Out of Scope vs. In Scope: a Project Manager’s Guide

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In project management, scope refers to the boundaries and requirements of a project. The scope of a project includes all of the elements of a project that a team plans to address as well as all of the work needed to complete it. Deciding whether a task is in scope or out of scope for a project can determine its success and keep employees focused and productive. As a project manager, one of your main responsibilities is to maintain a reasonable scope for the project and delegate any other tasks. 


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The basics of out of scope vs. in scope

One of the duties of a project manager is determining the scope of a project and ensuring that each employee remains within that scope while completing their work. Scope depends on the resources available such as budget and staff, as well as the goals of the project and the work required to accomplish those goals. If a task was not included in the original project plan and does not contribute to the project’s objective, it is likely out of scope. Delegating tasks that are out of scope to other teams and setting boundaries for which tasks your team is responsible for are both important parts of project management.


Understanding and avoiding scope creep

As a project develops, there will often be unexpected details and challenges that your team will have to solve. However, you must still be aware that your budget and time both have limits. The tendency of a project to become larger and lose focus of its main goal is called scope creep. One example of scope creep is when a client slowly requests more features without renegotiating pay rate, or when a client expects additional services that were not originally agreed upon. 

The following methods can help you manage and avoid scope creep:


  • Keep clear records
  • Follow through on boundaries
  • Perform needs assessments
  • Anticipate changes

Keep clear records

One of the best ways to avoid scope creep is to have clear records of any agreements between team members and clients. Creating a project plan that outlines the scope will help guide your team when completing each task. Having a document that you can reference will also help you when explaining to a customer that they have asked for something outside of the original agreement. Documenting progress, resources and any changes can help you avoid scope creep and get the most out of your time.


Follow through on boundaries

Once you understand the scope of your project, be firm about enforcing it. If a client asks for something outside the scope of their project, be clear that you have already allocated the time and resources needed for their project. You can decide if you are willing to take on more work for an increased rate, but you should avoid simply agreeing with a client to keep them happy. The most successful projects require mutual communication and respect for everyone’s time and effort.


Perform needs assessments

Before beginning a new project, perform a needs assessment to accurately determine what the scope of the project should be. Scope creep often occurs when a team does not research how to accomplish their goals and what the client needs. By assessing the purpose of your project and how well it serves your clients, you can anticipate scope creep before it happens and create a better strategy for each project.


Anticipate changes

An effective way to manage scope creep is to prepare for the possibility of changes. Having a system where clients can request changes can help you prepare for the next project and make sure that you are compensated for any additional work. When planning for a project, consider what your team will do if a client requests something that is out-of-scope so that you can respond appropriately.


Key things to know

As a project manager, you will need to be able to define the scope of a project, adjust it as needed and identify any extra tasks that are out of scope. Just as understanding a project’s boundaries is important, so is recognizing when an original part of the plan is no longer necessary. Some project managers plan to add value to their product by including additional features, but this can actually be detrimental to the company if the customer doesn’t need or want those features. When managing scope, focus on the main goal of the project and being efficient while accomplishing it.

Related: How to Manage Employees


Project scope FAQs

As a project manager, you should have a strong grasp of how scope works in your particular field. You can seek out the expertise of other managers in your field if you are unsure about how to determine and follow through on the scope of a project. However, there are some best practices for planning the scope of any project regardless of their purpose. Here are some common questions about project scope and their answers:


When is project scope defined?

Project scope should be defined during the planning stage of a project so that all parties involved can agree on the same set of expectations. Although project scope can be adjusted as time goes on, try to develop an idea for the scope of your project early in order to set yourself up for success.


Who defines the scope of a project?

The project manager and their client collaborate together to determine the scope of a project. Many project managers will consult other members of their team when determining what tasks should be included in the project scope.


How should project scope be monitored?

Everyone involved in a project can monitor project scope by focusing on the most relevant tasks for each project. Managers can monitor the scope of a project by regularly checking in with clients and colleagues to determine how the project is developing.


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