How to effectively define Project Scope

Project Scope refers to the list of agreed deliverables, features expected in the final product, processes that have been mutually agreed upon and the boundary within which project related activities will be executed. The scope indicates the goals that have to be met for system acceptance.

The steps involved in defining project scope are as follows:

  1. Identify the business objectives – The project justification or reason for executing the project is the most important item in the project scope.
  2. Prepare a work break down structure indicating the tasks and sub-tasks involved
  3. Identify the processes to be followed – Some clients expect documents such as program specifications, test plans and user manuals to be delivered with the final product. These should be defined in the project scope.
  4. List the project deliverables – This is a list of all items that the client will get at the end of each phase / milestone of the project.
  5. Identify the resources required (e.g. budget, man-power, timelines) to execute the project.
  6. List all business requirements – Any requirement that is not explicitly listed will be termed as out of scope. If the client adds a new requirement which is not defined in the scope, it will entitle the project team to request for more resources to accommodate the new requirement (or a modification to an existing requirement).
  7. Define the project boundaries, limitations and constraints – For example, if the scope says “The application will be tested for monitor resolutions 1280×768 and 1024×768”, it means that the application must be tested for its look and feel on screens of the mentioned resolutions. It need not be tested on other monitor resolutions, since those are out of scope. In the same way, the browsers with which the application is expected to be compatible and the maximum volume of data that the application can handle should be listed in the scope.
  8. Identify functions / features that will not be supported by the application. – For example, the scope may indicate that the application will not support currencies other than US Dollar, Pounds and Euro (or) the application will not be available in languages other than English and Japanese.
  9. Set up an organized process for change management and risk management to prevent scope creep.
  10. Identify and document the mandatory and non-mandatory (wish-list) features for the application.

The project’s scope defines what will be part of the project and what will not. This helps to maintain focus on important success criteria and prevent burdening the team with additional tasks that have not been initially agreed upon. The scope definition ensures that the expectations of the client are documented and met.

The project scope should be reviewed, mutually accepted and signed off by the client, project manager and other stakeholders. The project manager should keep a constant watch for scope creep (introduction of new tasks / features during subsequent project meetings with the client) since it will cause monetary and schedule deviation from the estimates originally agreed upon. To define the scope effectively, discuss each project requirement in detail with the client and ensure that the requirement it is completely understood and documented. This will ensure greater accuracy in calculating the project’s cost and time estimates. It will also ensure that the project is delivered within budget and on time.

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