What is Project Scope and How to Define It? | Project Management

What is Project Scope and How to Define It?

Pavel Aramyan

Nov 05 2019

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The project scope is a clear set of steps that you need to undertake to complete the project successfully. The scope is derived from the project requirements and makes sure that only the required work is done to complete each deliverable on time and budget.

When starting a new project with a new client, it’s often a challenge to understand, define, and estimate the work that needs to be done to complete the project. Clients can tell you what they want to get in the end, but it’s your job to understand how to achieve the end goal on time and budget. In general, the work refers to the high-end project deliverables, which vary depending on the project. The deliverables can be defined as building blocks/milestones of the overall project, which are then brought together to form the end-deliverable.

For instance, if we’re talking about a website, the deliverables can include functionality, mockup, wireframe, and animations. For a software product like a smartphone app, the deliverables include features, functionality, Alpha build, Beta build, etc. Later, each of these big milestones is broken down into smaller ones and so on. In project management, this process is often referred to as deriving the project scope and project scope management.

What is Project Scope?

In simple terms, this is a list of specified project goals, features, tasks, functions, deadlines, and costs that need to be undertaken to complete the project on time and budget. Defining the scope is important because it lets you do three things:

  • Define the time and resources needed to complete the project.
  • Break big chunks of work into smaller tasks to figure out the details.
  • Avoid extra work that doesn’t directly contribute to the end-goal.

When you define the scope early in the process, it allows you to get on the same page with both your team and stakeholders, and this is extremely important. Once you have agreed on certain terms and conditions, this document becomes “the ace up your sleeve” in terms of deliverables and expectations. Let me explain.

In project management, it is often the case when client expectations and demands evolve (or better to say skyrocket) throughout the project, often resulting in tons of extra work. The project scope allows you to refer to it whenever needed, and make sure that everyone stays on the same page with the previously agreed-upon deliverables, features, functionality, deadlines, and costs. For instance, if a certain deliverable hasn’t been mentioned in the scope, it can be added in, but you can request additional time and resources to deliver it since it wasn’t on the original list.

A clear, detailed scope can save you time, resources, frustration, and unnecessary headache if you take the time to draft it properly. Once the scope is defined, it’s also recommended to create a project scope statement, which is a one-page document that identifies the constraints, deliverables, and key success factors. The project scope can be dozens of pages long, and presenting all of that to the stakeholders will be highly ineffective if you want to have productive and short meetings.

What is Project Scope Management?

Project scope management is the process of ensuring that you have defined all the work that is required to achieve the end goal of the particular project. In other words, the scope is the document, and scope management is the process of drafting that document correctly.

How to Define the Project Scope?

In project management, the steps needed to define the project scope are relatively the same each time you undertake a new project. The below-mentioned processes are the key to drafting the scope correctly, but it will be your job to focus on the details of each deliverable. Over time, you’ll learn to focus on more distinctive details that will make your life easier. Here is the list:

1. Define the Project Requirements

Before defining the scope, you must first understand what the end-goal of the project is. Here, your job will be to figure out all the functionality and features that need to be built. For example, a client may request a website for his or her business. However, there will be a number of questions:

  • Do you need to include anything specific in the design like videos, animations, backgrounds, etc.?
  • How many website pages will be required? Any specific page you’ll need to create?
  • Is there a branding guideline to follow? If not, will you also need to create one?

This list can go on, but you get the idea. The important part is to keep in mind that each client can have drastically different expectations that seem natural to them, yet feel unusual to you. You need to figure out the details and explain why something may be required/not required based on the information you receive. Remember, the amount of data you collect is directly correlated to the success of your project. The more you find out early, the easier it will be to deliver everything on time and budget, avoid complications, and decrease possible confusion.

2. Understand the Existing and Future Business Processes

The business processes generally referred to the requirements that describe how users will interact with the product/service and how it’s going to interact with other (existing or future) business branches. Often, your clients will have existing businesses/apps/processes that your project (product or service that you’re going to create) has to interact with. For instance, if you’re building an e-commerce website app, the chances are that a desktop version is already live. In this case, you’ll need to understand all the human and business interactions between the app and the desktop site.

Another example. If you’re building a website that sells products/services, questions such as these may arise:

  • What are the requirements for billing transactions through the website?
  • Which payment methods are supported?
  • How do these transactions link to invoicing and bank accounts?
  • When and how can team members make changes to the order statuses? Etc.

3. Identify the Project Deliverables

Once you have nailed down the requirements and business processes, you need to draft the project deliverables. These milestones will help you understand what needs to be done to achieve the end-goal. It’s recommended that you break these milestones down into small tasks and estimate the amount of time and resources needed for each one. This will also come in handy when organizing the backlog via an online project management tool like EasyProjects.

Most importantly, though, identifying the deliverables allows you to document what doesn’t need to be done. As mentioned above, this will help stay clear of unnecessary confusion when it comes to assumptions on certain aspects of the project (trust me, this will happen). Frankly put, if something isn’t in the initial scope, none can assume it was there.

4. Involve the Stakeholders

Continuing our previous point, it’s vital to involve all the correct stakeholders, both internal and external, from the earliest stages of the project. Again, this is important to avoid assumptions and confusion from either side, both your company’s and client’s. Everyone has to understand what they are dealing with, what features/functionality they are going to get, and how much time and resources it will cost them.

5. Define the Change Management Processes

While it’s strongly recommended not to alter the scope once it the stakeholders have approved it, it’s necessary to have a clear, strict change management process in place. As you should know, various changes at a given project phase are close to inevitable in project management, especially when it comes to software development.

When change management procedures are there, it becomes a lot easier to add/remove certain items from the project scope, if needed. Also, this way, you’ll be able to avoid scope creep – when some parts of the project end up requiring more work and resources in the same time. This is also where the project scope statement will come in handy, since redefining the whole thing will take more time, and won’t be as productive.


Project scope management is one of the vital aspects of effective project management. The above-mentioned points are the most important aspects of defining the project scope and can be easily adapted close to any software or IT-related project planning. Whether you’re asked to build a website, create a smartphone app, or design a SaaS software, the methodology and approach to the scope planning will be relatively the same.

At its core, effective scope management requires precise communication and attention to detail to nail down the requirements and deliverables, and agree upon exactly how and when the end-goals will be met. Keep everything simple, to-the-point, and as detailed as possible, and you’ll be on the right track to success.

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