All projects are constrained by a number of factors. For example, cost, time, quality, benefits, risks, and scope are among the major constraints that all project managers must work within in order to bring their project to completion. While understanding each constraint is crucial to a project manager’s success, scope is arguably the most critical factor, because it outlines all of the work that does and doesn’t fall within the project.
Below, we define “scope” as it relates to project management, explore the scope management process, and walk through the steps necessary to create a scope management plan.
What is project scope?
The term project scope refers to all of the discrete work and actions that are required to deliver the project’s stated objectives and deliverables on time and within budget. These objectives and deliverables are typically derived from the project charter, which defines the statement of objectives in a project; sets project goals, roles, and responsibilities; and identifies stakeholders. Ultimately it is the project charter that will provide the project framework required to plan the scope management process.
In layman’s terms, a project’s scope identifies what is and is not a part of the project.
A project’s scope is typically captured in a scope statement and defined by a work breakdown structure (WBS)—two important documents that are subsidiary to the project plan.
What is scope creep?
Scope creep is the phenomenon by which a project’s requirements increase over the course of the project’s life cycle, beyond what was initially indicated in the project plan. There are many potential causes for scope creep. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines the top five causes as:
- Ambiguous or unrefined scope definition
- Lack of any formal scope or requirements management
- Inconsistent process for collecting product requirements
- Lack of sponsorship and stakeholder involvement
- Project length
Left unchecked, scope creep can lead to missed deadlines, blown budgets, and the delivery of a finished project that does not match the outlined purpose of the project charter. It’s for this reason that scope management is so important to the success of a project.
What is scope management?
Scope management is the process of identifying and defining what actions are required to deliver a project’s requirements. It also involves ensuring that that work is completed according to the project’s schedule and budget. Though scope management allows for changes to a project’s requirements and objectives, it also puts in place a formal change process in order to account for and minimize scope creep that could otherwise derail the project.
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Scope management involves taking a variety of inputs and using various tools and techniques to generate outputs that will guide the process. Below is a quick breakdown of the different phases of the typical scope management process, as well as the outputs that will typically be generated during that phase:
- Planning Scope Management: Outputs include the scope management plan and requirements management plan
- Collecting Requirements: Outputs include requirements documentation as well as the requirements traceability matrix
- Defining Scope: Outputs include the project scope statement and project documents updates
- Creating the WBS: Outputs include the scope baseline and project documents updates
- Validating Scope: Outputs include accepted deliverables, change requests, work performance information, and project documents updates
- Controlling Scope: Outputs include work performance information, change requests, project management plan updates, project documents updates, and organizational process assets updates
How to Create a Scope Management Plan
Below is an overview of the main steps involved in creating a scope management plan.
1. Collect the required inputs.
This includes the project management plan, project charter, enterprise environmental factors (EEFs), and organizational process assets (OPA), which you will reference and leverage to generate the scope management plan.
2. Generate a work breakdown structure (WBS).
The work breakdown structure (WBS) is a document, typically in chart format, that outlines a project’s deliverables according to a set hierarchy.
For Example: Consider a woodworker who must create a chair for a client. This chair is the main project deliverable, and as such would sit at the top level of the WBS. In the second level of the WBS would be all of the component pieces of the chair: The leg, backing, etc. If any of those individual components have their own components, those pieces would go on the third level of the WBS. This type of breakdown would continue until every component has been accounted for.
Though the WBS does not in and of itself contain cost estimates, scheduling, activity dependencies, or resource assignments, it supports the creation of all of those discrete pieces of information, making it a critical piece of scope management.
3. Translate your WBS into discrete tasks.
Once all of the project’s deliverables are outlined in the WBS, they must be translated into discrete tasks. This will require that:
- The project’s activities be defined
- The activities be sequenced in a logical way
- The duration of the activities, the resources required to complete them, and the cost of completion be estimated
- Resources be assigned to complete each activity
4. Identify project requirements.
In order to create an accurate scope statement, you must understand the business and stakeholder requirements that will guide the project. Without these requirements, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to be confident that the project addresses everything it is required to.
A project’s requirements are typically captured in a document called the requirements management plan. This document defines a project’s approach to requirements management, including the methodology that will be used for identifying, prioritizing, and tracking these requirements.
The first step in generating a scope management plan is to compile the requirements management plan. This will also involve identifying the project’s stakeholders.
5. Develop a scope statement.
Armed with an understanding of the project’s requirements, it is now possible to begin developing the project scope statement. This document compiles a detailed description of all of the work that must be done in order to deliver the project’s requirements within its specified budget and schedule.
Once the scope has been defined, it must also be validated and then controlled throughout the project.
6. Define your processes.
Finally, it’s important to outline the processes that will guide the project’s scope management philosophy as the project team works toward delivering upon the project’s requirements. Doing so will remove any confusion or ambiguity before the project’s activities begin in earnest, while also providing a clear path forward.
Some of the most important questions to be answered during this step include:
- How will project deliverables be formally approved?
- How will the WBS and project scope be maintained over the course of the project?
- Who will be responsible for maintaining these components, while policing against scope creep?
- How will change requests be controlled and documented?
- What tools, technology, and methodologies will be used?
Developing Your Scope Management Skills
Scope management is one of the most important parts of being a project manager. In addition to being how you ensure that a project delivers upon its requirements and objectives, it’s also the best method for preventing scope creep from derailing your ability to complete the project successfully. Learning how to effectively manage your project’s scope will be essential if you wish to pursue a career in project management.
Many individuals who choose to go into the field do so by completing a formal project management education such as a master of science in project management. If you are considering taking such a step, it’s important to ensure you are choosing a program that includes scope management in the curriculum.
The Master of Science in Project Management at Northeastern was designed to teach students everything they need to know about working in the field of project management. This includes coursework focused specifically on scope management, which offers insights into how projects are defined, evaluated, and ultimately translated into manageable project requirements and concrete deliverables. Taught by faculty members with real-world experience working in project management and paired with experiential learning opportunities in the form of co-ops and internships, there’s no better way of preparing yourself for a career in project management.
To learn how a master’s degree in project management can help advance your career, download our free guide to breaking into the industry below.