Key takeaways

  • Project scope meticulously outlines the project’s specifics, including guidelines, goals, and deadlines, to set clear success parameters.
  • Scope creep involves unforeseen additions or changes to a project’s production, leading to project failure. Effective management of scope helps avoid these issues.
  • Scope management is vital in planning, influencing project timelines and budgets, and preventing common issues like scope creep and cost overruns.

Jan. 31, 2024: Irene Casucian reviewed the information on this page for accuracy and made revisions accordingly. She also refined the layout and added elements to improve user experience.

What is project scope management?

Project scope management is the practice of enforcing the boundaries, expectations, and success criteria you established in the project plan. It relies on a clear project scope statement that has stakeholder buy-in.

What is a project scope statement?

The scope statement is the north star of scope management. It specifies your project’s objectives, deliverables, and the tasks required to achieve them. It also includes what won’t be included in the project.

This distinction helps you manage project risk and make more strategic decisions throughout the project lifecycle. For example, an idea or request that comes up during a website redesign project might be rejected if it falls under the scope statement’s list of exclusions.

Free project scope statement template

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What is scope creep?

If you start your project and run into unforeseen additions or changes to your project’s goals, you’ve run into scope creep. It’s a common occurrence in projects, especially those with poorly defined scope statements.

According to the Project Management Institute, scope creep is one of the top contributing factors to project failure and project management mistakes. Too many unanticipated issues or tasks can eat up resources and prolong timelines, potentially leading to lower-quality deliverables and team burnout.

A thorough and precise scope statement is the first line of defense against scope creep, but sometimes leveraging an effective change management plan is the best way to address unanticipated obstacles or opportunities.

Learn more: How to Prevent Scope Creep

Benefits of project scope management

Scope management helps you maximize your project’s efficiency, maintain realistic timelines, and utilize resources effectively. It’s also key to meeting stakeholder expectations, as it establishes realistic timelines, budgets, and deliverables. Without effective scope management, there’s a high risk that the project will experience unforeseen delays, added costs, and a loss of direction overall.

The process of project scope management

The Project Management Institute provides a comprehensive six-step project scope management process in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). This structured approach is designed to assist in developing a robust scope management plan and make sure that your project remains focused and on course.

1. Create a plan framework

This first step involves creating a scope plan document to guide the project. It defines, manages, validates, and controls the project’s scope, including a detailed project scope statement, project requirements, expected deliverables, and the project change control process. This step sets a clear framework and reference for the scope management process.

2. Collect requirements

This stage involves gathering stakeholder requirements and expectations by conducting interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Doing so ensures the stakeholders’ realistic expectations align with the project’s capabilities. 

3. Define the scope

This step turns the collected requirements into a detailed description of the service or product to be delivered. It’s essential to clearly define what is within and outside the project’s scope to avoid scope creep and help the team focus only on relevant tasks.

3. Create a work breakdown structure

Creating a WBS (work breakdown structure) involves breaking down the work to be done into smaller tasks and assigning these tasks to team members. The WBS lists deliverables and deadlines, which can help track progress and avoid bottlenecks.

4. Validate scope

At this point, project executives and stakeholders review and approve the scope and deliverables. This step is essential for confirming that the project is on the right track before commencement. It allows for early identification and rectification of any misalignments or issues.

5. Control scope

Staying within the defined scope is necessary as the project progresses. Any changes should follow the established change control process. Effective scope control is key to managing project changes without losing sight of the original objectives and constraints.

Tips for effective scope management

Here are some practical tips and PM strategies to effectively manage project scope, prevent scope creep, and align stakeholder expectations.

A clear scope definition sets boundaries and expectations for the project. This clarity helps prevent ambiguity and scope creep. It makes sure that all team members and stakeholders have a parallel understanding of what the project entails and what it does not.

Looping the team members in and using their expertise can create a more realistic and achievable scope. Their contribution also encourages accountability and commitment among the team.

While some unexpected issues can’t be helped, you should examine all proposed changes carefully and decide which ones are necessary and must be addressed. Establishing a robust change control process helps manage scope alterations effectively. It provides a structured approach for evaluating and implementing changes and guarantees any modifications to the scope are carefully considered, documented, and communicated. 
At any given moment, project managers should be ready to enforce boundaries to preserve the project schedule and product quality as much as possible. Doing so helps maintain project alignment with its objectives while adapting to necessary changes.

The PMBOK suggests delegating scope management accountability to a single person. This scope accountability manager can be the project manager or any level-headed team member who intimately understands a team’s capacity and capabilities. 

This provides a single point of contact for any scope-related issues and assures that all information related to the project and its scope lives with one person.

Regularly revisiting and updating the scope documentation is integral to keeping track of any changes and keeping the project aligned with its objectives. This ongoing review process identifies any deviations from the original scope and provides an opportunity to make necessary adjustments.

Leveraging project management software solutions like TeamGantt and Jira can aid in better scope management by maintaining a clear view of the project’s progress against its defined scope with the help of intuitive project management dashboards. These tools offer planning, tracking, and reporting features. Effective use of such software facilitates communication, organizes documentation, and aids in managing changes and tasks efficiently.

When adding work to a project, communicate with team members as soon as possible to responsibly manage workloads. Effective communication with team members is crucial, and using collaborative project management software like Asana, Trello, or Slack can facilitate this. 

When there’s a need to manage changing workloads or add work, these tools enable prompt and clear communication. Similarly, when team members report that workloads are too much for what they can reasonably handle, stakeholders should be notified that the project may suffer from production overload.

Unlike defining the scope, which involves outlining the content and goals of a project, defining project completion is about setting clear criteria for when the project can be considered finished. Defining project completion provides a clear, shared understanding of the project’s end goal.

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