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Managing Scope for Project Success

Ever start a project without a stable foundation for scope? How did it go? To ensure project success, it is essential that scope be unambiguous and carefully managed. This can be accomplished with the Scope Management Process, which provides a formal set of procedures for planning, executing, monitoring and controlling scope.

The project manager, sponsor and stakeholders use the Scope Management Process throughout the project life cycle to:

  • Communicate project scope so the sponsor and key stakeholders reach the same conclusion about what is and is not in scope. It is normal for different people to read the same documents and have varying, yet valid, interpretations of the scope. To prevent this, scope must be documented, and more importantly, discussed. The scope statement should contain sufficient detail to be able to establish cost, schedule and deliverable-acceptance criteria.
  • Monitor and review the project to identify unplanned impacts on scope, cost, schedule or deliverable-acceptance criteria. Would anyone be concerned if the deliverable-acceptance criteria changed, but there was no change to cost or schedule? The answer is yes. The project manager has agreed to deliver something of value to the sponsor that is of sufficient quality to yield business benefits. If that criteria changes in some way, the change should be agreed to and documented so the project manager can later demonstrate the deliverables meet the quality standard.
  • Raise scope-related issues and recommend appropriate actions or changes to scope or baseline documents.
  • Formalize approved adjustments to scope documents and cost, schedule, deliverable-acceptance criteria, and other elements of the project management plan.

The Scope Management Process is a set of steps designed to set, track and control scope throughout the project. Key participants in the process include primary stakeholders and resource providers. Basic functions in the Scope Management Process include:

  • Reviewing the project charter and other documents such as the contract, statement of work and request for proposal. Identify and characterize scope elements and drivers for the project in enough detail to establish scope, cost, schedule and deliverable- acceptance criteria.
  • Discussing the proposed scope baseline with key stakeholders and reviewing data, assumptions and constraints to resolve misunderstandings and gain approval of the scope baseline. Document the scope baseline and distribute it to stakeholders.
  • Monitoring scope elements and drivers throughout the project for possible changes that impact the baselines. The project manager and team are proactive and address scope issues before they become critical. Team leaders and staff should review their scope elements and drivers regularly.
  • Reviewing project progress regularly to identify variances that are possibly caused by scope element or driver changes. This is reactive because the project manager did not see it ahead of time, and the project cost and schedule have already been impacted.
  • Processing scope change requests using a standard procedure agreed to by the sponsor and key stakeholders. This normally involves analyzing the impact of the change request on the project’s triple constraints and proposing several alternative solutions to the change control board.
  • Updating baselines and other parts of the project management plan based on approved changes to scope. This should include updating the work breakdown structure, activity list, resourcing, procurement and communication plans.

The preceding discussion has involved addressing scope factors found in proposals, contracts and records. There are other scope factors the project manager must also plan for and manage, such as the skill and experience level of the project managers and staff working on a project. At the extreme, a very inexperienced team might take nearly twice as long as a highly experienced team. The project manager needs to make assumptions about the level of skill and experience of the project team. If the assigned team is less skilled or experienced than assumed, the team should begin mitigating the unfavorable cost and schedule variances they will likely face.

Another factor is the relationship between project staff and the client or sponsor. Project performance is impacted by the level of cooperation versus confrontation, eagerness versus resistance, collaboration versus isolationism, and creativity versus mediocrity. The project manager needs to monitor whether these factors are shifting and how they will impact project performance. The organization performing the project should contractually position itself to defend against a client’s unreasonable interference or constraints to progress. If it does not adequately protect itself from client scope factors through contracting, it will likely end up absorbing cost and schedule variances that should have been transferred to the client.

Tom Grzesiak, PMP is an instructor for Global Knowledge and is the president of Supple Wisdom LLC. Tom has over 20 years of project management and consulting experience with IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and dozens of clients. He has trained thousand of project managers and consultants. Global Knowledge is a worldwide leader in IT and business training. More than 700 courses span foundational and specialized training and certifications. For more information, visit

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