Guide to Project Scope Management for Project & Product Managers

Dayana Mayfield

Agile Product Development

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If you don’t want to experience scope creep (when projects veer in the wrong direction or grow too big) or if you don’t want your project to take twice as long as it should, then you’re going to need to master the art of project scope management.

A subset of project management, scope management puts extra emphasis on keeping things within scope, under budget, and on deadline. 

In this guide, we walk you through the definition of this type of project management, and offer some expert tips and useful templates. 

clipboard infographic

What is project scope management?

Project scope management is the process of keeping a project moving successfully towards its end objective—while ensuring all of the associated tasks remain within scope. Rather than take a mindset that any project that reaches its end goal is successful, this approach prioritizes guidelines, collaborator time limits, deadlines, and cost. 

Without a clear scope, the boundaries are limitless. (That translates into a time-consuming and expensive project.)

scope creep memeImage source.

Why is project scope management important?

Regardless of the type of project or industry, scope management is essential. 

Here are some important reasons why:

  • Keep projects within budget in order to achieve ROI

  • Avoid confusion and frustration among collaborators

  • Speed up project completion by eliminating unnecessary tasks

  • Avoid changing requirements and plans unnecessarily

Let’s take SaaS as an example. The SaaS business model is particularly lucrative. The revenue per employee of publicly traded SaaS companies is upwards of $190k per year. But it can be very expensive to build a SaaS product

Managing the scope of a project ensures that you not only hit the feature set you need to go to market with an MVP, but that you do so within your desired timeline and budget. This way, you can actually go to market, start collecting revenue, and protect your runway. 

A lot is at stake when launching something new—the entire future of your business. 

How do you define a project scope

So how do you define a project scope? The scope is only as good as the sum of its parts. 

Here are all of the things that go into project scope documentation:

  • Main objective - What is the goal of the project? Why are you tackling this project?

  • Key stakeholders - Include the stakeholders, meaning anyone with skin in the game or anyone who will need to sign off on the project. 

  • Market-fit or problem statement - It’s also important to contextualize how the project fits into the overall business landscape. For example, if it’s a fast-moving consumer good, you might include details on trends or consumer demands you’re addressing. For a B2B SaaS company, you’d be more likely to list the use cases and problems that your product is solving. 

  • Project resources - What resources do you need to complete this project? Include people, software, materials, and other resources. 

  • Activities, project plan, and product roadmap - The final scope deliverable should also include the project plan, or a link to the roadmap tool or project management tool where the plan can be found. This way there’s no confusion around how you will reach your goal. 

  • Concrete deliverables - Break the project down into clear deliverables. What will be submitted and what is the purpose of each deliverable?

  • Timelines - Make sure to also include project timelines. Typically, the simplest way to do this is to associate a deadline with each deliverable. You might also want to include timelines around when feedback should be submitted by, or when the project will be released or launched. 

  • Communication and collaboration methods - You should also include the communication and collaboration tools and methods you will be used. For example, you might mention that you’ll have weekly progress meetings, and all other communication will take place via Slack. 

  • Collaborator boundaries - Make sure to also clarify the boundaries that any collaborators have. If you’re working with freelancers or agencies, for example, include how many meetings they are expected to attend or how quickly they are expected to reply to communications. 

Project scope management process (7 steps)

Now that you know what goes into a project scope, let’s take a look at the entire project scope management process—from defining the scope to implementing it. 

Project scope management infographic with seven steps

1. Define the goal of the project

The first step is to determine the project objective or objectives. Write this down in clear definable ways (including how you’ll measure success), and get approval from project stakeholders before proceeding. 

2. Gather all requirements

Next, you’ll need to gather all of the requirements. This is the how, what, when, and who of the project. How will the project succeed and meet its goals? What resources and tools will you use? When should the project be completed by? Who will collaborate on and approve the project?

3. Define all aspects of the project scope

Now it’s time to define the project scope. You can use one of the 3 scope documentation templates linked below. This document should include the scope description, acceptance criteria, examples of what would be out of scope, and the overall costs. 

4. Transparently share the product roadmap or project plan

Defining and sharing the scope document isn’t enough. You also need to clearly outline the project plan in a project management tool. For example, this might look like a list of 10 subtasks in an Asana card, or it might be 50 Jira task cards in a project backlog. 

5. Get buy-in on the project scope

Make sure you get approval on your project scope. Share both the project scope document as well as a link to the project management software board or task so that stakeholders can see the scope and review the associated tasks. 

6. Begin the project and communicate the scope

With your project scope approved, the next step is to kick off the project on the right foot. Make sure to communicate the scope with all project collaborators. For some projects, you might share the scope document and project management software with all collaborators. For other projects, you might not want to give access to these items. For example, if you’re launching a campaign and working with a freelancer for creative work, you might communicate with them via email about the budget, as opposed to sharing your internal documentation. 

7. Update the project scope in an agile way

Agile development is considered best practice for a reason. When working in an agile way, you’re open to changing the scope as needed. This doesn’t mean you allow scope creep. But rather, you continuously update the scope and project management system to reflect necessary changes. This way, the scope is more accurate and continuously documented. 

Iterative and incremental life cycles are those in which the project scope is generally determined early in the project life cycle, but time and cost estimates are routinely modified as the project team's understanding of the product increases.

- Project Management Institute

4 expert tips for an effective project scope management process

If you want to effectively manage project scope, you need to do more than just define that scope. You need to think strategically about why this project exists in the first place, and how to ensure its success. 

Keep these tips on project management and scope creep in mind. 

1. Start with the right objective

No matter how good the team or how efficient the methodology, if we’re not solving the right problem, the project fails.

- Woody Williams

In other words, before you rush into defining scope and mapping out tasks, make sure that you’re tackling the right problem. 

2. Narrow the scope even further

How to manage a project: Limit in scope. Make it simple. Get success. Then iterate.

- Auren Hoffman

Can you break this project down into two or three distinct projects? When projects are more narrowly defined, it’s easier to monitor scope creep. 

3. Measure results as soon as possible

A project is complete when it starts working for you, rather than you working for it.

- Scott Allen

Particularly in the business world, the sooner you can launch a project the better. That means the project can start making or saving money (depending on the type of project it is). Find a way to launch the MVP version and measure results as quickly as possible. That way, you can pivot if needed. This can help reduce the scope or make the scope more accurate. 

4. Appoint a single point of contact

The P in PM is as much about people management as it is about project management.

- Cornelius Fichtner

One of the worst things that can happen in any project is people within the project talking amongst themselves—but having no one in charge of tracking communication and communication changes and decisions to all collaborators. 

Without clear scopes (and constant reminders), people can go astray. So make sure to have one point of contact who’s in charge of communication decisions and guardrails to everyone involved. 

3 examples of how to communicate about project scope

To help you create your own documentation around project scope, here are three different templates. Use these as a starting point and add your own custom fields. 

1. Project scope statement example from Expert Program Management

This is a great template because it shows the absolute basics that you must include in your project scope documentation. Based on the type of project, you can then add your own custom sections.

project scope templateDownload the template from Expert Program Management here.

2. Project scope example from Techno-PM

This template is similar to the one above, but it goes a bit deeper by adding details on what is out of scope, as well as providing a section on costs.

project scope templateDownload the template from Techno-PM here.

3. Product roadmap template from Aha

Of course, a project scope document is just that: a document. To really keep a project in scope, you also need to map the initiatives and tasks into a product roadmap or project roadmap. You can use this template from Aha to visualize the project stages.

project scope templateDownload the product roadmap template from Aha! here.

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