7 Scoping Strategies for Successful Projects

Insights | 11 August 2015

We have all experienced at some point that phenomenon of scope creep, be it in a large or small project. You thought you had agreed with the stakeholders quite clearly what was ‘in scope’ then suddenly the ‘extras’ creep in. Sometimes the stealth of scope creep can take you by surprise!

So… what are some scoping strategies to keep that ogre of ‘scope creep’ at bay? Keep this list at hand next time you are starting a project:

  1. What is the main objective of the project? Is it stated in clear measurable terms. Yes, think SMARTA (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely and Agreed). What is the project really trying to achieve for the business?
  1. Have you agreed definitive acceptance criteria for the project? Again these should be measurable. These are facts that literally should be signed off at the end of the project as achieved (and of course all the way through a project, the list of acceptance criteria should be referenced to ensure the project is traveling in the right and desired direction).
  1. Next… What are your deliverables? These are the specific outputs, products or services you need to design, make, create, or implement as part of your project. Think key or major items that can be clearly described.
  1. Exclusions. You will be amazed to discover how much others assume or take for granted that you are going to do for them in a project. Make it clear! What is in the boundary of your project and what is not. There may be some initial movement in this area – get those discussions happening at the beginning of the project. Get any ‘grey’ areas out in the open and clarified up front. Don’t wait until half-way through your project when it is getting too late and suddenly an integral part of the main deliverable is ‘assumed’ to be an inclusion, not out of scope, by your customer. (‘Oh, I thought you were doing training for everyone, including new starters after the project….’)
  1. Assumptions. Exactly that: spell out any assumptions, particularly any resources or inputs required to be in place for the project to succeed. Otherwise you might find yourself with delays and waiting on someone else because you took it for granted you could have access to something/someone or it/they would be available and ready for you.
  1. Don’t forget those constraints. These are known limitations. Again, maybe sounds obvious to state, but any limitations on the project need to be agreed and documented. Clearly examine your constraints – these may need to be negotiated upfront via trade-offs; don’t wait until it is too late.
  1. Document your scope and get agreement. Remember that old adage: ‘If it isn’t written down, it wasn’t said!’ You need to make sure you are set up for success, that you are doing no more, but no less, than agreed (unless under clear change control procedures).

Successful projects are not necessarily about not allowing changes – they are about agreement upfront and customer satisfaction.

‘…ensure that the project includes all the work required, and only the work required, to complete the project successfully.’   

A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, PMBOK® Guide – Fifth Edition,
Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013

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PMBOK is a trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc. which is registered in the United States and other nations.

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