How to Write a Project Scope
We’ve all been a part of a project that went over time or over budget. We know how frustrating it can be to work with expectations that keep changing—and growing—when you’re responsible for the final product.
One of the best ways to cut out this frustration? Create an effective project scope that sets boundaries from the outset of a project.
See "How to Plan a Project" for a step-by-step guide on how to lay the foundation for a successful project.
A well-written project scope gets your stakeholders on the same page as your team, explains exactly what will be delivered at the end of the project, and the parameters of the work to be done. Having these elements laid out in plain language ensures everyone’s expectations are in line and you aren’t overcommitting your team or resources.
In short, a project scope is a simple way to summarize meta information about a project. It gives you a concise summary of your meetings, discussions, and agreements with your stakeholders for you and your team to refer back to.
Writing a scope of work doesn’t need to be a long or complex process. The same information is needed each time for a project scope, and creating a template expedites the process. The following steps help you gather the information needed for a thorough project scope and put it together in a simple, useful way.
1. Collect Important Project Information
The first step to writing a project scope is to collect the most important information about the project. A leading certification training provider, Simplilearn, shares this process attempts to leave no stone unturned, resulting in an in-depth list of project requirements.
This information will come from different places, like the project’s stakeholders, the team executing the project, and your own experience with similar projects. The most important information includes the following.
This is a list of each of the final products you will deliver at the end of the project. It might be a document, website, new process, video, event, or a combination of several deliverables.
This final outcome should be agreed upon and approved by all involved stakeholders. Coming to an agreement on the exact deliverable(s) often takes time, but it’s an important investment that yields a united effort.
The deliverables list gives you something substantial to measure your final product against. This will help you keep the scope intact throughout the project and deliver a polished product to the stakeholders.
See "How to Overcome the Top 5 Causes of Project Failure" to find out how you can avoid project management issues from the get-go.
Inclusions and Exclusions
The purposes of a project scope are to make sure everything included in the project is completed and the project doesn’t continue expanding. Otherwise, it can become a black hole of unrealistic or uncommunicated expectations.
As we’ve said before, trying to absorb new scope into original timeline almost always leads to disaster, as well as confusion and frustration of your stakeholders. This part of the project scope gives you the chance to list everything that should and should not be included, avoiding the dreaded scope creep.
By specifically listing what will and will not be included, you can be clear with your stakeholders and team members and avoid additions and changes that will affect your schedule or budget.
Resources Available to the Team
Laying out the resources available to your team will make it easy for anyone who has access to the project scope to take advantage of those resources.
Whether it’s a member of a different team who is helping take on overflow work or a software that’s been purchased specifically to complete the project, your team members and stakeholders need to know about the resources available to them.
Download our free guide "3 Ways to Improve Resource Management in Your Organization" to learn how to better manage people, time, and other resources.
Constraints, Such as Time or Budget
This is a pretty straightforward item. As CIO.com encourages, clarify the limitations or parameters of the project. If there are budgetary or time constraints on your project, you, your stakeholders, and your team all need to know about them and understand how they will affect the project.
Listing these constraints can also be a good way to reinforce the list of exclusions. For example, you might list that you’re not including animations because there is not budget for it.
You don’t need to list a detailed timeline in a project scope because you will be including a schedule later on. But if there are time constraints beyond normal protocol, it’s important for your team to know up front and be able to plan around them.
These four pieces of information will be the foundation for the rest of the project scope. It’s important to have a realistic and concrete idea of what has to be accomplished and what resources and constraints you’re working with so that you can create a schedule and task list that makes sense for your team and the project.
2. Build Out a Rough Schedule
Once you’ve collected information about the project itself, work out details about how it will progress. Before writing your project scope, you’ll need to work out the following.
Major Tasks to be Completed
Like the list of deliverables, including a list of the major tasks that need to be completed will make sure all involved parties are working toward the same thing. This shouldn’t include the minutiae of every task. Instead, list the big tasks your team will need to complete to make sure the deliverables are done on time and to the level expected.
A Schedule of Major Milestones
Once you’ve listed the major tasks that need to be completed, create a schedule based on when the project needs to be completed and how long each task will take. And of course, it’s always smart to build in some buffer periods for each task whenever you can.
This schedule can also be used by individual team members to plan out their own schedules and timelines, so be as thorough as possible and make sure to include all of the major milestones your team will be accountable for.
Phases of the Project (If Necessary)
For projects that have an especially long timeline or multiple launch dates, it can be helpful to break the project up into phases to help your team with planning. This isn’t mandatory, but it can give a sense of accomplishment along the way and help with organization.
See "Best Practices for Scope Management" for more on how to make sure scope creep doesn't take over your next project.
3. Tailor it to Your Project
Because projects, stakeholders, teams, and organizations are unique, there might be information you want included in your project scope that hasn’t been covered here. For example, you might find stating the purpose of your project is helpful, or that your stakeholders have a set of acceptance criteria they want met before the project can be completed.
If there’s something important that you feel should be added, make sure its inclusion helps your project scope achieve its purpose: containing the scope and work of the project and ensuring that time and resources aren’t spent on unimportant additions.
4. Put it All Together
Now that you’ve done the legwork, write it up in a finalized project scope. This document should be concise and easy-to-read. It can be tempting to create a long and all-inclusive project scope, but save the thorough write-out for a project proposal or plan.
A project scope doesn’t need every conceivable piece of project information. A good rule of thumb is to keep your scope to one or two paragraphs.
A few questions to ask after you’ve written your project scope:
- Are deadlines realistic for the deliverables?
- Will the resources available to your team allow them to complete all of the major tasks required?
- Is the list of inclusions and exclusions specific enough?
- Is there too much room for tasks to be added after the project has kicked off?
5. Put the Project Scope to Work
Possibly the most important part of the project scope is putting it to work. Use it to write your project plan, refer to it when making decisions, and point back to it when stakeholders or team members want to add or change things that aren’t in the scope.
Your project scope can be a great tool for standing firm when people want to make changes they think are minor or additions that will use up time or money that you don’t have.
See "Planning Tips: 34 to Get Things Started on the Right Foot" for a thorough list of project planning tips and tricks.