2 minute project tips – Scope

Are any of your projects in trouble?  Are they taking longer than expected, or plagued with too many changes? Chances are you didn’t define the scope properly.

A common factor contributing to projects getting into trouble is starting with unclear or poorly defined outcomes.  Scoping a project is defining what’s to be done, and just as importantly in many cases, what’s NOT to be done.

The PMI’s bible on project management, the PMBOK (6th ed.) devotes a whole chapter to Scoping, so it’s a pretty important process to do properly to set your project up for success.

The best-selling book by Stephen Covey “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” includes “begin with the end in mind” as the second habit, and this is very relevant here.

Many projects start with a pain point or an opportunity that’s been picked up or identified.  There’s an immediate pressure to address the issue, to make things better, and this dynamic, if not managed properly, can be a very dangerous one when setting up a project.

Scoping involves thinking out and writing down everything needed to have been done to deliver a successful project.  A really good question to use when scoping is “when we’ve finished this project, what will success look like to you?”.  Note those last 2 words – “… to you? ”  Each and every key influencer, customer or recipient of whatever the project is supposed to deliver should give their ideas here, so a complete picture can be created of all the things which need to be in place at the end of the project.  Because if your end-users aren’t happy with the result, then have you really delivered a successful project?

The classic tool to visualize what’s in scope is the work breakdown structure.  This is a very useful communication tool to diagram all the various deliverable elements, each of which is normally then broken down further into tasks and sub-tasks needed to actually create that deliverable.

I mentioned earlier that scoping also defines what’s NOT to be done – and this is often left out of poorly written scoping.  Setting out what’s not in scope is really important, as it communicates to everyone that there are clear limits of what is included, and that some things are outside of the project and not part of it.  Maybe they’ll be in version 2, but they’re NOT in our current set of deliverables!

So talk to all your key stakeholders, list out what’s IN and what’s OUT for this project, then get everyone to sign off on your scope.  Now you can begin working out how to deliver what you’ve signed up to…  Good luck!

Last tip – scoping applies to every project!  Some people think that using approaches like AGILE means you can skip this and just launch into your sprints, but at the start of any project you still need to define your end-state in terms of the key functions the project must deliver.

Useful resources on Scoping

Short watch - Online PM Courses - 3.5 minutes

Long Watch - Project Management Professional - 42 minutes

Joe Houghton

2 minute Project Tips is a series of short articles aimed at helping you with your projects.

Joe Houghton is an Asst. Professor of Project Management at UCD Smurfit Graduate School of Business in Dublin, Ireland, and regularly consults & coaches in industry as Head of Learning & Development with Dublin based consultancy The Project Foundry.

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