How Scope is Defined in Project Management

How Scope is Defined in Project Management

In its simplest form, project scope defines four essentials: 1) the activities and tasks to be performed, 2) the deliverables (outcomes to be delivered), 3) the roles and resources to be allocated, and 4) the constraints or boundaries within which the project team can work to complete the activities.

As a rule, the scope definition is stated at the very beginning of a project and can be refined as work progresses according to changes and risks in circumstances. For example, if the client requests additional services after your project proposal was accepted but prior to completing your work, then your initial project scope statement will need to change and additional costs may be added due to this change.

In this guide, we will describe how to state a project scope and what steps are usually involved in scope definition and management. Below you’ll learn everything you need to know about project scope, how to define it, and what approaches can be used to plan work and control changes in projects.

What is a Project Scope?

A project scope defines the specific amount of work and results to be accomplished by a team in order to provide value to a client and customer. It also defines the deliverables, resources, performance indicators, and delivery dates. It also defines the boundary of what is included in the work to be performed by the project team. It should not include other work or tasks that are not part of the project scope.

A project scope is a formal statement of what an organization’s or individual’s goals are for the work to be performed. It constitutes the “big-picture plan” of how work needs to be done, who needs to do it, when they need to get it done, what deliverables the project will produce, and how much it will cost. It’s often used to develop Project Terms of Reference / TOR.

Project scope can be stated in three different ways:

  1. Cost-Based Scope Definition – In this type of project scope definition, the effort to perform a project is estimated. Money spent in the project is deducted from the actual money spent during the execution of the project. Thus, when all costs are subtracted, you know how much material and manpower is left over for other expenses.
  2. Time-Based Scope Definition – In this type of project scope definition, the time needed to perform a project is estimated. The time used to achieve this objective is subtracted from the total time allocated during the execution of the project. Thus, when all time is subtracted, you know how much of the development time to leave for rework and for meeting future releases.
  3. Probable and Feasible Scope Definition – In this type of project scope definition, a quantifiable cost and time are not established at the start of the project. However, they can be estimated by reviewing past experience or data analysis. Any task that requires more than 50 percent probability to complete is considered as a new item to be included in the project’s scope. However, any task that can be completed within the time and cost required is considered feasible (this needs to be explored in detail in the feasibility study report).

Scope Statement Document and Its Sections

A project scope statement is a formally documented description of the scope of a project. It is often called the “project definition”. A scope statement is typically written as a key component of a formal project plan.

Project scope statements are typically divided into four sections or components:

  • description
  • assignment of roles
  • acceptance criteria and deliverables
  • constraints or boundaries that may be included within the scope

Let’s review each of the scope statement document sections.

Scope Description

This is the bird’s eye view of the project. The scope description answers questions such as “What do we do?” “Why are we doing it?”

In other words, it is the overall outline of what is being done and why. It covers all aspects of work to be done and all key deliverables required.

Assignment of Roles

This section specifies what individuals and resources are required to complete the work in this specific project and how they will be used over time.

For instance, if someone was assigned to make presentations on a regular basis with a specific audience, it would be helpful to know this information upfront. If the client expects an executive summary and a more detailed report, then this should be outlined in advance in the role assignment of the scope statement.

Acceptance Criteria and Deliverables

This section describes what has to be done to satisfy the customer, who will specify the final acceptance criteria of how the work will be completed and accepted by them.

This is the most detailed part of the scope statement as it describes all activities in detail, including deliverables and tasks to be done.

For example, a description of the deliverables and acceptance criteria in your agile software project scope might be: “The system shall have a user interface that is easy to use and easy to navigate. The system shall incorporate all modules and features outlined in the project plan.

Constraints / Boundaries

This section of the scope statement covers limitations that may be imposed on your project by external factors. Project constraints define limits, such as budget, schedule, quality standards, rules and regulations, etc., that have to be followed to accomplish work in this project.

The scope statement should also include known risks and assumptions made about future conditions. These are factors that have an impact on the project that are unknown at this time but could have an impact on the overall work to be performed.

For instance, if your deadline falls on a holiday week, it is important to know this upfront. If you are working with a new technology or purchasing expensive equipment and its use by the client is still being tested, you need to know upfront whether or not it will fit the requirements of your project.

Three Common Steps in Project Scope Management

Project scope management is a systematic effort to control changes in project deliverables, work activities, and project performance. It is an ongoing process of identifying, analyzing and controlling changes in the “big picture” of the project.

Planning and controlling project scope involves a number of steps, but the most important ones are:

  • Define the project scope.
  • Manage changes in project scope.
  • Control project scope.

Define Project Scope

In order to define a project scope, you need to have more information about what you are working on and why you are doing it in the first place. You will need to know the following things:

– What are you working on? The product or service that your project will deliver.
– Why are you doing it? The reason for needing or wanting this product or service, such as for a new product launch, the completion of a merger or acquisition, etc.
– Who is interested in and affected by this work? The person or organization who has a vested interest in what is being done.

Manage Changes in Project Scope

A project scope change happens when a requirement is added to your project or the deliverables are changed.

A scope change usually occurs when some external factor comes along, such as a new competitor coming into an industry, a new technology being developed by competitors, etc. In this case, you may need to revise what your project is able to do and/or for whom it should be done in order to accommodate the change.

Control Project Scope

This step is repeated many times during the course of a project and it includes all of the steps below:

  • Understand and acknowledge changes in project scope.
  • Allow changes to occur as long as they do not compromise what has been planned.
  • Eliminate or mitigate any items that are not useful or necessary to further the project.

Scope Change Manager

The role of a scope change manager is taken by a person who detects and accommodates scope changes in the project. In addition to managing scope changes, a scope change manager must have the following attributes:

  • Strong communication skills.
  • Excellent time and project management skills.
  • A thorough understanding of end-to-end project management techniques and techniques to keep the client satisfied of the project’s progress.

The selection criteria for this role may include:

  • Quality of work being performed.
  • Interpersonal skills, including leadership, negotiation, conflict resolution and problem solving skills.
  • Ability to take initiative and make decisions on behalf of the organization.
  • Ability to demonstrate initiative and responsibility by making timely decisions on behalf of the client regarding scope changes.

The scope change manager role is not often held by a single individual. Some organizations have multiple people who play this role on a rotating schedule to get the most out of all the project team members.

Scope Statement vs. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

  • A scope statement, also known as a project statement, has no fixed length and can be written in one word or many words. It is a short document that summarizes the purpose of the entire project and what it will achieve. A scope statement may be as simple as “we need to improve this.” or “we will build a solid foundation for our new server room.”
  • The work breakdown structure (WBS), on the other hand, is a detailed list of all of the tasks and activities that must be performed to complete a project. It is a tool that describes the components of the project. The WBS is used during execution and is continually refined as you get more information about what you need to do.
  • Besides, a WBS is usually much longer than a scope statement and often takes the form of a tree structure. Under each task or activity, many subtasks (or work breakdowns) can be defined – it allows you to provide further details about each item that needs to be done.

Scope Statement vs. Project Charter

A scope statement is often confused with a project charter, although they are different documents with different purposes.

A project charter defines why the project exists, what you need to do, and who will do it. It also allows you to define whether the project should be completed regardless of cost and time constraints. The project charter is a document that has a fixed format.

A scope statement defines what the project will produce and what changes can be made to it. It also defines what is inside or outside the project. A scope statement does not have a fixed length, and the information in it can be very short and simple, such as “we will build this one application.”


Any large project will have a series of related tasks, because no matter how large the project, independent work must be done by the same group of people (i.e., the team). These tasks have to be broken down into smaller tasks, or subtasks. A scope change may require splitting one task into two or more subtasks – in this sense, every scope change must include a scope change management plan and a scope statement.

Scope changes are frequently part of an extension to the original scope due to an external event that requires additional work for completion. An example could be when your company decides that instead of creating a new software application, they will simply add another feature to an existing one.

MyMG Team

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