Scoping, What Is It Good For?

January 1, 2021

It is a common scenario; you stand at the precipice of a new software project launch. You or a customer has a great idea that will solve a common problem, bring unique value to users, and address a pain-point that needs help solving. What is also very common is as the project progresses, the original plans change considerably.

During the project, you will likely gain development insights, new market information, priorities may change, and you will adapt features and timelines. Your team could potentially be thrown off-course when presented with these hurdles if you do not have a clear vision of what you are delivering and where the project's boundaries are. This is where scoping comes in.

What is Scoping?

Scoping is defined by TechTarget as the part of project planning that involves determining and documenting a list of specific project goals, deliverables, tasks, costs, and deadlines. The documentation of a project's scope, which is called a scope statement or terms of reference, explains the boundaries of the project, establishes responsibilities for each team member, and sets up procedures for how completed work will be verified and approved.

Project Scope vs. Project Requirements

There is often a lack of clarity between a project's scope and its requirements. Think of the scope as the umbrella under which all the requirements huddle.

PM Sprout clearly outlines the main differences as:

  • The requirements show the stakeholders' requirements and expectations while the scope statement defines the project boundaries, what is included, and what is not.
  • Requirements are collected directly from stakeholders, while the scope statement is derived from the project requirements documents.
  • The client or external stakeholders usually describe requirements, and the project manager and team members typically determine the project scope.
  • The requirements documents are an output of the collect requirements process, and the scope statement is an output of the defined scope process.

Importance Of Scoping

  • Identifies the problem/project so that all stakeholders can understand what's involved
  • Creates a roadmap to assign tasks, schedule work, and budget accordingly
  • Helps all maintain focus on common objectives
  • Prevents projects from straying from agreed-upon goals

Scoping Processes

Scoping is not a task to be checked off a list but rather a management activity in itself. Managing the scope occurs continually through the entire software development process. Your scoping is complete when your development project is complete.

Below are the three key phases of project scope management.

  • Planning: Capture and define the work that needs to be done
  • Controlling: Control and monitoring processes focus on documentation, disapprove/approve project changes, and communicate with stakeholders
  • Closing: Create an audit of the project deliverables and evaluation of the outcomes vs. the original plan.

Project Scope Management Steps

  1. Plan Your Scope

During the project planning phase, gather input from all of the team members and key stakeholders. At this point, you will outline how the project scope will be managed and how you will address any challenges. This plan will also include a scope statement, specifics about deliverables, and the process for creating a work breakdown structure (WBS.)

  1. Collect Requirements

Collecting project requirements gives all stakeholders clarity about how the project will be managed, features, updates, deliverables, and all other expectations. Tools and techniques used to gather project requirements include interviews, focus groups, facilitated workshops, questionnaires, surveys, and prototypes. Taking the time to dig deep and collect all of the requirements early on can significantly reduce troublesome surprises as the project progresses.

  1. Define Scope

The primary purpose of the project scope is to determine where the boundaries of the project are. By outlining at the outset of the work what IS and what IS NOT included in the project, it becomes much easier for all members of the team to remain focused on the work at hand.

The parameters that should be included in the scope definition include:

  1. Project objectives
  2. Goals
  3. Sub-phases
  4. Tasks
  5. Resources
  6. Budget
  7. Schedule
  8. Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Tom Alby, MA, PMP defines Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) as "a portion of a total project management plan that is used by the project management team to organize a project into manageable objectives and create a blueprint by which the steps leading to the completion of a project are obtained.

The Work Breakdown Structure can be thought of as an outline of the project and, like an outline, becomes more detailed under the subheadings or work packages. The whole project is defined by the Work Breakdown Structure, with the work packages fitting together at the completion of the project to complete the whole."

  1. Validate Scope

This process focuses primarily on the acceptance of deliverables at each phase of the project. By validating at each phase, the customer/stakeholders can provide feedback and help the development team take what it learned into the next phases.

It is vital to have a standard operating process in place for exactly how deliverables will be accepted, and when they are complete. At the end of the process, document deliverables, change requests, and project updates if applicable.

By utilizing project management software that allows all key stakeholders and team members access, you will be able to set up processes in advance for automatic task assignments, notifications, and deliverables being sent to individuals responsible for approval. This helps eliminate the need for redundant meetings and multiple emails.

  1. Control Scope

Controlling the scope of a project involves managing its status and activity on a daily basis. Controlling the scope also includes ensuring that deliverables have been met and managing changes made on the project scope baseline.

According to Project-Management.info, the scope baseline is a bundle of scope-related documents that sets out the approved scope of a project. A project's scope baseline consists of the scope statement and the defined work breakdown structure of that project, subject to the approval of the relevant stakeholders. A project's results and progress are measured against that baseline. They add that the scope baseline of a project consists of:

  • the approved project statement,
  • the work breakdown structure (WBS), incl. control accounts, planning packages, and work packages, and

Scoping a project is not difficult; however, it does take a significant amount of time, patience, and attention to detail. It is worth the effort as it can mean the difference between project success and failure.

Common Project Scope Challenges

Scope Creep:

Scope Creep is closely related to the concept of feature creep. It occurs when the scope, deliverables, or features on a project expand from what was initially set—without being accounted for in additional time or budget. It can affect any fixed scope project. It's a widespread occurrence, as it can happen both intentionally and unintentionally, stemming from any number of the people involved in a project.

Unfortunately, scope creep can lead to project failure: maybe you don't hit the deadline, you burn through the entire budget (and more), and all without delivering the right thing.

Gold Plating:

Gold plating is the practice of making changes to a project that are outside of the original agreed-upon scope. Developers sometimes make the mistake of gold plating trying to impress important clients -- particularly if the developers or project managers are less experienced.

Poor Estimation:

It is common for engineers to want to, well, engineer, and not plan or estimate. Because of this fact, they may be hasty with their time estimates. Also, there is the issue of the planning fallacy. This is the phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed. This phenomenon sometimes occurs regardless of the individual's knowledge that past tasks of a similar nature have taken longer to complete than generally planned. This can significantly skew project timelines and budgets.

Lack of Accountability:

Often, the development team works closely with the client, and this can lead to the customer requesting changes in scope without the knowledge of the project manager. The team members can't be faulted here, as they are often eager to please the customer. However, it is crucial that they direct all requests back to the project manager. By taking on the extra work themselves, it is likely that they will put their core activities and the entire project at risk of running late and over budget.

Lack of Sponsor/Client Approval:

A related scoping challenge is when a project manager receives change requests from members of the client team. As they are part of the client organization and the project manager similarly wants to please, they will have a tendency to accept all requests. No scope change requests should be approved unless they came from the sponsor or whomever initially authorized the project. Your project could face significant challenges if you proceed with additional work without first getting approval. Your organization could be on the hook for project time and budget overages.

Every organization has a development process that works best for them. Whether it is exhaustively structured, loosely planned, or a hybrid, open internal and external communication is critical for project success. Scoping is the epitome of clarity of communication. Clearly outlining goals, documenting status updates, noting changes, and sharing deliverables are not easy tasks. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely! Effective scope management will not only improve your ability to stay within budget, but also help you use time effectively, and keep your project on track. Most importantly, it will ensure that you provide your customer with a meticulously designed, relevant, robust, and well-implemented product.