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How to define the scope of a project

It is the first step in establishing a project timeline

As a project manager, you'll need to define project scope no matter what methodology you choose to use.

Defining what is needed is the first step toward establishing a project timeline, setting of project goals and allocating project resources. These steps will help you to define the work that needs to be done - or in other words, define the scope of the project. Once this is defined, you'll be able to allocate tasks and give your team the direction they need to deliver the project on time and on budget.

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Understand the project objectives

In order to define the scope of a project, it is necessary to first establish the project objectives. The objective of a project may be to produce a new product, create a new service to provide within the organisation, or develop a new bit of software. There are any number of objectives that could be central to a given project - and it is the role of the project manager to see that their team or contractors deliver a result that meets the specified functions and features.

How do you define the project scope?

The work and resources that go into the creation of the product or service are essentially the things that frame the scope of the project. The scope of the project outlines the objectives of the project and the goals that need to be met to achieve a satisfactory result. Every project manager should understand how to define the project scope and there are some steps that can be followed when doing this.

Steps for defining the scope of a project

To define a project scope, you must first identify the following things:

  • Project objectives
  • Goals
  • Sub-phases
  • Tasks
  • Resources
  • Budget
  • Schedule

Once you've established these things, you'll then need to clarify the limitations or parameters of the project and clearly identify any aspects that are not to be included. In specifying what will and will not be included, the project scope must make clear to the stakeholders, senior management and team members involved, what product or service will be delivered.

Alongside of this, the project scope should have a tangible objective for the organisation that is undertaking the project. The purpose may be to create a better product for a company to sell, upgrade a company's internal software so that they can deliver better service to their customers or to create a new service model for an organisation. These things are integral to defining the project scope, because they will play a part in how project methodologies are applied to the project to bring it to completion.

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. Understanding the scope provides you with the foundations for managing project change and risk management. It enables goal setting and a timeline to work towards, as well as key points for reporting on the progress of the project to senior management and other stakeholders.

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