What is scope in project management? (+ free template)
What does it take to be successful in project management?
As claimed by a study published by Elsevier, the answer is:
- Identifying the factors needed to start a project,
- Clearly defining objectives, and
- Identifying measures of performance.
In other words, defining project scope.
Defining scope is one of the first and most important jobs for a project manager starting a new project. It represents the foundation of any project and acts as a base for all future decisions, changes, and work involved in project execution.
A poorly defined project scope causes misdirection, the loss of productivity, morale, and the need for continuous scope change. And yet, statistics show that only 52% of organizations create a scoping document before starting a project, despite the lack of a well-defined scope being often related to project failure.
In further text, we define project scope in simple terms and explain why project scope is important in project management. We also teach you how to define scope and create a full-blown scope management plan in order to help you avoid the pitfalls that come with insufficient preparation.
We’ve also created a free scope statement template to help you manage your project more effectively.
Table of Contents
What is scope in project management?
Scope in project management refers to all the work that needs to be done to finish the project. Before moving on to more complex terms, it’s important to explain the difference between product scope and project scope in project management.
Product scope defines all features and functions of a product or service that is being developed.
Project scope determines all aspects of the work that needs to be done in order to develop said product or service.
In other words, if product scope is a blueprint of the product, the project scope is a detailed plan on what is needed to develop it. As such, defining scope is one of the very first things a project manager should do when starting a project.
What is a project scope statement of work (SOW)?
The document in which project managers define project scope is called the scope statement, or the scope statement of work (SOW).
The scope statement should be clear and precise.
It should define all the work and criteria needed to complete a project, and should include the following:
- Justification — identifies the need for the project,
- Goals — identifies what the project aims to achieve,
- Deliverables — includes a list and description of everything that the client will receive upon project completion,
- Limitations — all rules and guidelines that must be followed while the project is under way, including deadlines and budget constraints,
- Exceptions — a list of everything that will not be included in the project,
- Agreement — signatures of all key stakeholders as proof that the document has been reviewed, understood, and approved by all parties involved.
Everything defined within the scope statement is within scope.
Everything defined in the “Exceptions” section of the document, and everything not defined in the document is considered out of scope.
A scope statement may include other elements such as timelines, key milestones, or a complete list of shareholders — but the six elements mentioned above are necessary for successfully outlining the project.
Why is scope statement important in project management?
A clearly defined scope can be the difference between a successful project and one that’s bound to fail, according to Project Smart.
With a set budget and strict deadlines weighing them down, project managers need to be in complete control of the project in order to finish it in a way that satisfies the shareholders.
A scope statement allows project managers to stay focused only on what is within scope. This helps both project managers and other key shareholders resist the temptation of tampering with the project once it has begun.
The scope statement is important for project management because it:
- Serves as proof of the terms of the agreement,
- Serves as a reminder of all the requirements to complete a project,
- Protects the team from doing more work than necessary,
- Prevents the project requirements from spiraling out of control.
Unfortunately, Wellingtone’s 2021 Survey shows that nearly half of the projects that get underway lack a scoping document to support them.
How to make a project scope statement (+ template)
Defining project scope is neither quick nor easy — but it can be quite rewarding when done right.
Project scope is defined in much the same way — regardless of the type of project you’re managing — which is why it’s always good to have an editable scope template to get you started.
To help you kick off your project planning we’ve prepared a free editable scope statement template you can download below.
And in case you prefer to fill out your templates with a pen, we’ve also prepared a print-friendly version you can download below.
Another thing to remember is that a good project scope statement should be comprehensive and clearly written.
To make things easier, it’s recommended that the project objectives be defined according to the SMART goal-setting best practices for project planning.
In other words, they should be:
By keeping these five things in mind, you’ll be able to clearly define what needs to be done. This will, in turn, make it much easier to distribute tasks, deadlines, and budget, so that everyone, including you, your team, and the stakeholders, know exactly what lies ahead.
What is scope management in project management?
According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), scope management “includes the processes required to ensure that the project includes all the work required, and only the work required”.
In other words, scope management “is primarily concerned with defining and controlling what is and is not included in the project.” It serves to identify the actions needed to complete the project and ensure that everything goes according to plan during the project execution phase.
There are six processes a project manager must perform in order to properly manage scope, so that is what we will be discussing next.
6 processes of scope management
The PMBOK defines six processes that comprise a scope management plan:
- Planning scope management,
- Collecting requirements,
- Defining scope,
- Creating work breakdown structure (WBS),
- Validating scope, and
- Controlling scope.
Let’s get into the details of each step.
1. Planning scope management
Scope management planning is always the first step of scope management. Scope management planning can be performed either once, at the beginning of the project, or multiple times throughout the project, and its main goals are to create the following:
- The scope management plan — A plan that defines how the scope statement and the WBS will be created, as well as how validation will be obtained.
- The requirements management plan — Also known as the business analysis plan, it defines how the requirements will be documented, managed, and analyzed, and how the changes will be handled.
To do this, it’s necessary to perform a detailed analysis of:
- The project charter,
- The project management plan,
- The organizational policies, and
- The enterprise environmental factors.
Simply put, the planning phase of scope management serves to create plans for how the following five scope management processes will be handled.
2. Collecting requirements
Before attempting to define scope, a project manager needs to collect information from clients, sponsors, and other key stakeholders to determine and document their needs, wishes, and requirements regarding the project.
Requirements are often collected through:
- Focus groups, and
Similarly to scope management planning, this process can also be performed either once, at the beginning of the project planning, or at multiple agreed times throughout the project, and its main outputs are:
- The requirements documentation — A document that states the requirements and describes how they fit with the project’s business needs.
- The requirements traceability matrix — A grid, often presented in the form of a table, that traces requirements from their origin until completion. It helps make sure that all of the initially defined requirements are delivered in a satisfactory way at the end of the project.
3. Defining scope
Once the scope management plan is completed and all the requirements are collected, it’s time to define the scope.
This is the part where the project manager creates the scope statement of work (SOW) that will define the future development of the project.
4. Creating a work breakdown structure (WBS)
In the fourth phase of scope management planning, the project manager creates a thorough breakdown of the work that needs to be done to complete the project — while taking into account all the previously compiled documentation.
In essence, the work breakdown structure divides larger chunks of a project into smaller sections that are easier to perform and manage.
The main outputs of this scope management process are:
- The scope baseline — the scope statement, the WBS, and the WBS dictionary in their approved version.
- The project documents updates — all previously created documentation that needs to be updated.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
To learn more about scope baseline, check out our guide on the subject:
5. Validating scope
Validating scope is one of the most important stages in scope management.
A common misconception about scope validation is that it refers to the validation, i.e. approval of the scope, when, in fact, scope validation refers to the approval of the final deliverables.
The project manager might have collected all the necessary requirements and completed the deliverables — but, now those deliverables need to be officially approved by key stakeholders.
At this stage, the stakeholders may request changes to the deliverables — if this happens, the project manager goes back to the proverbial drawing board.
Scope validation is a process that should be done throughout the project, after every deliverable is submitted. A delay in the approval, or “sign off” of deliverables could cause bottlenecks with other related deliverables.
The main outputs of scope validation are:
- Accepted deliverables — formal documentation that contains the list of deliverables that were approved and the signatures of all key stakeholders.
- Work performance information — documentation explaining the project progress along with all the deliverables that were accepted or rejected.
- Change requests — documentation listing the deliverables that have not been accepted and the reasons for their rejection, along with the formal change requests.
- Project document updates — all previously created documentation that needs to be updated.
6. Controlling scope
Controlling the scope is not a one-time, one-and-done decision. Scope control is performed continuously, throughout the project, in order to monitor it, manage changes, and make sure all change requests are first processed through the previously-established Change Control process.
This is an especially important step in scope management, and project management as a whole, as it helps prevent scope creep — the tendency for projects to get out of hand, caused by constant attempts to tweak or add requirements, without making corresponding adjustments to the budget and deadlines.
According to the 10th Global Project Management Survey from 2018, 52% of the projects completed over the course of the year experienced scope creep. This is an extremely worrying percentage — considering that a study published in the IEEE Access journal found that a staggering 92% of projects fail due to — you guessed it — scope creep.
The main outputs of scope control are:
- Work performance information — describes the progress of the project and its level of adherence to the scope baseline, as well as all the changes and their impact on the budget and schedule.
- Change requests — a document consisting of formal, filled-out change requests.
- Project management plan updates — all changes made to the main documents belonging to the project management plan (scope management plan, scope baseline, schedule baseline, cost baseline, performance measurement baseline, etc.)
- Project documents updates — all previously created documentation that needs to be updated.
Tools for preventing project failure caused by scope creep
When the pandemic started in 2020, organizations were forced to start relying on digital tools to a greater degree. In the PMI 2020 survey, leaders identified investing in the right technologies as one of the three main factors that will lead to future success (32%).
Technology advancement (49%) and digitalization (44%) were the areas set to get the biggest improvements in the following five years. Digitalization skyrocketed, and the ensuing changes were undeniable.
After a continuous annual increase in the percentage of organizations that reported experiencing scope creep, 2020 was the year that was expected to break all records. But surprisingly, by 2021, things got better.
Organizations that reported experiencing scope creep dropped to 34% compared to 52% in 2018. Similarly, wasted investments dropped to 9.4% after clinging to around 12% for the previous seven years.
In 2021 PMI made a distinction between gymnastic and traditional organizations, i.e. those that were agile and ready to embrace change and those that were not. According to PMI’s 2021 Survey, gymnastic enterprises, which were leading in digital transformation, experienced 4% less scope creep than traditional ones in 2021.
These numbers are not surprising considering that modern project management software, like Plaky, feature a plethora of useful functions such as:
- Organizing workload and individual assignments,
- Managing teams and tasks,
- Tracking progress,
- Facilitating team communication, and
- Centralizing document sharing, to name a few.
Making use of what the digital world has to offer is a fast and simple way to boost the productivity and efficiency of project development. They won’t increase your budget, or give you more manpower — but, by streamlining management and making all crucial information available at your fingertips, project management software will definitely boost your chances of success.
Conclusion: Project scope is a project management plan essential
As one of the very first aspects of project management that gets defined over the course of a project’s life cycle, project scope can be considered its foundation.
Defined in the project scope statement, the scope lays out all the resources, requirements, and objectives of the project, as well as a detailed timeline for project deliverables.
A good scope will keep everyone involved in the project on the same page, and remind all stakeholders of the terms they agreed upon before the start of the project in order to prevent the work from getting out of control.
As such, project scope is considered a project management plan essential, that underlies every future decision made regarding the project.
📖 Understanding what scope means is a prerequisite for effective project management, but it’s not the only prerequisite. Effective project management requires mastery of many basic and advanced project management terms, all of which are cataloged in our Project Management Glossary of Terms.
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- Wellingtone. (2021). The State of Project Management. Wellingtone. https://wellingtone.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/The-State-of-PM-2021.pdf