Project Scope, Why is it Important?

Let me start with my personal experience.  

For the first time, when I went to a grocery shop to buy monthly groceries, I just bought items which I could remember at that moment.  Though I felt like I’m missing some important things, I couldn’t remember them. Actually, I spent more money as well but not sure how much more. After coming home, I realized that I forgot to buy basic items cheese, butter, curd, milk, lentils and hair dye (for my husband) and bought items which are already at home in stock. As I spent more money on unnecessary extra groceries, I couldn’t pay one of monthly bills. This is what happens when you do not properly scope your project. If I had listed the requirements and boundaries of my shopping project before I go the grocery shop, I could have avoided the extra dollars, time and rework.

Now let’s try to understand more about scope and why it’s so important in project management. 

What does project scope refer to? 

Project scope is one of the first and most important step in Project Management. The other steps would be defined and derived only after Project scope is defined. Project scope refers, defining project boundaries by listing the features and concluding the set of project deliverables.

Why it is important for project managers? 

PMI conducts a survey every year and publishes report on the state of the project management and what causes the project failure.  The result is based on nearly 3000 portfolio, program and project managers across distinct collection of industries. Based on the results, only 62% of the projects met the original scope. Scope creep has increased to a great extent. 

Un-controlled or poorly managed scope can affect your project severely. It includes, missing deadline, budget overrun and even project failure. 

Let’s continue to learn more about scope and how it contributes to the success of the project. 

What is project scope? 

As per PMBOK® Project Scope is “The work that needs to be accomplished to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions.” 

Project scope comes under project planning. It aims at documentation of specific project objectives, tasks, budget and deadlines.

There are three processes in the scope project management 


“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  -  Abraham Lincoln 

Inevitably in the fast moving world, we are forced to do everything fast. Projects are not an exception. As project managers, we are expected to deliver the faster results. To get faster results, we tend to comprise on a few project management steps. Particularly in the planning stage of the project. Having 12 years of project management experience I understand it’s difficult to spend much time for planning, however with the same experience I also understood, 
investing time in the planning stage would reduce the enormous time and rework.  

Plan scope management includes preparing detailed project documentation which captures and defines all the work that needs to be done in the project. 


Controlling the scope means that closely monitoring and controlling the project changes. The main focus is to avoid scope creep and gold plating. 


The final step closing includes reviewing the project deliverables against the original plan. 

Steps in Project Scope:

Collection of Requirements: 

For many projects, deciding what needs to be done is more difficult than getting it done. Requirement gathering and analysis is the first and most important step of the project scope management. This 
step would help the project team to understand the stakeholder’s expectations and also identifying project boundaries. Project charter will contain the high level requirements. In this requirement gathering step, project team will be involved into in depth and detailed requirement gathering.   

Methods to collect the requirement: 

Identifying all the project stakeholders is a vital step in requirement gathering. Once the stakeholders are identified, techniques like, one on one and group interview, Brainstorming, questionnaires, Prototyping (Creating an initial version of the solution using the gathered preliminary requirements) can be followed.

Thanks to technology. It makes our job easier. There are project requirement gathering apps also available in the market which helps the project managers to save much time. 

Scope creep:

Business world is becoming very competitive day by day. An organization can survive only when it delivers an additional value to its customers. While adding value to the customers, project managers 
should understand what the scope creep for the project is and how it would impact the project. The gradual, uncontrolled increase in scope of the project is referred as scope creep. 

Example of Scope creep:

You are expected to build a 10-foot wall for the client, and client requests the team to increase the length of wall by half foot. Team does not know the consequences and think that since there is lot of 
material lying around, it’s not going to make any difference to build just half foot.  As a result, they build the extra length of wall. 

It is necessary to define the project scope boundaries and not let people randomly add to the project scope without going through the change control process. 

Gold plating: 
Gold plating is providing more than what the customer initially asked for. Team members individually or collaboratively add a feature or functionality, thinking that it might add value to the customer. Many 
times it happens without the knowledge of the Project Manager.  
Example of Gold Plating:
Suppose, you are doing a software program for your customer. One of the programmers comes to you and suggests an additional feature to the program. He also mentions that it won’t require any additional effort or cost to add the extra functionality and customer will love it. As project manager you also agree to implement the same. 

Though it’s good to provide additional value to the customer, the customer expectation would increase. There are chances, he would expect the same additional features in his next project as well. Hence it must be controlled and avoided by the project manager.  

Define Scope:  

Define scope is the process of developing a detailed description of the project and product will be created with a goal or scope. To define the scope, the following things have to be identified from the requirement documentation and other project related base documents like project charter. 

  • Project objectives 

  • Goal 

  • Sub-phases 

  • Tasks 

  • Resources 

  • Budget 

  • Schedule 

As a project manager, understanding and being able to define project scope will give you a focus and sense of purpose when executing the project.  

Scope Statement:  

While defining project scope, we should be able to come up with project scope statement which describes in detail the project’s deliverables and the work required to create those deliverables.  

Many could confuse Project scope statement with project charter. Though while creating project charters, project executives envision the scope, only project scope statement will have the detailed project’s product scope description, product acceptance criteria, assumptions, project deliverables, and project constraints.  

Work Break down Structure (WBS): 

Running a project without a WBS is like going to a strange land without a roadmap.” 

WBS otherwise called as decomposition technique, is all about breaking down project deliverables and project work into manageable components that can be effectively measured and supervised. This is a great tool which would help the stakeholders and the teams to understand the project precisely. It reflects the scope baseline of the entire project. 

Project manager and subject matter experts determine the main deliverables for the project based on the project scope statement. Once this is completed, with the team they start decomposing the 
deliverables in to small activities.  

A WBS diagram expresses the project scope in simple graphic terms. Below is an example of a simple WBS. Generally, the upper components are the deliverables and the lower level elements are the activities that create the deliverables. The lowest level in WBS is called as work package level. It is the point at which the cost and activity duration of the work can be reliably estimated and managed.

WBS Diagram Example: 

work breakdown structure WBS
Image Source:*yYRbnPkEgP0hT9TS.

5 rules of WBS: 

1. 100% rule:  

100% rule means that the WBS should capture all the deliverables and actives defined in the project          scope. 
2. Avoid Overlapping:  

With the 100% rule, it is also important to ensure that there is no duplication or overlap in the different elements of scope definition of work breakdown structure. 

3. Outcomes matters: 

The best way to adhere to the 100% rule is to define WBS elements in terms of outcomes or results, not actions 

4. Detailing rules: 

Being a project manager, one should be able to decide when to stop dividing the deliverables into smaller elements. There are few “rules of thumb” used, when decomposing the deliverables and determining the duration of the activities. This is crucial to produce the expected deliverable defined by the WBS.

a. “80-hour rule":  Any activity or group of activities defined at the lowest level of WBS, should not produce any deliverable which is more than 80 hours of effort. 

b. Second rule: None of the activities defined at the lowest level of the WBS should exceed the defined reporting period of the deliverables. 

c. Final rule: While calculating the duration of the activities to produce a deliverable, apply “common sense”. 

5. Coding WBS: 

Each elements of work breakdown structure should be numbered sequentially to enable easy recognition of the element in WBS dictionary. 

Validating Scope: 
As per Pmbok “Validate scope is the process of formalizing acceptance of the completed project deliverables”. Validating scope includes reviewing deliverables with the customer or sponsor to ensure they are completed satisfactorily and obtain formal acceptance. To ensure the satisfactory level of the customer, frequent and planned meetings need to be organized as a part of validating scope phase. 

Though the project team and quality team sends green signal for the project deliverables. It must be validated against the scope baseline to conclude whether project team has produced what was documented and planned. This is a process of acquiring formal acceptance on the completed deliverables from the customer.

Control Scope: 

Control scope process monitors the status of the project and product scope and changes to the scope baseline. Controlling the project scope ensures all requested changes and recommended corrective 
or preventive actions are taken. 

As a project manager, it is your job to keep monitoring the activities of the project and stop unwanted actions which may lead your project into problems such as scope creep and gold plating. 

5 Tips for an effective project scope management. 

  • Involve the entire team in the process of scoping the project 

  • Involve all the stakeholders during the requirement gathering phase 

  • Confirm the deliverables frequently with the customer to avoid any last minute change 

  • Try to Include all the deliverables in the WBS 

  • being careful about the changes that were not part of the original scope and gold platting. 

  • Ensure that the project scope goes through Change Control process. 


Scope management seems to be easier. But remember, poor project scope management could lead to project failure. Many times, project managers are caught by scope creep and realize the impact only at the end of the project when it’s already too late. ‘Back in 1994 a whopping 80% of 160 IS professionals surveyed by Computerworld said scope creep "always" or "frequently" occurs, while only 20% said it seldom happened.  

The job of the successful project manager is to ensure that the project has a clear scope. Project manager should also make sure that the project is in line with the scope and does not encourage the scope creep or gold plating. He should continuously check on the progress of the project.

Project management training would help to understand much more about project scope management. It's much easier to manage the scope of your project in several proven ways: using effective customer client communication throughout the process, staying within the limits of your team, properly documenting important events in the development process and staying within the guidelines provided are all great ways to manage your scope effectively. Proper scope management greatly improves your team's ability to stay within budget and use time effectively. Above all, the most important aspect of the process is coming up with an end result that satisfies the customer. 

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Yuva Rani Ganesan