Project Scope: What is it, and how is it defined?

Posted 28 Jul by Pavel Gorbachenko

What is the Project Scope?

This is the agreed goals of all stakeholders of what the project should deliver to be considered a success. 


Without consensus amongst stakeholders before the project starts, it will never be completed to everyone’s satisfaction without potentially significant rework.


Worst case, stakeholders may have contradictory goals that cannot be reconciled.


The project scope provides the foundation for the planning process, defining the endpoints that show how to define if completion is successful while cognizant of interdependencies between processes and resourcing and any critical stages in the project’s execution.

Project Scope vs Product Scope

Understanding the difference between the project scope and product scope is essential to avoid confusion amongst stakeholders.


End customers, in particular, will be focused on the product rather than the project, which may potentially confuse these two different things.


The Product Scope is essentially the complete list of features and functionality of a product or service. It defines the product’s capabilities from the stakeholders’ viewpoint, such as end customers and end-users. This scope is focused on the factors such as the capabilities, usability, and interfaces for the product.


On the other hand, the scope of a project is essentially the list of actions required to deliver the product, from the resources and technology to the processes and finances. Therefore, the project scope needs to know the product scope but goes beyond this to define how that product will be successfully delivered.


The project scope may also be referred to as the statement of work, though in practice, this term is more often used to define the product scope or simply the requirements issued by the customer.


While these requirements form the basis of the project scope, they do not include internal dependencies and constraints invisible to the customer.

What are the 5 Steps for Defining the Scope?

1. Determine Project Purpose

Every project has a purpose, a reason why it is required. 


This could be developing a new product, improving an existing product, creating a service, or researching a technology. The list of possible reasons is endless. 


The critical thing is that everyone involved in the project should write down this information to ensure all stakeholders understand the purpose.

2. Agreement of Objectives

There must be an agreed set of goals and objectives for each stakeholder involved in delivering the project to achieve the project’s purpose.


Project management, developers, marketing team, finance department. Everyone must be on board and working to common end goals for the project to be a success.


Objectives also cover more than the functional requirements of any end product or service.


Factors such as the required quality levels or compliance with specific regulations or legislation are equally crucial for success. It is also important to define any exclusions to the project scope to get the complete picture.


These goals must be complete and unambiguous to prevent misunderstanding between the different teams and their different interpretations of terminology. 


Therefore, it is recommended that the definition of goals and objectives follow the SMART guidelines.

  • Specific – clear and accurate definitions that exclude ambiguity

  • Measurable – defined such that progress and completion be quantified

  • Achievable – completion can be achieved with the available resources

  •  Realistic - fulfilment can be realized under normal working processes

  • Temporal - completion can be accomplished within the required timeframe

3. Meet Customer Expectations

The customer of any project, be that the entity funding the project or the end-user of any product or service must be satisfied that the objectives and goals will fulfil their expectations. 


The customers can be external parties or internal teams within the organization undertaking the project. Therefore, it is essential that a complete list of all customers is identified and their expectations collated, allowing a correlation with the project’s objectives and goals to be clearly defined.


Expectations typically define the budget, timescales, and milestones for a project. 


The project plan balances these expectations with the goals and objectives to quantify the achievability of the project with the available resources.

4. Dependencies and Constraints

The successful completion of a project will typically rely on the satisfaction of external dependencies and within known constraints. 


Therefore, these dependencies and limitations must be identified before the project commences so that plans can be put in place to ensure that the dependencies are satisfied. 


Mitigations are defined for constraints before they impact the project.

  • Dependencies can be technology or resource availability required to satisfy a process only when a preceding process is complete. Any reliance on a third-party supplier to deliver a service or the availability of investment needed to be in place to fund a development stage before it can commence.

  • Constraints can be in the form of limitations to the available resources, facilities only being available in set periods, or cash flow restrictions that limit how quickly processes can proceed.

Dependencies and constraints may be absolute certainties or result from uncertainty or assumptions in the project planning. 


The essential factor is that they are identified and clearly communicated so that all stakeholders are aware. Then, mitigation actions can be taken to ensure that they do not prevent successful project completion.

5. Change Management

Development companies recognize the importance of effective change management processes in development processes. 


The same mantra applies to the definition of the project scope. 


Any change will potentially have an enormous impact on the project, so changes must be controlled, undertaking impact analysis on the goals and objectives and confirming that the customer expectations remain satisfied.

Project Scope Example

So how do you write a project scope statement? 


The documented results typically adopt the following structure, which can form a template for your own scope of project document:


1.     Executive Summary


A summary of the project scope, its goals, and objectives.


2.     Customer Expectations


A list of all the project’s identified customers, external and internal, along with their stated expectations.


3.     Product/Service Description


A summary of the project or service that the project will deliver meets the customer and end-user expectations.


4.     Functionality Description


The project must have a purpose, and that purpose will be to fulfil a need. There will be a list of functions that the end product or service must perform to meet this need. This will typically represent the customer functional requirements but will include any additional internal requirements that may have been identified in discovery phase activities or the feasibility study.


5.     Technology Description


The technology required to implement the project will be defined, including details of current availability and requirements to acquire any new technology as a project dependency.


6.     Process Description


The business and development processes required to implement the project will be defined, including details of current availability and any capability gaps that need to be filled as a project dependency.


7.     Assumptions, Dependencies, and Constraints


The project planning must take into account the assumptions, dependencies and constraints identified during the scope definition. A comprehensive list will ensure that none are overlooked and that their possible impact on project success is recognized.

  • A list of all identified assumptions and dependencies linked to risk register entries showing the impact of these being unfulfilled, along with any identified mitigation measures.

  • A list of all project constraints.

8.     Key Deliverables


A key element is the list of project deliverables, encompassing everything from products to documentation, certification evidence, to user manuals. Deliverables can have many purposes and a range of applications, from internal documentation necessary to support the development process, marketing materials to support the sales activities through to the products requested by the customer.


A complete list of everything that needs to be delivered will ensure that nothing is missed and that the production of deliverables is included in the project plan with the requisite resources allocated to create these.


9.     Outline Project Plan


The project scope will provide the information necessary to produce an outline project plan.

  • The outline plan will demonstrate that sufficient resources are available to meet customer expectations regarding timescales and budget within the known constraints.

  • The plan will be dependent on all assumptions being correct and all dependencies being satisfied.

  • The plan will provide the foundation for internal project management planning and determine resource allocation.

How do you Write a Project Scope?

A project can have many goals and objectives that are defined by a diverse range of stakeholders. 


Therefore, it is essential that the project scope is clearly defined and agreed upon with all stakeholders to prevent any ambiguity, contradictions, or missing objectives that may later prove disastrous to the project’s success when their absence is spotted. 


Producing this will require sufficient resources and effective project scope management to deliver this fundamental element of the project program.


The key to writing the project scope is identifying all stakeholders and extracting their goals and objectives systematically and consistently. The resultant definitive set of goals and objectives will define the project and set out the criteria for successful completion.


Analysis of the goals and objectives will define the assumptions, dependencies, and constraints under which the project must operate. 


In light of these factors, planning will deliver a project plan that will remain valid under all predicted conditions and stand scrutiny by stakeholders. 


A complete project scope generates a comprehensive project plan and significantly increases the chance of successful completion on time and within budget.

The Bottom Line

A clearly defined project scope will ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them in the performance of a project and ensure they all pull together to a commonly agreed endpoint. 


It also eliminates project scope creep issues, where uncontrolled changes are introduced due to missing elements from the baseline scope that are not picked up until the project is in progress.


The complete, correct, and coherent project scope will dramatically increase the likelihood of successfully completing the project by meeting the customer’s expectations.

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