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How to Effectively Define Scope in Project Management

How to Effectively Define Scope in Project Management

It’s easy to talk about projects at a higher-level, but in order to actually complete projects successfully you have to set clear expectations upfront - in other words, you must define the project scope.

Defining scope is only as time-intensive as you make it. Whether it’s a simple email to the team, bulleting expectations, or a multi-page document that includes refined details, there are many ways to set expectations. Incorporate what the objectives are, what resources you will need, and what can be expected in regards to deliverables and success metrics.

No matter how detailed your project scope description is, in this post, we’ll break down what the key elements are and how you can kick-off your project successfully with a well-built project scope brief.

6 things every project scope brief should include

The details of your brief will depend on your specific project, but there are a few key elements that you should always include:

Start with a statement

To ensure smooth sailing, it’s important to create a clear project scope statement. This statement includes, at a high-level, what your project will entail. Think of it as the “TLDR” of your brief. It is a simple sentence or two that everyone can remember and you can reference when the details get murky on Day 19 of the project.

Confirm the objectives

A key component of any project is to be clear about what your objectives are. Defining objectives clearly allows you to quickly assess the level of work required to achieve that objective. Without it, you’ll be chasing a moving target and the project will drag on.

It is important to be painfully clear in your objective statements. Everyone should understand what they mean and you should use language that has no chance of being misinterpreted. This not only makes the project tasks easier to build, but it also serves as insurance if debates breakout later about what the true goal of the project is.

Be sure to make these objectives measurable, even if the metric seems very simple. For example, one of your objectives could be as specific as “Increase engagement by 20%” or “Launch MVP of new chat feature”. With these examples, you’ll want to be incredibly specific about what “engagement” means and how your team defines “MVP”. Without a clear definition documented, it’s easy to forget and leaves more room for interpretation.

Lastly, be sure to include what will not be a part of the scope. This lessens the chance for guessing.

Define project needs

Once your objectives have been laid out, you’re now ready to include what resources you’ll need in order to meet those objectives. This section can include a list of human resources - aka the team members who will be assigned to this project. It can also include any hardware or software needs, as well as access to certain people throughout the project for approvals and guidance. Whatever you think you will need to accomplish this project successfully, put it here.

Set clear timeline and deliverables

Ah, the most self-explanatory yet trickiest part of any project scope - the timeline. The reason it is so important to include details about what resources you’ll need and what the objectives are is so that when your timeline shifts, you can point to reasons why more easily.

Timelines can be broken out however you’d like, but the most important aspect of this timeline is to set clear expectations. Of course, you’d like to meet every deadline and check all the boxes, but rarely does it ever happen as planned, so it’s important to cover your bases.

Identify obstacles

Related to the timeline, here is where you’ll put anticipated obstacles. This can include dependencies on other teams, resource constraints, technical inabilities, etc. This part of the scope is important in mitigating risk. You need to assess what obstacles could come up so that you can discuss how your team would address them. This is a much more productive approach than being surprised later and frantically trying to solve a problem.

Get buy-in

There are many different ways to get your team to sign off on project scope - a meeting, an email thread, or even a physical scope brief. You don’t want anyone saying later that they didn’t see it or they did not approve. Again, this is your insurance policy.

Even further, if there are pieces of the project that you feel need additional buy-in, make that happen at the start so you can include it in the scope.

A Project Scope Brief to get you started

To make it super simple, we’ve put together a Project Scope Template list below that you can use. This list includes a high-level overview of the specific items you need in order to define a project scope quickly and effectively.

Here’s what to include:

1. Scope Overview
In this section, you’ll want to include one to two sentences that describe the project. Keep it brief and use language that is easy to remember. The simpler it is, the easier it is to remember.

Describe what functionality, features, etc. will be included in the scope of the project.

Does Not Include:
Describe elements that will not be included.

2. Deliverables
Describe what deliverables will be included and what format recipients can expect. The deliverables themselves can be used as success metrics so it’s important to be specific here. This can also include technical specifications if that’s relevant - but that list may be long enough to break out into its own section.

3. Obstacles
Describe the biggest obstacles you anticipate and what your mitigation plan is if they come up. This allows for any questions to be addressed upfront and lowers the chances of surprises - and conflict - later in the project.

4. Constraints
Differing slightly from obstacles, constraints include project parameters you have to work within. This includes resources, such as budget, team availability, timeline, and any equipment or software needed. You can also include additional contractor resources you may need to complete the project in this section.

5. Project Dependencies
Sometimes, your project may be linked to another project. This is incredibly important to note as it may interfere with your timeline and expectations. Include other project details here so key stakeholders have a chance to review the dependencies and make adjustments - either to their expectations or the projects themselves.

6. Success Metrics
This is probably the most important section - how will you know this project was successful? Describe the metrics in this section and be sure to get sign off on these metrics. Sometimes even putting “How will we know this was a success: ____” makes it easier to remember for the entire team.

7. Assumptions
Project assumptions are things that prevent you from miscommunication with key stakeholders. If there are assumptions you are making that affect the scope of the project, include them here as a safeguard.

There may be additional sections to include that are relevant to your particular project, but this is a great starting point for those who have never scoped a project before. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, just keep in mind that projects will likely adjust throughout the process and over-communication is key in those moments. But if you get a project scoped clearly from the beginning, and get the right buy-in, you’ll have covered your bases and any adjustments made throughout the project will be less of a surprise.

Are there other elements that you think are important to include in a project scope? How do you track work and progress? Learn more tips and best practices for managing projects effectively using GitHub Issues and ZenHub Epics.

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