A project scope statement is a description of what is in scope for the work, and also includes what is not going to be done during the project – the items that are out of scope. Here are seven reasons why you need a project scope statement.
1. It creates common understanding
One of the first things we teach in our project management fundamentals class is the importance of having the team on the same page. Creating a team and identifying stakeholders will help you get the right people together. Then you have to make sure they all have the same understanding of the project.
A scope statement helps increase the visibility of the work required to deliver the project and what the goals and outcomes really are. In fact, it can also surface where there is conflict between stakeholder groups where expectations of the project differ between teams.
2. It is a communication tool
A scope statement is a handy thing to use for project communications too. When you talk to people about the project, you can use key items from the scope to help them understand what the project is all about.
It can underpin decision-making. Using the scope statement as a way to shape decisions is very common. If the decision supports what is in scope, then the team can take that action (to give an example – there are no hard and fast rules in project management).
The scope statement can also be used to help provide feedback when a change is rejected. It’s not personal: it’s simply that the requested change does not fit with the scope at the moment and cannot be taken forward within the existing authorized scope of work.
3. It prevents scope creep
OK, it might not prevent all types of scope creep, but it goes a long way to making sure scope changes are at least identified, analyzed and compared against the original scope. The very act of having a scope statement means scope has been defined, and while we all know that it may change as time goes on, being scope-aware is going to minimize the impact of scope creep.
4. It’s the starting point for the WBS
You can’t create a work breakdown structure unless you know what the work is. The scope statement is the starting point for decomposing the work into packages that can then be assigned, monitored and controlled.
5. It creates the scope baseline
Once your scope statement is complete, it forms part of the scope management plan and is a crucial part of the scope baseline. In other words, the scope baseline draws a lot of information from the scope statement.
The scope baseline then informs other aspects of project performance management, such as earned value analysis which we teach as part of our EVMS courses.
6. It helps you identify constraints and assumptions
Your scope list and exclusions will help the team identify constraints and assumptions related to the work. Constraints are the boundaries or guardrails around the project (or pieces of the project). For example, you may be constrained by budget or deadlines. There may be a limit on the amount of time you can get from a subject matter expert, or some other constraint on resources. A good scope statement opens up the possibility to have discussions about all these constraints so you can start working on management plans to address them.
The same is true of assumptions. As you document the scope items, challenge yourself and your team members: are we assuming anything here? You may be assuming that human resources, equipment or supplies will be available as you need them. Perhaps the team has made the assumption that international travel will be possible throughout the project (and we can all think of scenarios in the past where that assumption has suddenly turned out to be invalid).
Gather up the assumptions and make them transparent so that as they are validated, you can assess the impact on project scope.
7. It helps you identify deliverables
Scope can both be tasks to be completed, like ‘training 300 users’ and deliverables like ‘produce training manual’. As a result, having a detailed, robust scope statement helps you identify the deliverables that are being produced.
A deliverable list can be a useful communication tool itself, especially for stakeholders who are not so familiar with project management methods and perhaps find it hard to interpret a WBS.
Given that the scope statement is so fundamental to the delivery of the project and as a way of communicating the business impact and value of the work, it’s important to make sure it is written in clear language, avoiding jargon that might not mean anything to people outside the immediate project team.
Once it is written, it can go off to the main project stakeholders like the sponsor and project board for approval. Once approved, it becomes part of the scope management plan, which in turn is part of the overall project management plan. The team can move forward now agreement has been reached, and start planning and scheduling the work, for example, creating the WBS in Primavera P6.
Understanding scope is one of the first building blocks of setting up a project that can be delivered within the constraints and scheduled accordingly. Once you’ve got that right, you have a greater chance of delivering the project successfully.