Managing and controlling project scope is seen as one of the key project management skills.

Just So We’re Clear – What is Project Scope?

The project scope is a defined (and ideally documented) list of what is included in the project. There should also be a corresponding list of what is not in scope or what the project will not cover.

The purpose of defining the scope is really around managing expectations whilst maximising the chances of success. Stakeholders will be clear with what will delivered or changed. The project team and suppliers can be set up to ensure they deliver these requirements.

The purpose of documenting it is twofold. Firstly, it can be used to confirm what the scope was at a particular moment in time. Secondly, a written down scope allows for much greater alignment between two sets of expectations. It’s clearer if something is missing or if an expectation has been mis-understood.

When Should You Set Your Project Scope

You should look to define and document your Project Scope early on in the project. In fact this should be one of the first elements that you start to build into a project brief or charter. This allows you to refine it as you start discussing the project with your stakeholders.

The later that you define the scope, the more “rabbit holes” you will have gone down. These “rabbit holes” are investigations that may lead you down different routes, all which ultimately are a distraction from your overall goal.

Once you’ve defined what is in and out of scope, then what?

Once it’s defined, you’ll also want to manage your project within the scope. Changes to the scope can mean wasted effort, time and money. The later these changes are made, there is greater risk of more wasted time, effort and money

In 2017, the PMI found that 49% of the projects completed suffer scope creep or uncontrolled changes to the project’s scope (#1).
With such a prolific scale of projects suffering scope creep, how should this be managed effectively? There are four important considerations when it comes to scope changes:

  1. Why should we change the scope?
  2. What’s the effect on the timeline?
  3. What’s the effect on the budget or project costs?
  4. What other implications will this have?

Project Scope Creep Isn’t Always Bad

Scope creep can be the cause of project failures as well as a headache for Project Managers.

In 2016, Wellingstone found that changes to the project scope were the second biggest challenge that organisations faced with respect to project management (#2). In that same survey, they also found that 60% of projects don’t complete within the set time and 60% don’t complete within budget.

How Should You Adjust Your Project Scope Effectively

Adjusting the scope during the project is technically scope creep. However, if the potential changes are clear, it is possible to make a conscious decision to extend or widen the scope. If this is the case, there should be a benefit or reason for doing this as well as an understanding of the impact and any implications.

The project governance group or board can then make an intelligent and informed decision. This in turn can be documented as an approved, intentional change and communicated to the project stakeholders as such.

Successfully managing scope changes allows you to avoid challenging situations and risks. It will ensure that the project delivers the latest business expectations as well as help take advantage of new opportunities.

So, Scope Creep is ok?

Intentional scope decisions are ok.

But, uncontrolled project scope creep is bad. This could be when sponsors or stakeholders don’t agree of adding additional elements and when the impacts of adding elements are not understood. It could also when the Project Manager doesn’t even realise that there has been a change of scope. Uncontrolled scope creep could come from:

  • Uninformed senior stakeholder direction
  • Forgetting what the scope is and isn’t
  • Not aware of the unintended consequences

Project Scope Management is a Key Skill for Project Managers

Controlling project scope remains one of the key skills for project managers. It can be a deciding factor in the success of a project. It will certainly affect how smoothly a project runs through it’s life.

When it comes to managing and balancing project constraints of time, cost and quality, you may find yourself needing to turn to the project scope. Adjusting scope could be one of your final keys to delivering the business expectations without a major stakeholder fallout.

Comment below on your experiences – how have you gone about effectively adjusting your project scope?

Source Links
(#1) PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017
(#2) Wellingstone The State Of Project Management 2016

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert at delivering retail change projects and programmes. He keeps a careful eye on the project scope when defining, developing and delivering projects for clients. Oliver is always passionate about getting the right balance between maximising benefits whilst making sure progress is predictable and on track.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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