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12 Steps to Creating a Successful Project Scope

This year’s State of Project Management Survey reveals that only 23% of organizations complete projects on time, with just 43% staying within budget. But how to turn things around and improve the way we execute projects?

While no two projects are ever the same, many common threads can still be found in successful projects. According to a 2018 report from the Project Management Institute, controlling the project’s scope is a universal top driver of success. Thus, as projects are getting more complex and deadlines shorter, defining project scope can be pivotal to success.

What is project scope?

Project scope is essentially the requirements of the project – outlining what the project will ultimately produce and what is required to produce it.

Scope provides boundaries for what will be accomplished and can be divided into three phases:

  • Planning: Capturing and defining the work that needs to be done.
  • Monitoring: Processes to document scope creep and project changes.
  • Closing: An audit of deliverables against the original plan.

If a project gets outside the scope boundary fence, it’s critical to stop and redefine the boundaries. Further, any change should require approval for additional resources, time and funding.

Why is project scope important?

Without a clearly defined scope, your project will not have any boundaries. This can result in what is known as scope creep. This, according to PMI, is when a project suffers “the uncontrolled expansion of project scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources”.

Further, when the scope is not clearly defined, difficulty ensues, including:

  • work isn’t aligned with the project’s goals and requirements;
  • problems get in the way of delivering on time;
  • an unreasonable number of changes result;
  • time overages and resource fatigue increase.

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How do you create a successful project scope?

A well-defined scope has many benefits. For one, it specifies what is or isn’t included in the project. Anything that isn’t inside the scope simply isn’t executed, saving you time, money and headaches. It also enables you to quickly identify what’s required to make changes happen, how they’ll happen, delivery time frame, tasks required, and the risks associated.

To help you out, we’ve outlined 12 steps to defining the project scope successfully.

1. Begin when you have the end in mind

According to the Harvard Business Review, “If you have less than 50% clarity of what the project will deliver, keep exploring and iterating to better define the project.”

And while traditional project management theory would love to see 100% of the requirements defined at the beginning of the project, there will always be variables out of our control. Thus, explain as much as possible and leave room for the unexpected.

2. Review for clarity and then review again

General terminology involves assumptions, which leads to confusion and misunderstandings. Words like “regular” or “normal” can have two entirely different connotations for two people. Thus, if even one word in your scope seems unclear, revise it.

For the sake of clarity, it’s equally important to address what’s not covered in the scope. If implementing new software is the deliverable, but training is outside the project scope, say so.

3. Manage project budgets

Every project costs money, and most of the time there aren’t unlimited funds. That’s why no project plan is complete without a budget breakdown.

Keep in mind, the more detailed estimates you can come up, the easier it is to track your project spend and react faster once you see you’re going over budget. Another good idea is to leave some buffer for the unforeseeable costs that might come up.

4. Map out a realistic timeline

Part of the project’s scope will include a timeline complete with phases and milestones. Milestones help focus the energy of project teams and drive production.

As you develop timelines, be sure to acknowledge any constraints. Constraints come in many forms, from logistical and financial to legal and political. Address anything that might impede progress.

5. Spend time in the exploration phase

As explained by the Project Management Institute, it’s important to examine expectations, alliance leadership, power, control, and reporting relationships. Discussing these issues may even create a deeper level of trust between the stakeholders.

Besides, teams that spend enough time in the exploration phase are more likely to avoid scope creep, meet deadlines, operate within budget, and produce a successful project.

6. Establish a disciplined hierarchy

Many organizations grow so fast that projects are undertaken haphazardly and are unlikely to meet their objectives. By establishing a hierarchy, you can spread projects to boost accountability. Make sure everyone knows their responsibilities in supporting and adhering to project scope.

7. Focus on operational efficiency

Operational efficiency is “the capability of an organization to deliver products or services in the most efficient manner possible, while still ensuring the high quality.”

In other words, this means eliminating the “noise” so teams can focus on quality and speed at the same time. While mapping out the scope, consider how you can silence concerns to enable your team to maximize efficiency.

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker, The Man Who Invented Management, according to Business Week magazine

8. Consider scope creep risk management

Risk management enables project managers to identify when a mitigation plan should be deployed to get the project back on track. And the key to this process is the ability to recognize early warning signs of scope creep, including increased requests or changes, delays, or quality concerns.

9. Don’t be afraid to say no

Staying within the aforementioned “scope fence” is crucial throughout your project. When different stakeholders try to needlessly expand the fence during the phase of the process where the scope is being determined, it’s important to say no with confidence.

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and unapologetically – to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” – 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Dr. Stephen Covey

10. Manage client expectations and demands

Naturally, when undertaking a client project, all managers want to please the client. But miscommunication can lead to project managers and clients having two very different expectations for the project.

Thus, putting in the time and effort upfront to create realistic and well-defined expectations is a far better alternative to having the client realize in the later stages that the scope didn’t fully capture the business needs of the project.

11. Explore tools to design and manage scope

A well-designed scope must be monitored and managed throughout the project. If you’re still creating and sharing spreadsheets to manage your projects, consider this: as many as 88% of spreadsheets contain errors. Which is no surprise – with manual data entries, copying-pasting formulas, and merging data, there are bound to be human errors.

Companies that use cloud-based software to manage projects rest easy, knowing that records are updated automatically with no danger of cut-and-paste errors. And because everyone on your team – and even everyone in your company – has access to the same information, there is no need to worry whether you’re working with the right version.

12. Rely on a single source of truth

Yes, online tools ensure you all have quick access to the same data. Unless data is scattered across multiple platforms, leaving people chasing after the right information. Investing in all-in-one software helps teams work together and ensures that all data can be accessed from a single source.

The benefit of using a single source of truth when scoping a project is that everyone involved can see the same timelines and work toward the same goals, aiding collaboration, and increasing efficiency.

According to Anthony Caletka, PwCs Managing Director in the Capital Projects & Infrastructure Practices: “Some of the biggest root causes of project delivery problems include unclear project scope definition and insufficiently detailed estimates early on in a project.”

Thus, establishing a clear and well-examined project scope lays the foundation for a successful outcome of the project, supports your team in monitoring and addressing scope creep, and ultimately ensures the project delivers what all interested parties expect to receive.

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