Getting a project from conception to execution is a long and tricky process.

You’ll contend with conflicting expectations, changing budgets, and shifting deadlines. And with so much change, it’s easy to go beyond the original proposal and do too much work.

Establishing a firm project scope at the outset helps you dodge time-consuming roadblocks. It documents expectations so stakeholders and team members alike agree on the project’s parameters and don’t go overboard when things change.

What is project scope?

Project scope is the total amount of work necessary to complete an initiative. It’s a collaborative effort involving managers, sponsors, and team members, who together outline the development process and what everyone should reasonably expect from it.

Scoping occurs during the project planning phase, blueprinting its goals, deadlines, and deliverables. The process also defines key stakeholders and potential constraints. The goal is to manage expectations and ensure completion on time and within budget — without overburdening staff with unplanned work.

Project scoping lets you address potential challenges at the outset by:

  • Ensuring stakeholders’ understanding of details
  • Managing expectations and securing buy-in
  • Reducing risk
  • Permitting accurate budgeting and resource allocation
  • Aligning outcomes with stakeholder objectives
  • Establishing a change management process
  • Preventing scope creep

What is a project scope statement?

A project scope statement is the document you use to formalize the details of your scope. Once your team approves the statement, it establishes boundaries, deliverables, and the expected outcome. Keep this document somewhere accessible where everyone can reference it during development.

Depending on the project’s complexity, you can incorporate the scope statement into a holistic plan or leave it as a stand-alone document. If you’re collaborating with freelancers or vendors, use it as the basis of your contract’s statement of work (SOW). A scope statement also forms the foundation of your work breakdown structure, defining the sub-portions of the project and required tasks.

Most project scope statements include:

  1. Project breakdown: An overview of all work necessary
  2. Constraints: Risks or limitations that might impact delivery
  3. Exclusions: Work that you won’t include
  4. Milestones: Completion dates for specific tasks
  5. Deliverables: Description of the final product or outcome
  6. Acceptance criteria: Standards defining a successful outcome
  7. Change process: How and when adjustments to scope can occur
  8. Sign-off: Standards for when and how a project will close

What is scope creep?

Scope creep happens when new steps, features, or milestones enter a project without authorization or preparation. It adds additional work that strains resources, budgets, and workloads, potentially delaying delivery and degrading output quality.

Some scope creep is acceptable, if it’s within reason. A sudden change in the marketplace might change your goals, adding extra work as your team adjusts. But continuous, unscheduled growth is a project killer because it eats up time and resources you wouldn’t — and shouldn’t — otherwise spend.

Avoid scope creep by:

  • Involving all stakeholders in the planning process
  • Defining exclusions in the scope statement
  • Communicating potential risks and devising mitigation and contingency plans
  • Instigating a project scope management plan

How to write a project scope statement

Your scope statement will be your North Star, guiding your timeline and the steps you’ll take within it. Clarity and attention to detail are essential, so take your time and don’t skip any steps. Here’s how to write one:

1. Define project objectives

Consult with stakeholders to decide the goals, objectives, and milestones. You’ll want to outline what assets you’ll deliver upon completion and what the final product should look like. Do this first to make sure all steps lead to your goals.

2. Review resources

If you haven’t already created a resource management plan, this is the time to itemize which assets are available to complete the project and how to allocate them. You may have to adjust expectations based on availability.

Resources include anything you need to get the job done, which could be:

  • Budget
  • Materials
  • Equipment
  • Employee bandwidth

3. Collect additional requirements

Assess the project for any additional assumptions or factors that could impact scope. If something affects boundaries, budget, or timelines, identify and include it here.

4. Draft the project scope statement

Use your research to develop a statement. You can create a simple bulleted list for straightforward projects, but if you’re managing multiple moving parts, consider putting together a complete SOW.

Include constraints, milestones, and deliverables in your outline, along with acceptance criteria that define when the project is over. Your scope statement should clearly state what work it will or will not include and why, leaving no question about rationale and objectives.

5. Seek input and approval

Present your draft to stakeholders and team members for review, and assess suggestions and make changes where possible. It’s easier to adjust scope at this stage of the project lifecycle rather than when you’ve already started.

Once you update the scope with potential changes, have stakeholders sign off in support of your plan.

6. Establish change control protocols

Define the change management process in case you do need to adjust the scope once project work begins. The process could be to accept change requests by email or form and ask select team members for approval before implementation. Be sure to review these steps with stakeholders before launch.

7. Communicate project scope statement

Share the finalized statement with stakeholders and the team. Answer any questions and ensure all documentation is easily accessible so team members can refer back to it when necessary. You can also use Gantt charts, Kanban boards, or project management software to illustrate your scope.

8. Refer and review

After launching project development, keep an eye on creep by regularly reviewing progress and comparing it with the scope statement. Any time anyone attempts to introduce change, refer them back to the documentation so they can see if there’s room for adjustment before making a request.

Project scope example

Imagine you’re tasked with populating a blog as part of your client’s content marketing strategy. Your scope statement would look something like this:

1. Introduction

This marketing project will create a library of articles to increase brand awareness, establish authority, and drive traffic to the ecommerce section of the website.

2. Project breakdown

The team is responsible for developing content strategy, content creation, and promotion across company social media channels.

3. Deliverables

The team will launch the blog by completing and publishing the first batch of 10 SEO-optimized articles, each with two stock images, by April 25th.

Once the blog has that foundation of 10 articles, the team will continue to write and publish two new pieces weekly until otherwise stated.

4. Constraints

Possible constraints include:

  • Redirection of IT team resources that delay the creation of blog site
  • Editorial delays
  • Technical difficulties
  • Budget of $15,000
  • Timeline of six weeks

5. Exclusions

The team is not responsible for creating custom graphics, nor will the blog posts include multimedia assets.

6. Milestones

Key milestones will include the following:

  • March 20th: Complete SEO research
  • March 31st: Deliver content strategy and editorial guidelines to writers
  • April 10th: Deliver the first round of articles delivered for client review
  • April 12th: Return articles to writers for potential revisions
  • April 15th: Complete and return revisions to the client for approval
  • April 20th: Receive approval
  • April 23rd: Final review of blog posts
  • April 25th: Publish first round of blog posts and begin social media promotion

After April 25th, ongoing publishing milestones will include:

  • Every Monday: Submit two blog posts for editing
  • Every Wednesday: Submit articles for client approval
  • Every Thursday: Publish new blog posts and update social media content

7. Acceptance criteria

The team will optimize each blog post for search engines, remove grammatical or spelling errors, and include at least two internal links.

Project scope management

It takes an ongoing effort to manage scope. Without keeping track of your project’s flow, you could run into cost overruns and scope creep. Your statement will help, but you should also:

  • Establish clear communication channels: Ensure that if someone needs to make changes to scope, you receive the requests promptly.
  • Identify impacts: Before accepting a change request, understand how it will affect timelines, resources, and deliverables.
  • Seek approval: Ensure stakeholder support and approval of the scope changes before implementation.
  • Implement: Once approved, implement and communicate the changes in a timely manner so everyone knows what’s going on.

The best tools for project management

Setting and managing project scope is a challenge for any manager. That’s why you need the best tools for the job. Roadmunk by Tempo helps you create roadmaps to implement and track scope changes quickly and easily.

When it comes to resource management, the Tempo Timesheet extension for Jira helps you assess the impact of scope adjustments on your staff and budget by tracking resource hours and conducting a cost analysis using the same tool.