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Defining the Project Scope: Tips & Free Template

written by: Linda Richter • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/6/2011

Most project methodologies require that you first define a project’s scope. Collaboration among the project owner, sponsor, and stakeholders help identify its shape and size. Changes in scope mid-project are called scope creep. Learn how to define the scope and deal with scope creep in this article.

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    What Is Project Scope?

    No matter what project methodology you choose, it will require you first and foremost to define the scope of the project. The scope states, team, duchessa what the objectives of the project are and what goals must be met to achieve success.

    You can define project scope by identifying your goals, objectives, tasks, subphases, resources, budget, and scheduling. Defining the project scope outlines the parameters or limitations of the project and spells out what is excluded. That includes project by-products that are non-goals.

    The scope must make clear to those involved exactly what product or service will be delivered. It is not intended to expand on methodologies or stakeholder purpose and motivation. How to Write a Scope Statement, by Bright Hub’s Eric Stallworth, is a step-by-step guide to this process. There is also a free, downloadable project scope template created by the same writer in Bright Hub's Media Gallery.

    Ultimately, you will define project scope by identifying what initiated the request for a new product or service. It's useful to quantify objectives--"This service will increase the end user's efficiency by 15%." It's a good idea to characterize difficulties you've experienced without the product or service and what will happen if the project is not approved. You must describe what you are creating, how much money you will need, how much time it will take, and how many people you will need. The authorizing body will also want to know the limitations of your project as well as the risks involved.

    You should set the approved scope statement aside as a point of focus as the project progresses through its stages. The scope will remind you of your focus if the project threatens to shift beyond its initial parameters. If there are any changes in the tasks originally identified for the project’s scope--no matter their size or who requests them--they are referred to as scope creep.

    As the project manager, you can review the project scope and consider the scope creep. Your can then veto any changes to the original project plan, or you can initiate a change to the original scope. It is perfectly acceptable to anticipate changes even after you define project scope.

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    Effects of Scope Creep

    Because scope changes affect the project, you’ve got to identify your new direction—even if it’s just a tiny detour. Scope creep can affect the, artM timeline or cost of the project. Some of the costs of scope creep include:

    • Deferred benefits
    • Lowered return on investment (ROI)
    • Increased maintenance costs
    • Over-allocated staff
    • New risks
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    Using Change Management to Minimize Scope Creep

    Best practices to combat scope creep involve change management techniques. You can establish a change team that will effectively control both internally generated changes and customer-driven changes in the scope of projects. For customer-driven changes, the customer often participates as a member of the team. Your participants must address how the change will affect the project budget as well as staff allocations. Is the completion date changed? Will the change add value to the product or service for the end user? They will specifically ask:

    • Is the change initiated by request of a customer, sponsor, stakeholder, or internal need?
    • Are further changes possible during the project life cycle phase you have entered?
    • What is the cost of the change?
    • What is its impact on the project schedule?
    • What added value does the change represent for the customer or end user?
    • Should the risk register be modified?
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      Change Management and Risk Management

      Risk management is a vital part of any project plan. You, as the project manager, must remember that change management and risk, finished puzzle, klsa12  function together. Risks generate changes (scope creep), that in turn, create new risks. In companies with established project management processes, change management and risk management occur continuously throughout the life cycle of the project. The impact on product quality, cost, and timing are continuously updated and reported to management as quickly as possible. The goal is always to minimize the number and extent of surprises so that you can stay on focus as you intended when you defined your project scope. You can also review Project Scope: The Process for change for a project change management template.

      Image credits:, Duchessa, artM, klsa12

    Defining the Project Scope

    The first phase in many project methodologies is to define the scope of the project. Natasha baker's article explains the concept of scope creep and ow to utilize change management to control it. Article two provides change management examples and templates.
    1. Defining the Project Scope: Tips & Free Template
    2. Project Scope: The Process for Change