Project Scopes: What are They and Why Do They Matter?

What is a project scope?

Simply put, a project scope defines the intricate details of a software project and is intended to communicate details while organizing your software development process.

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What is included in a project scope?

Commonly found in project scopes are the following things:

1. Project scope description

A high-level description of project characteristics and anticipated results.

2. Deliverables / objectives

The end results (a product or a service) that your project will deliver upon completion.

3. Project Timeline

The overall timeframe and major phases, known as project milestones, along with deliverables for each phase.

4. Acceptance criteria

The conditions your project must reach in order to be accepted by the consumer.

5. Project exclusions

A delineation of what the project will not fulfill.

6. Restrictions

A description of the limits on what your project can achieve, and what the costs will be.

PM Study Circle provides an example that helps us better understand how a project scope functions–i.e., “if you are given a project to construct a bridge, the project scope will provide insight into how to build the bridge. It gives you all the required information.”

If you’re wondering how to develop a great scope of work statement, see below for a free (editable) project scope template!

Why project scopes matter

Project scoping is invaluable when it comes to software development and business innovation. They create a sort of checklist by which you can measure your development, in order to help keep both your team and the development of the project on pace.

When sitting down to discuss or brainstorm a potential software project, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all aspects there are to consider.

Project scopes help compartmentalize the varying goals and anticipated features for a project, as well as the tasks needed to reach them, so that the feat of software development becomes that much more digestible.

Without taking the time to carefully plot out what your project requires and what your team must to do to meet those needs, your project development process could take far longer than anticipated, and may lack in functionality when it is “complete.”

Who is responsible for creating project scopes?

Project managers are most commonly responsible for defining the scope, often with the help of a business analyst.

Corporate Education Group explains:

“Project managers must focus on the broad picture, and should rely on a business analyst to focus on the requirements scope: Who will use the system? What do they need it to do? What information is needed to do it?”

While the project manager may be best equipped to plan the scope and allocate tasks, a business analyst is key to analyzing, evaluating, and refining requirements along the way.

The project manager gets the ball rolling and focuses on the overall view of the scope, while the business analyst is often responsible for the fundamental necessities of it.

Together, both positions operate harmoniously to bridge the gap between scope and finished project.

How project scopes differ from product scopes

“Product scopes” and “project scopes” are two terms that can sometimes cause confusion, specially to those who are new to the project management space.

To get a better understanding of their differences, let us explore their roles and relationship in scope management.

A product scope is a delineation of the features and functionalities of a product. It addresses how the product looks like, how it works, and how it can be improved via iterations.

If you are developing a mobile application, for example, a product scope will describe technical specifications, functionalities, user interface,… that your app will include.

A project scope, on the other hand, outlines the procedures taken to deliver the desired product. It will not describe in details how the product works, but rather the tools and methods required to successfully deliver the specified features.

Elements such as budgets, timeframe, delivery milestones,… will be taken into consideration in a project scope.

Many project management practitioners tend to consider product scopes and project scopes similar concepts. It’s important to remember that these two terms are not interchangeable- they serve to answer different sets of questions- yet they are interconnected in product development.

Simply put, a product scope focuses on the “output” while a project scope focuses on the “process”. You cannot deliver the output defined in a product scope without outlining the various steps between the starting and finishing point.

This is where project scopes come into play.

Getting started with project scoping

Now, if you are ready to create your scope, use the below template to help you get started!

Project scope creation challenges

Now that we better understand project scopes and how we can benefit from them, we might wonder just how straightforward their implementation is, and if there are any caveats.

The short answer is yes, there is a caveat: Creating a scope is not always–or even usually–a painless process.

Let us dive deeper into this.

The Cone of Uncertainty

Perhaps the biggest issue one will face with creating project scopes is what is known as the Cone of Uncertainty.

A chart from Agile In a Nutshell helps to demonstrate how the Cone of Uncertainty functions:

Project Scopes

Essentially, the Cone of Uncertainty traces how much uncertainty exists throughout a project–in this case, throughout software development.

At the beginning of development, uncertainty levels are highest in terms of how log the process will take and how all requirements will be taken care of.

Once more research is done and the project moves closer to completion, the level of uncertainty begins to wane.

Objectively, this makes sense, but we have to better understand how the role of uncertainty throughout software development–large or small–can pose difficulties.

One of the key procedures developers employ to overcome these uncertainties is what is known as the agile method.

At its core, agile methodology allows continuous improvement to make for a more efficient and flexible software development process.

If you are interested in understanding more about how agile methodology can minimize uncertainty in your project planning process, be sure to check out our more extensive explanation in our agile development blog series.

How the Cone Affects Project Scopes

AMPLEXOR continues to explain what uncertainties can creep up throughout the software development process:

At the start of a project, business and user requirements can only be high level.  It’s still highly uncertain (see Fig. 1) which product features are relevant for users and which are not.  Moreover, it’s unclear how those features should be shaped (functionally, user interface, look & feel …) to meet the expressed needs. There might be a huge gap between what an organization (or business stakeholder) thinks users need and what users actually are hoping for.”

So, the prevalence of the cone means that adjustments–however few or many–will likely need to be made to the scope throughout the entire development process.

AMPLEXOR also identifies the existence of “progressive learning,” and how prior forecasts for the scope may change because of it.

When new levels to the project are reached and new insights arise, accommodations must be made.

Scope Creep

Project Management Institute (PMI) helps explain what scope creep is–that is, the “adding [of] additional features or functions… that is not authorized (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope).”

PMI describes how scope creep can occur when project teams take over decisions from executives who don’t want to be involved in them.

“Some change requests are or appear to be small, so again, project teams act on them instead of following a formal change management process,” the post writes.

The issue with this lies in the fact that the project teams may make “unauthorized changes,” and more often than not it becomes the case that the scope’s original time/budget estimations are no longer relevant.

Either the project will not be complete in time/within budget, or other areas of its development will be left to the wayside to accommodate the new changes the team has made. In either case, the original scope is rendered seemingly futile.

In order to minimize the risk of scope creep occurring, it is recommended that executives and project teams be on the same page and have excellent communication over the course of the project progression.

The project scope needs to be clear to everyone involved from the initiation of development all the way through to finish, such that instances like scope creep can be managed and ultimately prevented altogether.

Next Steps

Now that you have developed your project scope and are ready to kickstart the development process, what’s next?

This is where we, Tara AI, come into play.

Welcome to the future of product management.

Tara Scrum Sprints

If you are wondering what a “sprint” is, check out this blog post: Scrum Framework in Agile Project Management.