What are product scopes?

Simply put, a product scope defines the intricate details of a product build (software, mobile apps, physical products, etc.) and is intended to communicate product details while organizing your product development process.

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What do product scopes include?

Commonly found in product scopes are the following things:

  1. Product scope description–product characteristics, features, anticipated results, etc.
  2. Product exclusions–outline what the product will not fulfill.
  3. Acceptance criteria–conditions the product must reach in order to be accepted by the consumer.
  4. Deliverables / objectives–the end services or purposes your product will provide.
  5. Restrictions–limits on what your product can achieve, and what the costs will be.

PM Study Circle provides an example that helps us better understand how a product scope functions–i.e., “if the product is a bridge, the product scope might be its length, width, load strength, etc.”

Why product scopes matter

Product scopes are invaluable when it comes to product development and business innovation. They create a sort of checklist by which you can measure your product’s production, in order to help keep both your team and the development of the product on pace.

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

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

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

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Who is responsible for creating product scopes?

Project managers are most commonly responsible for defining the product 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 product scope and finished product.

Product scope creation challenges

Now that we better understand product 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 product 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 product 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:

Product Scopes Cone of Uncertainty

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

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

Once more research is done and the product 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 product 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 product development process.

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

How the Cone Affects Product Scopes

AMPLEXOR continues to explain what uncertainties can creep up throughout the product 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 product 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 of a new product … 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 product will not be complete in time/within budget, or other areas of its development will be left to the wayside in order to accommodate the new changes the team has made. In either case, the original product 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 product’s design.

The product 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.


Now that you have a better understanding of product scopes, what’s next?

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

We’re shaping the future of product development and management. If you want to save weeks of work when scoping your next product, sign up for a free account and let us do the heavy lifting.

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