A complete guide to project scope


Defining the scope of your project clearly will help you to effectively manage stakeholder expectations, ensuring that all of the elements of the project are aligned with the objectives, therefore, increasing the chances of your project being a success. Because of this, the project scope is a critical part of project management to understand. Read on to discover everything you need to know about it.

What is project scope?

Let’s start by defining what the project scope is. Project scope is a detailed outline of all of the elements of a project, including all of the related deliverables, timelines, resources, and activities, as well as the boundaries of the project.

The project scope will also outline key stakeholders, constraints, assumptions, processes, what is included in the project, and what is not included in the project. All of the critical information about the project is included within the project scope statement.

Understand project scope

Project scope management is the process that enables you to determine and document the list of all of the project goals, budgets, deadlines, deliverables, and tasks as part of the project planning process.

In project management, it is not uncommon for big projects to have modifications along the way. By defining the scope for the project in the beginning, it becomes a lot easier for project teams to manage and make the changes that are needed.

So, let’s take a look at the process that is involved when it comes to the project scope management process:

  1. Planning scope management – The first part of the process involves putting together a scope plan document, which you can then refer to throughout the entire process of the project. The document mainly aids in defining, controlling, validating, and managing the scope of the project. This should include the project change control process, expected project deliverables, the breakdown of all of the requirements for the project, and a detailed project scope statement. The document does not have to be extremely detailed. It simply has to be fit for purpose. You can also use a scope management plan from a prior project for reference.
  2. Collect the project requirements – Next, you need to work out the requirements and expectations of your stakeholders. You need to document all of the project requirements, deliverables, budgets, and expectations via focus groups, surveys, and interviews. This is a rather vital step because usually stakeholders have unrealistic expectations or requirements, and project managers need to step in and find a solution that everyone finds acceptable to avoid project delays. At the end of the collection requirements stage, you should have all project requirements, support and training needs, business requirements, stakeholder’s requirements, functional requirements, and non-functional requirements.
  3. Define the project scope – At this point, you must turn your requirements into a well-detailed description of the product or service that you are trying to deliver through the project. You are then going to have the project scope statement that you can reference throughout the entire project. While it is vital to make a list of what is found within the project scope, it is just as critical to note down what is out of the scope of the project. Any sort of inclusions to the scope would then need to go through the complete change control process to make sure the project team is only working on the elements and tasks that they are meant to work on. When you have a defined project scope in place, you have a reference point for the entire project team and everyone else that is involved. If there is something that is not found in the project scope, it will not need to be covered by the team.
  4. Make a project breakdown structure – A project breakdown structure is a document that will break down all of the work that you need to carry out during the project, and then this is assigned to the team members, ensuring the right members receive the right tasks based on their skills. It lists the deliverables that must be completed and their respective deadlines too. This step will certainly benefit from the assistance of project management software, which is the process used for assigning and prioritising project tasks. This makes it a lot easier for you to track the project’s entire process and to make sure you avoid any unnecessary bottlenecks.
  5. Validate – In this part of the process, the deliverables and scope that you have recorded must be sent to project stakeholders and executives to get the required approvals. Scope validation must be carried out before you can start the project to make certain that if something goes wrong it is going to be easy to determine why and how it has gone wrong.
  6. Control – Last but not least, a project manager must always make sure that as the project starts, it always stays within the defined scope. In case there are some things that must be changed, the correct change control process must be followed. 
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Why project scope is important

For any project manager, it is critical to manage the expectations of clients and stakeholders. However, this is one of the most difficult tasks. If you have a definite project scope in place, you can stay on track with ease and you can make sure that all deadlines are being adhered to throughout the project life cycle.

By defining project scope effectively, you can avoid a whole host of common problems, such as:

  • Falling behind the project deadlines
  • Going over the budget that has been discussed
  • Realising that the final outcome is not what was anticipated
  • Pivoting the project direction when you are already halfway through it
  • Constantly changing requirements

All of these issues can be frustrating and they can take you off track, resulting in budgets being exceeded and timeliness being extended. However, with a project scope statement, you can help to avoid these situations.

Successful management provides a clear and evident idea regarding the cost, labour, and time involved in the project. It helps to distinguish between what is required and what is not needed for accomplishing in the project.

Scope in project management will establish the project’s control factors to address elements that may change throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Project scope is critical in every phase of your project

This includes the following five phases:

  • Project initiation – Determining an initial scope for the project tends to be the first part of the project. This helps frame any company case and helps decision-makers with regard to due diligence.
  • Project planning – Once there has been the approval of any business case, you can scope the project fully. This tends to be an iterative procedure between the client and the project team, it is vital to get the scope agreed upon before you move onto delivery so that all people involved have a shared understanding of all of the project elements. It draws a line that will define the project.
  • Project execution – During this phase, the deliverables are created and completed. The scope of the project needs to be a continual point of reference so that all members of your project team remain on task and stakeholder expectations are managed effectively.
  • Project monitoring – The project manager must continue to monitor the project’s progression. The project plan must detail the process you must utilize for adjusting the resources, schedules, and scope.
  • Project closure – After the project, the client and the project manager need to reflect on the success of the project. Together, you can assess the outcomes against the scope of the project and the stated objectives and goals, with any agreed changes throughout the delivery.
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What should be included in your project scope statement?

The level of details on your project scope statement will differ based on how complex your project is. Nevertheless, there are some common elements that your project scope must cover:

  • Assignees – This stands for a list of people who have been assigned to the project because they are matches for the roles that you have outlined for the project and they have sufficient availability to get on board with what is needed.
  • Roles – This part will outline the expertise that is required for the project to be set in motion. Once all of the roles have been defined clearly, you will have a solid perception of what sort of experts you must invite to participate in the project.
  • Project estimations – Estimations come in a whole host of sizes and shapes. This includes the amount of money and time that the project demands, as well as the resources it requires.
  • Start and end dates – This part will aim to display the date that your project begins and where it concludes, ensuring that there is a clear time frame for the project that everyone needs to stick to.
  • Project tasks – The project tasks show you the project’s scope of work in the tiniest detail, pointing to all of the specific things that must be carried out within a short time period. Every milestone consists of a number of tasks, which then get divided into subtasks.
  • Project subtasks – Project subtasks stands for the smallest meaningful units that summarise a specific amount of work. When you define the scope of the project from the beginning to the end, you must account for everything that requires time, irrespective of how small the tasks are.
  • Project milestones – Last but not least, project milestones mark the progress and time-related points within your project timeline. As a rule, each project will get broken down into a number of milestones and meaningful steps on your way toward effective project delivery.

The challenges

The need to define the project’s scope, however, brings a number of different challenges. The truth is that, whenever there is project scope, there is going to be scope creep. Despite the fact that you need to make sure that your project’s scope is specific and clear from the beginning, it has been shown that the vast majority of tasks are actually created once the project has started.

Scope creep tends to start with small changes to the project’s scope, waiting for client feedback or underestimated tasks. Then, it will suddenly end up being days or even weeks of added work.

As a consequence, this could result in your resources being stretched, your project running overtime, and other clients and projects can be pushed further from their dates of completion. This is why it is imperative to have a dedicated approach in place when it comes to defining the scope of your project work and ensuring you navigate any changes in the best possible manner.

Why are changes required on well-planned projects?

This is a question that a lot of people ask themselves when it comes to project changes. “I have planned the project well, so why do I need to make changes?” Well, unfortunately, it does not matter how well you have planned the project, changes may still be required, and here are some of the different reasons why:

  • There have been changes to the funding of the project – Sometimes, funding changes are completely out of your control. Perhaps your client has had to cut their budget?
  • Changing project resources – You may not have access to resources that you had expected. Or there could have been a new development that means you want to use different resources for the project.
  • An unanticipated world event – You only need to look at the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of this to see a prime example. There are so many projects over the past year that have changed dramatically because of the pandemic and the subsequent social distancing rules and regulations that were put in place.
  • Business benefits have changed – Another reason why well-planned projects change is that businesses may change their goals. If your client’s vision changes and their perceived objectives are now different, you are going to have to change your project to accommodate this.
  • The needs of the business have changed – Finally, the business requirements may change. Again, this is something you cannot account for at the start of the project. For example, the business may have gone from being solely focused on profit to then wanting to make sure that the project is environmentally sustainable.
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Scope creep explained

Scope creep refers to a situation whereby changes happen once the project has commenced, and the changes are not anticipated or defined within the scope statement.

When scope creep happens, it can have a negative impact on the project’s budget, resources, deliverable quality, timeline, and other elements. If you manage your project’s scope, it can help avoid unwelcome surprises.

Avoid scope creep

Aside from reviewing and monitoring all project activities regularly, there are a number of steps you should take to manage your project’s scope so you can avoid scope creep. Here are the steps that you should follow:

  • Identify whether or not there are any changes to project requirements. This is a critical step, as changes will have a direct impact on project objectives and all related activities.
  • Identify how the changes will impact your project. Before you can make any adjustments to your project’s scope, you must understand where and how changes can impact the outcome.
  • Gain approval for the changes before you proceed with a change in direction or activities.
  • Implemented the approved changes in a timely manner to avoid risks and delays.

Here are some further tips that you can use for effective project scope management:

  • Make sure that you put together a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), as this will give you a breakdown of the scope statement into steps that are smaller and more manageable.
  • Make sure that there is not any ambiguity in your scope to avoid unnecessary stress and work. The scope should be as clear and straightforward as possible.
  • You should not alter the project scope document throughout project execution so that you do not end up increasing the scope beyond what was discussed initially.
  • The process of defining the project scope should be a collaborative procedure so that you can prevent the requirements from being misinterpreted. You can utilize project collaboration tools to enhance effective communication between project teams.
  • Last but not least, take your time to consult all of the relevant stakeholders, define the scope for the project with them, as once it has been finalised, it cannot be changed.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it: everything that you need to know about project scope. We hope that this has helped you to get a better understanding of what project scope is, and why it is critical that you manage this.

It is important to put together a project scope document for your project, and you need to continue to manage this effectively so you can manage scope creep, ensuring that your project remains on time and on budget.


Finally, we will end by answering some of the most common questions we receive about project scope so that you can get a better understanding.

What is the scope of a project?

The scope of a project is part of the project planning process, which involves determining and documenting a list of specific project goals, deadlines, costs, tasks, and deliverables. The scope statement will also give the team the guidelines they require to make decisions about change requests throughout the project.

What is a good example?

Let’s say that you are the project manager that is in charge of defining the scope for a content marketing project. This is a simple scope statement that you may put together:

  • Introduction – You would start off with an introduction, which states that ‘X’ company is undertaking the project with the aim of creating an article to be posted on their website to generate brand awareness.
  • Project scope – The project will include writing the article, content strategy, research, publishing it on the company’s website under the ‘X’ blog. It will also include sharing the article on the company’s social media accounts for the month of December 2021. All activities are going to be carried out by Jane Doe of the ‘X’ company.
  • Project deliverables – The deliverables of the project include a well-researched and well-written article consisting of as much as 2,000 words to be delivered to an email stated by November 20th, 2021.
  • Project acceptance criteria – For the project to be accepted, John at /X/ company will review it and approve the final version before publication.
  • Project exclusions – The project is not going to incorporate payment to external vendors for outsourced services or research.
  • Project constraints – Constraints can include the likes of technical difficulties, changes in scope, and communication delays.

What is included in a project scope?

The project scope is usually written by the project manager. This is a scope statement that will outline the project in full, including any deliverables and their features. It will also include a list of stakeholders who will be impacted. It will also incorporate any of the main project deliverables, objectives, and goals to help measure success.

How do you write a project scope?

There are a number of different steps that you can follow to write the project scope effectively. Firstly, you need to understand why the project was initiated, to begin with. You should define the project’s key objectives. Next, outline the project statement of work and identify the chief deliverables. Next, select key milestones, identify the main constraints, and list scope exclusions. Finally, obtain sign-off.

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