The Importance of Clarity and Scope of Projects

‘When it comes to projects with a wide scope, clarity for the scope is a vital prerequisite for project success,’ says Michael Stanley, CEO of Business Improvement Architects.

Often, a project’s scope is not clear, which can lead to ‘scope creep’. This can result in a stretch of resources, a stretch of capacity, and uncontrolled change over time. However, there are simple steps that you can employ to reduce the risk caused by poor clarity in project scope.

What is Project Scope?

Scope is defined as the sum of a project’s products and the extent of those product’s requirements. Essentially, project scope is a list of requirements that define the desired result and act as a base for what needs to happen for the project to be a success. The scope is often outlined in the Project Charter (or Project Inception Document) which is presented to the project manager and influences the management of resources and capacity. Alongside this, the defined scope draws the scope boundary, which verifies what is in and out of scope. Setting this boundary and creating common understanding is essential for creating clarity and eradicating scope creep.

What is Scope Creep, and what impact does it have?

Although a project team may have every intention of adhering to clear project boundaries, if there is even a hint of ambiguity, then there is the potential for scope creep. This often looks like a series of small changes that accumulate over time, resulting in the extension of the original scope definition and causing deviation from the project plan. The impact of a continuous requirement growth can be detrimental to a project and can result in the stretching of resources, capacity and budget.

So, how can you ensure that your project stays within scope and doesn’t accumulate unnecessary stretch?

Create a common understanding of products and requirements.

As obvious as it may be, ensuring that all members of the project team are clear on the products and requirements is the number one priority. When all members are working toward the same common goal, there is little opportunity for a variation to occur. To create a common understanding, it is essential that products and requirements are clearly communicated to the entire project team, and that they are discussed regularly. Involving the team in auditing the scope register will also reiterate the scope of the project, increasing clarity and definition.

Introduce Scope Tolerance

Scope tolerance is the permissible deviation that is allowed before the situation needs to be escalated. By allowing for a small deviation in a project’s scope, there is a buffer for scope creep which gives flexibility if things do not go to plan. However, this buffer region needs to be clearly defined. Otherwise, scope creep will continue. This can be outlined in a Change Control plan – where items outside of scope can be prioritised.

Regularly audit the scope register

At regular intervals throughout the project’s lifecycle, it is of benefit to refer to the scope register and compare the project against it to track the potential deviation of the project. An audit should occur at every gate release or every sprint release for an agile project. By completing a regular audit, any deviation can be identified and dealt with before it becomes exacerbated.

Scope creep is a common ailment of projects and can go unnoticed until it is too late. However, there are preventative measures which can reduce the risks of scope creep, such as being cautious of scope tolerance and introducing a common understanding of project requirements. It is vital to ensure that there is clarity in the project scope from the beginning, ensuring that all team members are aware and informed before scope creep has the chance to derail the entire project.

For more information on how to keep your projects on track, contact Huw Jones at huwj@ninefeettall.com.

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