How To Define Project Scope in 7 Steps (Plus Key Elements)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 4, 2022 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated October 4, 2022

Published December 12, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

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Planning a project carefully can lead to success for team members, managers and other interested parties, such as clients. One of the key elements of project management is defining the scope or boundaries of a project. If you want to coordinate activities efficiently and collaborate with others successfully, you may benefit from learning about this important factor.

In this article, we define project scope, explain its key elements and offer steps for how to define it to achieve project success.

What is project scope?

Project scope refers to the limits of a project. This involves the time the project may take, the resources necessary for its completion and the specific tasks for which each team member is responsible. Before a project begins, the project manager establishes the scope, gains approval from higher management and communicates it to the rest of the team. Throughout the duration of the project, team members consult the scope to stay on task. The project manager also reviews the scope to make decisions concerning how to address any problems or roadblocks that may arise.

Read more: What Is Project Scope Management? (And Why It's Important)

Key elements of project scope

The specifics of a project scope vary according to the nature of the project, the timeline and the company's culture. Here are some key elements of project scope: 

Statement of work

The first step toward defining project scope is to create a statement of work. This is the official document that outlines the requirements for a particular project. It includes a general description of the work requested, a timeline, a schedule, any special skills necessary and the work location. A statement of work provides the necessary information for management to estimate costs and provide a proposal.

Project scope statement

project scope statement answers the requests outlined in the statement of work and lists the specific details that are necessary to complete the project. This document clarifies the number of team members necessary to complete the job, the location of the work and the expected timeline. It can also ensure the quality of the final results. Scope statements define the boundaries of the project and guide all team members to focus on a goal throughout the duration of the project.

Work breakdown structure

The work breakdown structure is a document that distributes the work effectively among the project's team members. The work breakdown structure ensures that each department, team or individual understands exactly what's expected of them during the duration of the project. This framework also directs specific task lists to the relevant teams or team members so they don't feel overwhelmed by a surplus of information.

Related: What Does a Project Manager Do? 8 Key Responsibilities

How to define project scope

The steps you can take to manage your project successfully may vary, but here are seven common steps for defining project scope:

1. Set business and project objectives

The first step in determining a project's scope is knowing what to accomplish. Take into consideration what effect this project could have on the company at large, how you want management and clients to perceive it and how you expect it to benefit all parties involved. Also, make sure the objectives of the project are aligned with the company's policies, mission statement and goals. Ideally, objectives start with verbs, like “improve,” “increase” or “produce.” Action words can help invested parties understand the purpose of your project.

A good way to provide attainable objectives is by having a SMART goal. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. State your objective clearly and choose metrics that can help you measure progress. The team can decide together whether their objective is realistic or not. It's important the goal fits with the strategic plan of the organization. Finally, determine a deadline by which to achieve the objective.

Related: Guide to Creating SMART Goals for Time Management

2. Outline parameters and limitations

To use time and resources efficiently, make sure team members are only ever working on necessary tasks. Decide ahead of time exactly which tasks are necessary to the completion of the project and which people can ensure they're done well. Know which project-related issues or problems you could address immediately and which can wait until a later date.

Document the nature of the project and note any specific limitations or issues that are outside the scope of the project. Recording the necessary tasks and clarifying what areas to avoid can reduce confusion and increase efficiency. A clear project scope allows everyone to know the specific and general purposes of the project.

Related: How To Define Team Roles and Responsibilities in 4 Steps

3. Establish the process requirements

Before you can begin the project, establish the order of steps to complete throughout the campaign. Determine the priority levels of all the steps, decide the order in which to assign them and make sure the teams or team members are capable of completing the tasks you give them. Estimate your required budget and decide when each particular type and quality of resource could be necessary.

Related: 6 Project Management Budgeting Methods

4. Involve interested parties

To aid in a project's success, it's beneficial to inform interested parties, like clients, of the project's progress at various key points. In some cases, getting feedback from clients can ensure you're delivering satisfactory products or services. When the right people are involved and informed throughout the entire process, collaboration can be easier.

5. Schedule clear deadlines

To make sure your project stays on track, begin by creating a schedule baseline. You can then use this baseline to chart what the planned deadlines are compared to the actual scheduled dates. Check with each department to make sure there are no issues with them reaching their next deadline.

If someone is behind and another person is waiting for them to finish, determine if they can complete other tasks in the meantime so they can be productive with their time. Remind everyone of their deadlines either through email or by scheduling one-on-one meetings with the primary people on the team. If anyone falls behind, you may need to change the project scope deadlines and let the invested parties know why there may be delays.

Related: Time Management Skills: Examples and How To Improve Them

6. Train the team

Once you discuss the project scope management plan with your team, you can train them to complete their assignments. Ideally, you can assign tasks to team members according to their existing skills and experience. It may be necessary to provide specialized training or additional educational resources if a relevant expert is unavailable.

An important quality for your project team members to have is adaptability. If your team can assess problems, suggest solutions and adjust accordingly, the project can proceed at an uninterrupted pace. When the team knows how to look for change and then act on it, the project can be more productive and efficient overall.

7. Communicate well

One of the most important parts of defining and managing project scope is how well everyone communicates. Communication skills involve talking and listening actively. This is important for every team member, whether they're a manager or a new employee. If everyone understands their role and feels welcome and valued, the team members may be more likely to stay motivated and on task during the project.

Communicating is a key factor during the life cycle of a project. Communication is essential between team members, managers, clients and interested parties. If any problems arise during the project, it's important that everyone involved feels comfortable asking questions. Discussing thoughts and ideas can lead to positive, lasting solutions.

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