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Mar 08

Project scope management: defining and planning your project’s success

A hand holding camera lens that focus the view (here, Gantt chart taskbars). The area outside the lens is blurred.

When you want to prepare a dish you have never cooked before, you would likely follow a plan (a recipe) listing all the ingredients with quantities and illustrating the expected final product. In many cases, you do not need to follow the measurements religiously—you can eyeball a cup and a half or even substitute some ingredients to adjust the final product to your liking.

But when it comes to project scope management, you cannot take so many liberties. Not to mention that every severe deviation from the plan can jeopardize your project. But don’t worry. We are here to help. Today, we will disassemble the project scope management process into smaller pieces and walk you through it step-by-step.

In this article, you will find:

  • Definition and importance of project scope management.
  • How to define and document the scope of your project.
  • Key steps/processes in project scope management.

What is the project scope in project management?

Project scope, along with Time and Cost, is one of the triple constraints inherent to every project. It is the sum of parameters that define the boundaries of your project that you need to take care of throughout the entire project lifecycle to ensure successful completion.

In simple terms, the project scope is what a client or sponsor wants you to deliver. And thereby, the scope sums up the work you and your team need to do to produce the desired result.

The triple constraints that impact project boundaries.

So what are those parameters? They are the inputs you need to take into account when defining your project scope. Those, in turn, will let you create the key output of your scope management processes which is a work breakdown structure.

  • Assumptions,
  • Deliverables,
  • Constraints,
  • Goals,
  • Deadlines,
  • Key stakeholders,
  • Milestones,
  • Processes,
  • Resources,
  • Tasks. 

Since the project scope describes your project goals and how to achieve them, you can think about it as a blueprint for your project or a recipe. But there is more to it.

Apart from describing what the project is about and consists of, you also need to define what will not be part of it. Or, in other words, what belongs to the scope and what would be deemed out of scope. Defining these two, especially the out-of-scope elements, will help you avoid the dreaded scope creep.

As such, you can also treat the project scope as the insurance policy and stopper for situations when your stakeholder’s requests could cause the project to stray from its original course. And since you usually receive an insurance policy in writing, the same goes for project scope, which comes with its document called a project scope statement.

Project scope statement

A project scope statement is a document whose goal is to collect and organize all the information related to the scope of your project. It helps ensure transparency with all the stakeholders and understanding of the project goal.

You want to create a project scope statement to be flexible enough to willow some room for necessary changes. At the same time, you should keep it rigid enough not to allow for scope creep.

Typically, the project scope statement covers what follows.

Statement of work

The project statement of work (SoW) captures and defines all the aspects of work management to the finest detail. It describes the activities and deliverables your team members are expected to deliver (team’s responsibilities) and establishes their timeline. The SoW may also include what your team will not work on (project exclusions).


Constraints are everything that might limit or negatively impact the outcome of your project. They could result from the lack of necessary resources at any point in the project; procurement issues; project schedule; or a general lack of information.


Milestones provide exact dates for reaching key deliverables, events, or goals that indicate the overall project progress.

Final deliverable

A final deliverable is what the project is supposed to accomplish as per the expectations of the client (or clients). For example, a construction of a building, expansion of sales into a foreign market, or development of a web application.

Acceptance criteria

They spell out the conditions that the final deliverable must meet to be accepted by the client. The acceptance criteria define the boundaries to which the client can confirm whether the product or service works as intended.

What is project scope management?

Considering the definition given above, what about project scope management?

Managing project scope is primarily concerned with defining and controlling all those things that are not part of the project. In other words, the scope tells what your project aims for; scope management, on the other hand, focuses on “what steps do we take to get where we want with our project?” Those steps are defined and mapped so that project managers and other stakeholders can determine the work required for project completion.

Project scope management processes

The process of scope management depends on the nature and definability of your objectives. These two will vary depending on the industry you operate in. But you can apply the processes we cover in the following sections to nearly any industry or type of project.

6 Key processes in project scope management.

#1 Establishing a plan for scope management

The very first process (or step) in scope management is creating a scope plan that you can refer to when taking further steps. In this plan, you document how you will define, manage, validate, and control the project and its scope. As such, the scope plan will become the guide that will show you a direction regarding how to manage scope throughout the project lifecycle.

During this process, you will also need to gather input from your stakeholders and review the project charter (project plan). There are 4 main elements that you should include in your scope management plan:

  • Requirements.
  • Scope statement.
  • Work breakdown schedule.
  • Work breakdown structure (WBS) dictionary.

A table listing the inputs and outputs of the scope planning process.

#2 Collecting project requirements

The next process in the line is collecting stakeholder requirements and expectations. When doing so, you want to ensure that you meet all the stakeholders’ requirements, which, later on, you are going to describe in a detail.

Having a clear understanding of what your stakeholders expect from the project will help you prevent unnecessary complications throughout the project development lifecycle. It will also let you predict costs and ensure that deliverables meet the expectations of your stakeholders.

Project requirements fall into 5 categories:

  • Quality requirements describe a set of criteria and conditions that the product must meet for successful completion.
  • Product requirements define internal and external features (capabilities) and behavior that collectively make the product useful. 
  • Business requirements that explain why you should undertake the project and how it aligns with and supports your organization’s strategic goals.
  • Transition requirements list actions required for transitioning from the as-is to the future (expected) state.
  • Stakeholder requirements decompose business requirements and define business needs and objectives from the perspective of the stakeholder.

You can collect necessary input through stakeholder focus groups, interviews, surveys, and reports.

The inputs and outputs of collecting stakeholder's requirements process.

#3 Defining the scope

When you reach this point, you will be drafting the final project scope statement that will include all the data you have collected in the previous steps. It means that you will turn

  • project objectives,
  • sub-phases,
  • resources,
  • schedule,
  • budget,
  • goals, 
  • tasks,

into a detailed description of the product or service your project aims to deliver. You may also consider adding scope exclusions to ensure your team does not work on unnecessary features.

A table listing the inputs and outputs of the scope definition process.

Using software for defining the project scope

If you are a Project Manager who works in an organization that uses Jira, you can draw on previous projects to avoid defining the scope from scratch.

With the BigPicture PPM app for Jira, you have several ways for defining the scope for your project. You can define it manually or sync your project with another Jira or Trello initiative that already has a defined scope. You can also manually add tasks to your initiative that belong to the project scope; import tasks from several other initiatives; or add only specific tasks that meet your project’s requirements.

An overview of the Scope page in BigPicture that lists all the in-scope tasks for the individual project. You can edit the existing scope to add new tasks or remove those that are out of scope.

Start your 30-day trial today. Or visit our demo page to try all the BigPicture features in your browser (no installation or account required.)

#4 Building a work breakdown structure

To begin this process, you must have at this point a clear understanding of project requirements and factors that will determine the success of your initiative. You should also have a well-developed timeframe for your initiative, including the deadlines and budget constraints. Now, it is time for getting even more granular by creating a work breakdown structure (WBS).

A table listing the inputs and outputs of building a wbs process.

WBS in a nutshell

In short, what is a WBS? It is a visual decomposition of the project deliverables into smaller units. In other words, you break down the entire project into subsequent phases, including all the tasks your team must execute to complete each phase. And then, you set the deadlines and allocate resources to those tasks. You can approach your scope decomposition by using either a top-down or bottom-up planning technique.

Additionally, you can include the budget for each phase and distribute it along the tasks. If you expect extra expenses due to, for example, hiring additional resources, add them to your WBS too.

A work breakdown structure (left side) along with a Gantt chart (right side) marking milestones and baselines for the project scope in BigPicture.

#5 Validating project scope

By now, your project scope is ready but only as a draft. To turn it into an official document, you must receive approval from the respective executives and other stakeholders. Those people may accept it as it is or request some changes. Only after it gets the final approval, will it become a full-fledged scope document that your Agile or non-Agile teams can begin executing.

A table listing the inputs and outputs of the scope validation process.

You carry out this process usually at the end of the project planning phase. To make it successful (and effective), you will need sound communication and managerial skills to receive feedback and incorporate it into your scope document.

#6 Controlling the scope

Scope control is the final process of project scope management. In this process, you monitor the project’s progress and manage scope changes. You carry out scope control throughout the entire project life cycle to assess whether the project is on the right track to deliver the expected results.

A table listing the inputs and outputs of the scope control process.

Changes to the project scope will happen and it is up to you how you go about them. For that reason, you need to have a change management plan. It will help you ensure the project achieves its intended results and, at the same time, supports the individual changes made in the project.

Project scope management: summary

The success of a project depends on effective scope management. Your responsibility is to understand the project goal in a detail and ensure no out-of-scope changes will negatively affect it.

Each scope management process takes in and produces a set of documents and other deliverables that will help you move on through each consecutive scope management step. They also provide the necessary mechanisms for dealing with unpredicted issues and stakeholders’ requests that might happen at any point in the Project Execution phase.

To make your scope management work easier and more efficient, you can turn to BigPicture. It will help you define, break down, and control the scope of any type of project, be it Agile, Classic, or Hybrid. The app supports scope management on the project, program, and portfolio levels.

About The Author

Content writer at BigPicture. Previously, Aggie worked for SaaS companies writing specifically about eCommerce and marketing. As a continuous learner and advocate for knowledge-sharing, she creates content for beginners as well as more advanced readers. She loves clean plant-based food and morning workouts.