A properly defined scope can make all the difference between project success—meeting stakeholders’ expectations, sticking to your budget, and completing key deliverables on time—and failure. Even when project team members have good experience executing complex initiatives, our project management consultants have found that some organizations continue to have trouble knowing when the scope is just right and when it still needs some work.
Why do you need to develop a formal project scope?
Problems related to an improper scope can show up in several forms. Constantly shifting goal posts and timeline troubles are just the beginning and are often among the most common. Without a formal scope available as a guide, end users might not feel their expectations have been met at the end of the project. Or senior-level leaders may assume activities are included in an effort when your team assumes they are not. In short, an effective project scope brings together expectations, capabilities, resources, and timing to establish what each initiative will accomplish (and what it won’t).
Tips to develop better project scopes
Many teams have encountered difficulties defining the scope of a project with the right level of detail. Others run into problems applying the scope when making decisions about resource allocations or schedule changes. Activities such as resource planning and task duration forecasting are core components in the scope development process, and teams often find they can quickly improve their results with the support of a project management consultancy that holds deep experience in those areas.
No matter where you’ve had a breakdown on making effective use of your project scope, consider these steps that can help you develop project parameters that are both realistic and useful.
A practical project scope closely aligns with the initiative’s timeline. You need a thorough understanding of everything the project is expected to deliver as well as insight into the dependencies and estimated durations for all tasks. By maintaining awareness of the schedule, you can ensure your team isn’t committing to more than it can realistically complete.
Carefully consider any external factors that have the potential to impact the scope of your project. An effort that includes facility modifications, for example, may need to be approved by a permitting authority or a landlord before it can proceed. Your sponsors may want to pursue outcomes that simply aren’t possible if external factors such as local code restrictions or property owner pushback prevent them.
Your project scope needs to contain the right level of detail. One that’s too precise may not provide adequate flexibility for adjustments in response to the findings from quality control or testing activities, for example. Projects subjected to regulatory scrutiny may benefit from some leeway to accommodate unexpected compliance issues. A scope that’s too vague or high-level, however, might leave room for interpretation. This could lead to cost overages and scheduling snafus if stakeholders try to pack too much into the effort.
Before finalizing the scope, it’s critical that you share it with stakeholders. Some teams aren’t consistent in when or even if they share their internal scope documents. You want sponsors, executives, and end users to know what the project will accomplish up front, so you can either start on the right foot in meeting their expectations or you can renegotiate the scope early in the process if there are still things that should be added or expanded.
With the right elements in place, you can develop a project scope that serves as a guide for your team as well as stakeholders, and provides a valuable basis for good decision making throughout the initiative’s lifecycle.