How to Write a Project Scope Document

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 August 2020

Projects, particularly when they're complex and include multiple stakeholders, benefit from a clear plan of action. Project scopes can help establish guidelines for everyone involved in the project. Often, project scopes follow a specific formula to ensure that all essential concepts and timelines are well established. In this article, we explain why a project scope document is useful, describe what to include in your project scope, offer guidance on how to define the scope and highlight some vital tips.

What is a project scope?

A project scope document, also known as a scope of work, is an essential piece of project paperwork that informs the stakeholders and teams of the project's boundaries before it commences. A well-crafted scope of work defines the elements of a project, such as the constraints, assumptions, milestones, significant deliverables, requirements and project goals.

Why is a project scope document important?

A practical project scope gets your team and stakeholders on the same page. If you have ever been part of a project that exceeded a budget or timeframe, you already know how frustrating it can be to keep up with the shifting expectations. Creating a compelling project scope with clearly defined boundaries beforehand can help reduce this kind of frustration.

A professional scope-of-work document acts as an overview, so it should be clear and concise so that anyone reading it can understand what will and won't be part of the project. A project management plan ensures that your team completes work as expected and on time. Before you can develop an in-depth strategy and start executing that plan, every member of your team needs to be aware of the extent and significance of the work that needs to be completed, which is where the scope of work can help.

In summary, a project scope document is important because it:

  • Identifies external and internal entities the project team will interact with

  • Identifies business processes that the project impacts

  • Identifies likely constraints that the project team can be prepared to address

  • Defines the expected outcomes of the project

  • Defines the boundaries of a project

Example sections for project scope document

When writing a project scope document, consider including these specific sections and details:

  1. Agreement

  2. Costs

  3. Exclusions

  4. Assumptions

  5. Limitations

  6. Acceptance criteria

  7. Project description and deliverables

  8. Business case and goals

  9. Project justification

1. Agreement

A scope document creates an agreement by inference. However, you may sometimes need documented proof. Be sure to include a signature field in your scope of work, and have your project funder or lead stakeholder sign the document. A scope document is a contract, so if you are collecting money for work, you may want to have a lawyer review your document before the funder or lead stakeholder signs it.

2. Costs

Cost is an optional portion of your scope document, depending on the type of organisation you work for. If, for instance, you work for a consulting agency that charges its external clients for the work you do, you must outline a project's costs either at the phase or milestone level. Overall, it will be much easier for you to manage the project if you remain clear about its cost and the work associated with it. This will also make it a lot easier for you to appeal for more funds if you need them later on.

3. Exclusions

Although a project scope involves the listing of deliverables, it is sometimes necessary to itemise what you will not deliver as well. Through this, you can avoid possible awkward requests and questions. This document is about setting all expectations while avoiding any form of miscommunication around your planned work.

4. Assumptions

You are more likely to end up with problems, missed expectations and confusion if you fail to outline a project's assumptions. Because of this, clear communication is crucial. Consider taking the time to list any assumptions you have thought about that could affect the project and its outcomes.

5. Limitations

Every project has its limits. You must ensure that you are not exceeding those limits so that you can complete the project within the budget and on time. Limitations come in many forms, with technology being one of the most common causes.

For example, if you are planning to build a project that is dependent on a specific technology, you should be sure to mention it. There could be several ways to code the website, for instance. However, if you are boxed into a complicated technology, consider covering yourself by being specific about the limitations in your scope. This way, you can get help if you don't have the budget or time to explore alternatives when you run into any sort of limitation. You can think of it as an insurance policy for the project.

6. Acceptance criteria

Your project scope document should be an agreement between parties about what you will deliver so that there is no question once the project is completed. Acceptance criteria are measurable, achievable and useful in proving the work is complete. Criteria of acceptance or work conditions are often listed in the project requirements or a final stakeholder approval or review.

7. Project description and deliverables

Avoid any kind of confusion that may arise later by clearly outlining what you will deliver for approval through the course of the project. You must also be specific about the final deliverable. It is a simple yet detailed description of what you intend to deliver and can include specifics such as length, amount, quantity or any other aspects that accurately describe the project.

For example, if your project involves creating a television ad for a client, your project scope statement may include something like, 'Willfully Holdings will produce and deliver two 45-second video advertisements in AVI format that are usable on television.'

8. Business case and goals

Every project has goals that should be defined. Include the reasons for funding the project, the intended project outcomes and a set of business goals for the team to keep in mind while executing the project. There are times when stakeholders or members of your team will make extra requests, putting your budget and timeline at risk. If this happens, having your business goals clearly outlined can be helpful. If, for instance, the change requests do not meet the documented business case, you can easily push the risks away.

9. Project justification

You cannot start a project without a real need. You can use the need as a justification. At the start of your project scope, you should explain the need for your project and the ways through which the end product will solve an existing problem. Examples of need may include:

  • An opportunity for vertical integration has presented itself

  • Client feedback has been asking for a new tool that needs to be included in your product

  • A competitor has developed a new product that faces no competition in the market

How to define the scope

To establish the scope of your project, here are some steps you should take:

  1. Perform project analysis. This is highly applicable if you intend to produce a product rather than a result or service. The technique focuses on decomposing product value. In this case, you need to analyse the product in question from functional and ergonomic points of view. Then, you need to choose processes and materials that will comply with the requirements for performance. Your main goal is to define tangible deliverables.

  2. Find an individual with knowledge and relevant experience. Seek input. Some members of your project team might be highly experienced or knowledgeable about the project you are planning to undertake. Ask the experts within your team for advice and direction.

  3. Change project management. If it is necessary, you should consider changing parts of your large project along the way. Although it's a good idea to try and avoid scope creep, the fact that there is often a change in the nature of the business makes it sometimes inevitable. Have a strict change management process in place so that you can avoid disagreements and changes to the scope of the project.

  4. Review the project scope with your team. As you finish defining the scope, go over it with your team. This gives you the opportunity to answer any questions, listen to suggestions and make sure that everyone on the team is satisfied with the overall plan, which will allow you to make any necessary changes before finalising the document.

Project scope statement tips

As you write your project scope statement, consider the following best practices:

  • Consider the relevance between the project statement and the question it's answering. Ensure your project scope statement answers questions such as, 'Is this better than what we offer on the market at the moment?', 'What benefits will it offer to our clients that do not exist at the moment?' and 'What are the long-term business benefits?'

  • Avoid sweeping statements. You must be careful not to over-commit your resources on a project that has not started yet.

  • Keep the statement short. Given that this is a document seeking the buy-in of stakeholders, there are chances that it will be subjected to plenty of edits before you finalise it. It will also become a quick reference guide later on. Therefore, you should strive to keep it simple. This will allow you to save content for the full project plan.

  • Avoid jargon-heavy language. Keep in mind that you will be communicating to many people across several specialisations and departments. Be sure to keep your writing clear and consistent.

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