When starting a new project, the amount of work to do can seem overwhelming. There’s planning, resourcing, budgeting, communications and quality to manage. But the place to start is with the project scope.

The scope of the project is what you are actually going to deliver. Scope defines what the project team will be working on and can help you set priorities if you hit conflicts on the project. You will work with your project stakeholders and your sponsor to define the exact scope of the project. It can be quite tricky, especially if they aren’t very clear about what they want. Here are 7 questions to ask to help you define the scope effectively.

1.   What are the project boundaries?

What is to be included in the project scope is an obvious question, but don’t forget to also ask what is to be specifically excluded. Perhaps there is one department who won’t be using the new software that the team is building. Perhaps there is one geographic location which won’t be moving to the new brand until next year. There are likely to be exclusions, so it is worth making a point of finding out about these.

Document what is in and out of scope, and then share the file in an online planning system so that everyone can see what has been agreed.

2.   What are we producing?

Is the project going to produce a product or something else? For example it could be a project to update something instead of producing something new. Or it could be to deliver a service or meet new legal requirements.

Projects can also be responsible for delivering a mixture of all of these, and other things, so talk to your project sponsor and stakeholders to find out what they want the end result (or results) to be.

3.   How will we know when we’ve achieved it?

This question will help you work out when the project deliverables have been attained. It’s fine to know that you are delivering let’s say a new book binding process, but you will need a few more details if you are to be sure that you’ve met your stakeholders’ expectations.

For example, your sponsor may consider a book binding process that only binds 3 books per hour as a complete failure. If they want a process that binds 70 books per hour, that’s what you need to deliver. These criteria are also called success factors. Discuss with your sponsor how he or she will measure success and you’ll have an idea then about what you have to include in the project scope.

4.   What factors are most important?

Is it more important to your sponsor that the project delivers on time? Or to the specified budget? Or is it more important that the quality of the deliverables is first class? Sponsors normally have an idea about how much of a risk they are prepared to take in order to get the project done. You might be told to keep the project as low risk as possible, ensuring that every protocol is followed even if that does take more time. Or you may find that speed is so important that the sponsor is prepared to cut a few corners and compromise on quality and process to ensure that the final delivery date is achieved.

Have an open conversation with your key stakeholders and particularly your project sponsor so that you can be sure that you are focusing your efforts in the right place.

5.   How will you collaborate on changes?

If you are working with an external customer, how will you collaborate with them, especially when it comes to scope changes? This is where an online project management system with collaboration features can be very useful, as you can allow your client to access the right files for the project without sharing any company confidential materials.

Talk to them about how they want to be involved and what kind of scope changes will need to be approved. Then you can agree how best to do this so that the project isn’t held up.

6.   Are there any assumptions?

Assumptions are things that you don’t know for sure but that you are assuming to be true for the purposes of project planning. You’ll validate the assumptions later and make sure that they are true, and if not, make changes to the project plans and schedules accordingly.

It is important to document project assumptions because if you don’t make it clear that these aren’t certain, your project sponsor may assume (another assumption!) that there won’t be any changes later on.

7.   Are there any constraints?

Constraints are things that require the project to behave in a certain way. For example, a project constraint on scope could be that there is only a certain amount of budget. Another could be that the delivery date has to be 1 December. There may be other projects depending on this project to deliver certain elements, and vice versa. You may be constrained by another project which is delivering products or services that your project wants to use. There can be a lot of factors that constrain a project, and your scope statement should include a list of all of these.

When you have produced a final project scope statement, get your project team, key stakeholders and sponsor to approve it. Then you can store the document in your online project management software so it is there as a reference. Project scope will change as the project progresses; stakeholders review the output and want to make changes, or the business environment changes which has a knock on impact on the project itself, perhaps by adding or removing items in scope. As long as you stay flexible, and keep collaborating with your team, you’ll find that managing project scope isn’t as hard as you think.

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