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What is the Project Scope? (and how you can manage scope screep)

Grace Marcus | February 14, 2022 | 4 minute read

To successfully manage a project, you must know its purpose and the work involved in obtaining it. This information is the project scope. In this post, we’ll look at how to define project scope, how to manage it, and what can threaten it.  

 

How is project scope defined?

 

Project scope comprises the key requirements, objectives, and output of the project. These details are captured in a project scope statement which also includes: 

  •     resources
  •     processes
  •     timelines
  •     key stakeholders
  •     criteria for measuring success
  •     milestones
  •     constraints that might negatively impact the project are also

 

Why is it important to define a project’s scope?

 

Project scope definition is essential because it clarifies the work included in the project, making it easier to spot tasks that are beyond the project scope. 

 

For example, if the project scope is to build a website, then nothing but a website should be built. Creating an accompanying app would therefore fall outside the project scope. 

 

Scope statements also help to align stakeholders' expectations and give projects a framework for success. 

 

What is project scope management?

 

Once the project is underway, some changes to its scope are inevitable. This is especially true in creative agencies where clients often begin a project unsure of what they want. 

 

The scope created at the outset of the project is known as the scope baseline because it acts as a starting point against which to measure changes that happen as the project progresses. 

 

Scope change management is the process of managing all the changes made to the scope over the course of the project and communicating and coordinating scope issues.

 

The key steps of scope change management are identifying changes to the requirements of the project, understanding how the changes will impact the project, securing approval for the changes, and implementing the changes as quickly and safely as possible. 

 

At the close of the project, the client, end-user, or requesting party must formally accept the completed project deliverables. This process of verifying that the project has met its scope and that all its requirements have been fulfilled is known as scope verification.

 

Why is project scope management important?

 

Changes to the scope will affect nearly all aspects of a project, from dependent activities to overall costs and schedules. For example, adding extra tasks could drive up costs by making it necessary to purchase extra materials or pay project members to work overtime.  

 

Monitoring the project scope as the project progresses will help to reduce scope creep. This term is used to describe the gradual expansion of the project scope through a series of informal change requests that were not authorized, recorded, or controlled.

 

How can scope creep impact a project?

 

The effect of one small change on a project might be minimal, but the cumulative effect of many changes can alter a project substantially, making it harder to deliver. Scope creep can cause five deliverables to triple to 15, eating into your budget, reducing your profits, and pushing back your deadline estimations.

 

It could even lead to a project deliverable being missed, which could potentially damage your company’s reputation and decrease how much you get paid for the project.

 

Strange as it may sound, the impact of scope creep isn’t always negative. It can help you to improve your project management approach by giving you the opportunity to evaluate internal processes and reduce creep in future projects.

 

If you run a creative agency, your clients may initially be vague about their requirements. But as they realize what they want, they will probably start asking for extra features. If you go beyond the scope of the project to accommodate their requests, you could impress them and earn a reputation as a provider of exceptional customer service.

 

Scope creep can also benefit your bank account. If you bill your client for all those extra tasks that crept into the project scope, you can increase your revenue.   

 

What causes scope creep?

 

Some causes of scope creep are unavoidable. For example, a new executive on the client’s team decides to change the project’s vision. However, there are some avoidable causes and knowing what they are will help you keep the creep to a minimum. Here are three:

 

1 – A poorly executed project scope definition

If you haven’t defined the project scope clearly in the scope statement, going out of scope is inevitable.

 

2 – Not having a scope management process in place 

Without a centralized process for registering and managing change requests, there is no way to properly review changes. This can result in the project team having to complete more tasks without any extra resources. 

 

3 – Trying to please everyone

Creep can happen when a project manager tries to accommodate multiple stakeholders or new stakeholders who enter the project at a later stage. 

 

How can scope creep be managed?

While a little scope creep is natural (and even desirable), keeping it in check will increase a project's chance of success.

 

Here are seven ways to manage scope creep:

 

1 – Involve the stakeholders in the scope planning process

Collect stakeholders’ input by asking them to set out their project vision and business needs in a project charter. Then, ask stakeholders to define all high-level features that are not in scope. Distill this information into the project scope so it is clear what work is inside the scope. 

 

2 – Define the scope well

Instead of relying on the project scope statement to define project scope, create a work breakdown structure (WBS) that breaks each high-level objective into a list of deliverables. Include all the work to be performed by the project team. Tasks that do not appear on the WBS are likely to be out of scope. 

 

3 – Create a change management plan to record, track and act on change requests

Create a centralized, easily accessible library of all requested changes that shows their status. Prioritize each change request based on its business/project impact, requesting stakeholder, and urgency, and evaluate how the change will affect the project’s outcome, any dependent tasks, and existing schedules and budgets.

 

Set up a way to track actions taken in response to a change request and create a communication process for any issues related to the change request.

 

Top Tip: Using project management software will make project scope management far easier!

 

4 – Make the change request decision process easy for your client 

Ask the client how they prefer to be contacted and record their communication preferences in your communication plan. Then, when a decision is required, send them just the data they need to make it.

 

5 – Simplify complex projects

Break complex projects down into smaller subprojects with tighter deadlines to maintain momentum and limit opportunities to go out of scope. 

 

6 – Create a standard process for collecting the requirements of each change request

Firstly, identify the scope of the request, its importance, and its effect on the project. Then, 

gather additional information about the request and use it to make a list of deliverables.

 

Identify any dependent tasks that the change request might affect. Finally, ask an expert to determine whether a change is feasible, how long it would take to affect, and what resources are needed to create it.

 

7 – Monitor the project closely against your baseline. 

Using project management software will make it easy to see if the project is behind schedule, if resources are being overused, and if the baseline isn’t being met.

 

By developing a clear understanding of a project’s purpose then clearly defining, documenting, and managing your project scope, you can minimize scope creep and place yourself in the best position to deliver a successful project.

 

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