Project ManagementHow to Define Project Scope

How to Define Project Scope

Project Management Tutorials

In a software development environment, project scope is a document that outlines the objectives and deliverables of a software project. Project scopes provide a roadmap for every stakeholder involved in a project to follow, providing a clear path to ensure the successful completion of the project. Defining project scope is a critical first step that will help your team avoid scope creep, reduce and mitigate risks and uncertainties, and make sure the project stays on track. In this tutorial, we explore what project scope is, why it is important to developers, and how to define project scope. We will also offer some tips on avoiding scope creep and best practices.

What is Project Scope

To put it more succinctly, project scope is the clear and exact definition of the work and tasks required to successfully complete a project – in our case, an application, app, or website. This scope includes the project’s objectives, deliverables, constraints, resources, boundaries, and key stakeholders. Additionally, the scope will set the parameters of the project and identify what does and does not need to be included.

A good project scope should be measured using what is known as SMART, which stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Project managers or developer leads will need to make certain that their scope is SMART and can be measured using SMART guidelines for the best chance of success.

You can learn more about setting SMART objectives in our tutorial: Introduction to Objectives and SMART Goals.

Why is Defining Project Scope Important?

Defining project scope is important for a number of reasons, including:

  • Helps prevent scope creep
  • Helps allocate resources
  • Ensures stakeholders understand the project requirements
  • Allows project success to be measurable

Helps Prevent Scope Creep

Projects that do not have a well-defined scope have a greater chance of failure and are more likely to experience scope creep. Scope creep occurs when features, tasks, budgets, or requirements are added to a project through the lifecycle without being properly accounted for. The more you add to the initial project definition, the more scope creep exists and the greater threat that your project will run over budget, exceed time limitations, add stress to your team, and increase risks. Too much scope creep can even cause a project to fail completely.

You can learn more in our tutorial: What is Scope Creep?

Helps Allocate Resources

A clearly defined project scope will help allocate the proper amount of resources for a project, which can include time, budget, and manpower requirements. This up-front definition ensures that resources are used properly, the project stays within budget, and that enough resources are available for success.

Stakeholder Alignment

Stakeholders include investors, the project team, developers, project managers, clients, and management. Defining the objectives and boundaries of a project makes it easier for all stakeholders involved to understand what is required of each member and fosters better communication and collaboration among all members involved in the project.

Measurable Success

As you might imagine, without knowing what a project’s goals and deliverables are, it can be difficult to measure success. Providing a clear layout of these deliverables, objectives, and tasks gives project managers a way to objectively benchmark and measure a project’s achievements. For example, if there are 200 tasks that need to be completed, and 100 of them are finished, a manager can say that the project is 50% completed.

Read: Tips to Avoid Scope Creep

Defining Project Scope

Below are some key steps project managers and developer managers can take to define a project scope, including:

  • Initiation and Identification
  • Define Objectives and Deliverables
  • Create a Scope statement
  • Define Assumptions and constraints
  • Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
  • Define Timeline and Milestones
  • Conduct Risk Analysis
  • Conduct Project Scope Review
  • Create change management workflow
  • Verify Scope

Initiation and Identification

The start of the project is known as the Initiation Phase. During this first step, the project manager will identify all relevant and key stakeholders. These stakeholders will include everyone working on the project, management, the project manager, end-users, clients, vendors, and another else that will provide work or feedback on the project or who will influence it in any way.

Define Objectives and Deliverables

During the second step, project managers and developer leads will want to articulate the project’s objectives and deliverables. In a software development environment, these deliverables can include features, updates, functionality, and user interfaces (to name but a few) required to deliver a completed piece of software. The objectives and deliverables should align to the needs, requirements, specifications, and expectations of the stakeholders. To make sure this alignment is in place, we suggest using the SMART criteria we discussed in the previous section.

Create a Scope Statement

Once you have defined objectives and goals, you will want to create your scope statement, which is a document that outlines and summarizes the project’s objectives, deliverables, constraints, and boundaries. It should be kept concise and easy to understand so that the items it describes are understood by every stakeholder. Failure to make the scope statement clear can lead to issues in communication and the threat of future scope creep. Finally, the scope statement needs to be approved by every stakeholder, as it will act as a reference document for the remainder of the project’s lifecycle.

Read: nTask Project Management Software Alternatives

Define Assumptions and Constraints

All projects, regardless of type, have what are known as assumptions. An assumption in the project management realm is a factor that is thought to be true, but that is not proven. For instance, you might assume that the economy will grow over the next five years, but you cannot prove that to be the case.

In addition to assumptions, projects also have constraints, which are limitations that might impact the execution of the project in some manner. For instance, a low budget might impact the team’s ability to finish the project.

In this phase, you must identify any assumptions and constraints so that your team can manage risks, mitigate them, and avoid any unanticipated troubles.

Create a Work Breakdown Structure

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a method managers can use to break projects into smaller, more manageable tasks and subtasks. A WBS is formed in a hierarchical manner, which makes it easier to plan, allocate resources, and assign tasks.

Define Milestones and Timeline

Once your WBS is in place, the logical next step is to set milestones and deadlines. This will let you track progress and make certain the project stays on schedule. A milestone can be viewed as a critical point in a project that signals the completion of a pivotal phase or task within a project.

Conduct Risk Analysis

Another important part of defining project scope lies in conducting risk analysis. This is the process of identifying any potential risk that could affect the project scope and then creating strategies to mitigate those risks, or, if mitigation is not possible, to address the risk. Creating a well-thought out risk management plan is crucial for the success of a project, as without one, your team will not know how to respond to risks should they arise.

Conduct Project Scope Review

Once all of the above steps are completed, you will want to present the project scope to all stakeholders. Each member will then review the project scope and grant their approval, or ask for changes. This important review process helps ensure that every stakeholder understands the project’s objectives and deliverables, and is on board.

Create Change Management Workflow

Every project will have changes throughout its lifecycle – no matter how well thought out the project is. Because of this – and to help avoid scope creep – project managers should create a change management process document and then assess any proposed changes to the project scope. Using this method, you can evaluate the impact any requested changes may have on the project’s budget, resources, and timeline and adjust accordingly.

Verify Scope

Finally, through the project lifecycle, you will want to verify that the work and tasks being performed continue to align with the scope definition. Using this technique, you can identify any deviations from the original scope and take corrective actions early, before it leads to scope creep or road blocks within the project.

Final Thoughts on Defining Project Scope

In this tutorial, we learn how to define a project scope by examining the critical phases that occur throughout a project’s lifecycle. By understanding the steps it takes to create a project scope and following the steps outlined above, project managers of software development teams can build a clear, structured roadmap for their software projects. This, in turn, provides a document and set of processes that prevents scope creep, keeps projects on time and within budget, and enhances stakeholder communication and collaboration.

At the end of the day, a project scope has one main purpose: to maximize the chance of delivering a successful project that meets the requirements of key stakeholders, management, vendors, and end-users.

Project Management Tools for Developers

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Example of nTask Project Management Software

Having a project scope in hand is a great step towards ensuring a project is completed successfully. However, without the necessary tools to manage, assign, and track tasks, a project can easily get out of hand – especially with larger projects that involve teams that work in remote locations. To properly manage a project, project managers rely on project management software and tools, which include features like task management, collaboration, resource allocation, and advanced reporting.

Finding the right PM solution can be tricky. With that in mind, we have a great round-up of the Best Project Management Software and Tools specifically for project managers of software development teams designed to help you find the right options.

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