by Moira Alexander

How to determine, document, and communicate your project scope

Nov 24, 20176 mins
IT LeadershipProject Management Tools

Determining, documenting and sharing a project's scope can be complicated and stressful. Here are a couple of business leaders willing to share how they go about it and what they found to be successful.

5 team meeting group planning
Credit: Thinkstock

When it comes to determining project scope, there are key elements, but also some additional things to factor in that just might make every stakeholder’s life much simpler and help avoid scope creep. First, in the planning stage develop a scope management plan, that outlines exactly how the scope of the project will be defined, verified and managed. Then make sure you have a full understanding of stakeholder’s true needs and expectations, especially in relation to your company’s available resources, limitations, strengths, processes, technology/tools, and culture. Often, it’s in not allocating ample time, and attention within this step that scope creep becomes a bitter reality later on.

At web and native app development company The Silverlogic, COO Cristina Escalante shares some of the things they take into consideration when determining the scope for projects. Escalante says, “our clients are mostly small businesses, startups, and enterprises who want a minimal viable product (MVP) created from scratch, often with a limited budget. As you can imagine, knowing when to say “stop” is the difference between an MVP and a full-fledged app. We spend time with the stakeholders to determine what problems they want to solve, write user stories for the major and minor features of the MVP. In addition, we make some preliminary wireframes on paper and software like Sketch or WireframeSketcher.”

[ Find out how to pick the right project management methodology, beware the most common project management mistakes to avoid, and gear up with the essential project management tools. | Get the latest project management insights by signing up for our CIO newsletter. ]

Frank Garofalo, principal consultant at Garofalo Studios, a user experience and interactive strategy consultancy firm says, in terms of elements and factors in determining scope “we have embraced an agile/scrum project methodology, which has allowed us to define key objectives while providing flexibility to be nimble to adapt to changing business needs.”

Companies are realizing the benefits of using the most relevant methodologies like Agile for their projects and embracing software to gather and frame requirements, document, store and share project scope information easily and quickly with multiple stakeholders. These are instruments that help make lighter work of a difficult task.

How to document and communicate project scope with all stakeholders

Generally, scope documentation serves the purpose of allowing all project participants and stakeholders anytime access to a living document they can refer to at all times for guidance, reduces version control issues and potential confusion around the client and team requirements, expectations, available resources, timelines, quality aspects and other pertinent details.

Escalante tells CIO when it comes to documenting and sharing scope with stakeholders, “we share these stories and wireframes with the stakeholders and the development team using Google Sheets and InVision.” She says after this “the dev team gives feedback on what user stories should be split or merged, and point out any gaps in overall flow or logic, and the stakeholders put the stories in priority order.” Following a few iterations, “the more important stories and the often forgotten, yet required stories, float to the top.”

At Garofalo Studios “project scope is documented within task order documents, and includes definition of key objectives/tasks, change management, and schedule (in months). Within the schedule, then a 2-week time period is used to track progress towards achieving the key objectives”, says Garofalo. He has determined their methods have helped them successfully “establish documented objectives which stakeholders approve, while providing flexibility to embrace change during the course of a project.”

For companies like The Silverlogic their “strategy has worked very well within our Agile / Scrum workflow, says Escalante, “it allows the dev team and the stakeholders to quickly collaborate on stories, update each other on estimates and approvals on each story, and quickly send out interactive wireframes for review”, she says.

What would these leaders consider changing?

Escalante shares one of the things she would consider changing, “one of the sticking points with Google Sheets is that not everyone is fluent in Sheets and that Sheets is hard to use on Mobile. If ever we have the time and/or resources, we would like to make a Sheets app to improve the UI of our user story management system, she told us.”

At Garofalo, it “has taken a cultural change and educational process to explain this methodology to stakeholders, compared to older methodologies (such as waterfall). In true agile form, our process is continually being evaluated and evolving, Garofalo shares.

In my opinion, although there isn’t one’ right way’ or ‘right place’ to document project scope, some companies have found success using open source PM software for collaboration, while others achieved more success with proprietary software aimed at meeting their specific and unique needs. Having adequate and easily accessible (preferably electronic/online) documentation throughout the life of a project can significantly reduce scope creep. This documentation should be shared with all stakeholders in the planning stage to ensure everyone understands their role and is in lock-step from the start and internal processes and methodologies can help with some of the heavy lifting.