baseline set up earlier will illustrate if any change requests are appropriate or you should negotiate the price moving forward. 


9. Calculate the price of completing extra work

You can always refer back to the initial SOW whenever your client is suggesting new features or some changes. If a task is initially deemed out of scope and thereby disapproved, you can easily create a new extended proposal in just a few seconds. Through the rate cards, roles, and time estimations linked to the project and new task(s), you will instantly be able to see the price of completing the extra work.

This is a great way to do extended sales proposals based on single tasks or a group of new requests submitted by your client. If the project is accepted, you can quickly move the tasks along, either directly to the to-do column for immediate implementation, or to an upcoming milestone or sprint, simply by ticking the Approved box.

The project scope is the foundation of your project. Having a solid base for your project during the project planning phase will help reduce the confusion regarding what’s being built (or designed, or developed, etc.). 

Following the nine steps above should significantly improve your stakes of dealing with scope creep. No matter, if you're eagerly taking on extra work, or instead prefer moving further requirements and requests to a separate project — these steps can hopefully help you out. For better project experiences when scoping out your project, sign up for a free trial of Forecast today.

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