Project Scope 101

Project scope is part of the planning process of any project. Like any other aspect of a project, you want to determine how scope will impact the schedule of your project and, of course, it’s outcome.

So, naturally, scope is important. But before you jump into that project plan and begin to tackle the scope of your project, let’s review the basics.

What Is Project Scope?

It’s that part of the project planning process that determines and documents what are the project goals, deliverables, tasks, costs and deadlines. This way you begin to define the boundaries of your project and figure out what responsibilities you will task your team with, and the process by which that work will be verified and approved.

This paperwork can be called your scope statement or terms of reference, but more often it’s referred to as a statement of work (SOW). You’ll be using this documentation throughout the project as a means to for you and your team to stay focused on task.

The SOW is also a guideline for the project manager. It helps them make decisions about change request during the project. Change is an inevitable part of any project, no matter how thorough your plan is, so you want to include the likelihood for change in your scope to better manage it later. Also, your scope documents are going to specify stakeholders

Related: Free Statement of Work Template

When you’re documenting the project’s scope, have the stakeholders be as specific as possible to get a full and clear understanding of the project’s goals. That way you’ll avoid scope creep. Scope creep is what happens to a project when changes are made without any control. You end up putting in more work, time or effort because of poor planning or miscommunication, which can derail the project.

If you want to stay within the scope of your project, then you’ll have a good communication plan in place. Communications are the most effective means to make sure everyone involved with the project knows what that project’s goals are and how they will be met. That’s why the scope of the project requires approval of the project stakeholders, to make sure it the project meets everyone’s needs.

How To Define Scope in Your Project

Now let’s move from the abstract to the practical. How do you define scope in your project? First, you have to make some assumptions. If you define scope after you have the facts, then the project is over and the whole point is moot. You’re going to want to define scope using several criteria.

  • Deliverables What are the external and internal deliverables, the things the project delivers to the user and those the project generates itself, respectively.
  • Functionality and Data This shouldn’t be a long process, just outline such details as if there are licensing agreements, payment process, customer management, etc.
  • Technical Structure Here you’ll define where the project is focused on infrastructure in a table or diagram, and you can also indicate the purpose of each of these components, however vague that might be at this point.

There are other considerations to take when defining the scope of your project. For example, you’ll want to identify major business events, locations, functions and any processes affected by the project. Who are the people or groups of people both inside and outside the project who will be impacted? Any change that is going to influence the project needs to be uncovered.

Projects will often fail because the scope wasn’t clearly defined from the outset or a mismanagement of changes to scope during the execution of the project. By defining scope you do a multitude of good for the project.

  • You set clear project goals and objects
  • Facilitate understanding of the project
  • Reduce ambiguities and risks
  • Manage expectations
  • Get buy-in from management and team
  • Develop quality and evaluation criteria

3 elements of project scope including definition, training, and communication

Manage Scope to Keep Your Project on Track

Managing a project is really managing its scope. That means achieving the goals of the project within the time and budget approved by the stakeholders. But those decisions are not necessarily binding. Things change, of course, but you have to make sure those changes are aligned with the stakeholder’s project goals.

Managing project scope means from the start that you and the stakeholders have a clear line of communication. You have to know their vision to know what they’re expecting in a project. That way, when change happens you can direct it to meet the project’s goals while keeping the overall project on track. But that’s just the beginning.

To manage the scope of the project, you have to do three things:

1. Define the scope

We outlined this above, but to reiterate: know the parameters of the project. But there’s more. Once you’ve gotten that information from the stakeholders, now you have to communicate it to your team. This helps them with buy-in as well as giving them the autonomy, avoiding micromanaging later on in the project. That goes for your business users, as well. They, too, must be made aware of the scope in project management, as does everyone involved in the project. They must know what is expected of them and why. Keep the lines of communication open as things change.

2. Train your team

Once your team has been briefed on what scope in project management is, you need to train them to react correctly when change occurs in the project. They’re on the front lines of the project, and you don’t want to have to be pulled away every time a change happens. If the team has been taught to identify change and act on it and know when you have to be brought it, then the project is more efficient and productive.

3. Communicate

Communications is the part that speaks to the whole when managing scope in a project. If you can’t communicate what it is that you want, you’re not going to get it. Therefore communications is a constant throughout the life cycle of the project, whether it’s with your team, stakeholders or business users. What makes communications effective is not just talking clearly and getting your point across concisely, it’s listening. By hearing what people are saying, and giving them a chance to say it, you get your message across better and the people you’re communicating with know you respect their opinions and will work harder to keep the scope of a project on track.

A great tool to keep scope creep at bay is a baseline. You can use a baseline as a metric to chart your planned versus actual schedule dates. How to baseline projects is how to keep a project on track by monitoring what you planned against what is actually happening in the project. If you follow these steps, then you’re on the road to project success.

How to Manage Scope with has a bevy of tools to help managers track their project scope. First and foremost, from a project manager’s perspective, is our online Gantt chart. Use our Gantt chart to create a project plan, where all of your scoped tasks are scheduled with assignees and deadlines. Plus, our Gantt charts feature progress bars that update in real time as team members complete their tasks, so you have utmost transparency.

gantt chart for managing scope’s Interactive Gantt Chart

Task Management Features for Doing the Work comes with three different views for working on tasks. The Gantt, which we mentioned, kanban boards and task lists. All three views can be used to work on the same project, which means team members can work on the project tasks their own way. This flexibility improves productivity across the team, making sure that you avoid the dreaded scope creep.

task list for managing project scope
Task management tools for enhanced collaboration and productivity.

Project Dashboards for Better Tracking

Dashboards are your best friend when you’re trying to spot scope creep. Our real-time project dashboard gives you a live look at critical metrics across your project. This live data lets you spot bottlenecks and issues faster than you would have thought possible. Plus, it’s all displayed in simple graphs that can easily be shared with stakeholders or team members.

Dashboard for tracking scope creep

The best way to manage scope in a project is to have an online project management tool that gives you real-time data so you can act when issues arise and before they become problems. is cloud-based, so when your team updates their statues, from wherever they are and at whatever time, that information is immediately updated and you can monitor the progress of your project more accurately. See for yourself by taking this free 30-day trial

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