It’s inevitable. The most challenging aspect of project management is trying to define the specifications or, the scope of the project. A quality project scope defines all expectations from day one to completion—the deliverables, tasks, deadlines and required resources associated with the lifecycle of a project. Accurately determining scope is the biggest challenge for many organizations and can pose large risks if managed improperly.
Project scope management is the aspect of planning that involves determining and documenting what is and is not part of the project’s scope. Project management experts tap into a special set of techniques that allow them to allocate the proper resources necessary to achieve a desired outcome. For large-scale projects with a lot of contingencies and moving parts, properly identifying the project scope will result in greater success. For smaller projects, understanding the scope can be just as valuable, as it provides a lot of clarity regarding costs and requirements.
There are three processes or “phases” that make up project scope management: planning, controlling and closing. Getting to know these phases will help you set achievable project goals.
Phase One – Plan the Project Scope
The first phase of project scope management is simply defined as the Planning Stage. In this stage, you will find three critical steps that help to successfully establish the project scope.
The first step is to capture the needs and expectations of each project stakeholder—that is, anyone who is involved with the project from team members to customers in order to meet the requirements that must be fulfilled for them to consider it a success. There are many ways you can gather this information including direct conversations, meetings, focus groups and workshops that aim to clearly define the qualitative and quantitative metrics of success.
A word of advice: Remember to always document this information in your SOW (scope or statement of work). A SOW should outline exactly what you will do. They build trust and set expectations between you and your client. You can download the Definitive Guide to Writing Great SOWs to access a free template.
Secondly, producing a project schedule starts with defining the needs of the project including the proper allocation of resources such as people, funds and tools, and setting the overall project goals. It is nearly impossible to clearly understand what needs to be done without first taking your goals into account. This allows the assignment of tasks to each contributor, and sets the direction and directives necessary to achieve a project on time and on budget.
The third step in project scope planning requires a full understanding of all project objectives. While there may be numerous objectives associated with a project, it is the responsibility of the individual managing it to work closely with stakeholders to come to an agreement on the specific goals and to determine how you will evaluate final success. When there are conflicts in this stage, the outcome will undoubtedly be in jeopardy as each team member may be mapping to a different result.
Phase Two – Control The Project Scope
The next step is to create a work breakdown structure that identifies the smaller, more manageable components that will make up each project. For example, to arrange a launch event, one important factor is the venue. Since “venue” has a lot of contingencies, it is broken down into manageable parts such as identification of options, the booking fee, the deadline for booking the venue, and details regarding logistics such as audio system, lighting, seating, and even security.
If necessary, each of these smaller considerations can be even further broken down as with “audio system” which can include speakers, microphones, electrical outlets, a sound technician.
Work Breakdown Structure
A work breakdown structure is particularly useful in forecasting costs, understanding the resources and skills required, and discerning whether or not your deadlines and final delivery date are achievable. It is also the most important step in crafting a schedule associated with each of the components of the project. Utilize project management software to facilitate this process, including building project plans, creating assignments and scheduling resources. With all this data in one place, project management tools can help you easily assess the current status of every task and deliverable once the project is in progress.
Change Control Process
While this step is instrumental in determining a plan of action, it also assumes that changes to a project along the way will be handled in a “controlled” manner. This is why most project managers like to set up a change control process that addresses the emergence of unforeseen events that could affect necessary changes in the project. This does not mean guessing what could go wrong ahead of time, but rather a general framework for dealing with things when it does.
Changes can more readily be confronted with a change control process in place, however uncontrolled changes result in “scope creep” which can have a huge impact down the line on schedules and results. A change control process generally outlines how an issue would be analyzed once it has been identified as potentially impacting the project scope: costs, staffing, timeline, tools and material. It also lays down who would make a recommendation on whether to accept matters as they are or make adjustments to plans and desired results, as well as who has responsibility to sign off on the final decision.
Phase Three – Closing Out the Project
The last phase encompasses the techniques for closing out the project both in terms of each step toward delivery as well as the final product. An important aspect of this is scope verification which is mainly concerned with acceptance of the deliverables. It allows for the vetting and confirmation of the project at intervals throughout its delivery, as well as at the conclusion.
For example, the project manager might ask for approval of the work breakdown structure before starting the project and then, along the way, check in with the customer to ensure they are satisfied with the status of the project and completed items as they currently stand. It provides a way to check in on the health of the project as it advances so that feedback can be given on the work performed, and adjustments can be made before reaching the end when it is too late.
The final step encompasses an audit of the project to evaluate the achievement of goals and costs relative to the original plan. This makes it possible to understand the value of the project and to make alterations, or reopen the project and recalibrate so as to map results closer to intended objectives.
In the end, successful project scope management requires a clear articulation of each part of the process to ensure that each team member knows their role in achieving the end result, and stakeholders are in agreement on the parameters, deliverables and goals. It puts into place the plan, schedule and control mechanisms that make it possible to avoid budget overruns, think clearly about the intended outcome, address factors that could affect change along the way, and ultimately stay on track to achieve a positive outcome.