Defining Project Scope

Brandi Johnson

Jun 9 2016 6 min read

Defining project scope is a critical step in project planning. How will you measure success if you don’t have a clear definition of what you need to deliver?

Project scope: The work performed to deliver a product, service or result with the specified features and functions. – PMBOK

So what does that really mean? Project scope establishes the boundaries of the project, establishes responsibilities for each team member and sets up procedures for how completed work will be verified and approved. It’s also referred to as a scope statement, statement of work (SOW) or terms of reference. Your project scope document should be used throughout execution to keep the project team focused and on-task.

Of course, the scope isn’t just used by the team to direct their work. It also provides guidelines for the  project manager to make decisions about change requests. While it’s natural for parts of a large project to change along the way, the better the project has been “scoped” at the beginning, the better the project team will be able to manage change.

When creating your project scope, be as specific as possible. Covering as many details as you can helps you avoid scope creep. (Scope creep is when part of your project ends up requiring more work, time or effort because of poor planning or miscommunication.)

Once you’ve defined the scope, the next step is ensuring that the project team understands it. We recommend reviewing the scope as part of your project kick-off meeting, which allows you to also track any questions, comments or changes that should be made to the scope. As the team works on the projects, any changes to the project scope should be documented and reviewed using change requests.

Project Scope vs Project Charter

It may be tempting to combine your project scope and your project charter. These documents serve two very different purposes. While the project scope document outlines the details of project goals, along with project constraints including budgets and timelines, the project charter gives the project manager the authority to use resources to execute the project.

The 3 Facets of Scope Management

defining project scopeThere are three key processes in project scope management: planning, controlling, and closing.

  • Planning: The planning process is when an attempt is made to capture and define the work that needs competition.
  • Controlling: The controlling and monitoring processes are concerned with documenting tracking, scope creep, tracking, and disapproving/ approving project changes.
  • Closing:The final process, closing, includes an audit of the project deliverables and an assessment of the outcomes against the original plan.


Steps for defining the scope of a project

When you define your project scope, be sure to include:

  • Project objectives
  • Goals
  • Sub-phases
  • Tasks
  • Resources
  • Budget
  • Schedule


Once these are established, you will also need to clarify the project limitations and parameters, and any exclusions from the project. When doing this, the project scope will make clear to the stakeholders, senior management, and team members what will and will not be included in the final product or service.

Defining project scope isn’t difficult to implement, but it is easy to overlook, especially when you’re running many projects with the same team, or building out similar projects. Investing the time up front to clearly define your project scope saves you time, effort and cost in the long-run.


Brandi Johnson

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