Project Management Guide:

All About Your Project Scope Documentation

In the process of creating a project you also need to create a document that will lay out exactly what it entails. This document, examining the project scope, is a crucial piece of your process because it allows everyone who is working on the team to see what needs to be done and what has been promised. But let’s dive a little bit further into just what project scope is and how you can create a document that will put you and your team on the right track.

The Project Scope Document

Let’s start from the top. What is a project scope document? Well, it’s a document that details all of the information that someone might need to know about the project you’re working on. When we talk about it as a document we don’t mean that it’s short or a single page. Rather, this could be quite a lengthy packet of papers because it needs to explain absolutely everything. Now, you want to pair it down as much as you can so no one is walking around with a 20 page packet (depending on what it is you’re working on of course) but you still want it to be detailed.

Someone should be able to read this document and understand what your end goal is, how you expect to achieve, what the deliverables are, and any key milestones you’re working on along the way. It’s going to be a comprehensive document and it’s something that, at the very least, your team members, your supervisors and your client should be able to take a look at to make sure that everything is being done the right way and according to the plans that you set at the beginning. In short, your project scope document should include:

  • Project goals
  • Assumptions
  • Constraints
  • Major deliverables
  • Requirements
  • Key milestones

These are the things that you want to focus on to the exclusion of anything else. Nothing else matters if it doesn’t get you closer to the goals outlined in this document. So, just how are you going to craft this document?

Why You Need a Project Scope Document

Maybe you’re wondering just why you even need this type of document for your project. If you’ve been getting along well enough without them you may think that it’s a waste of time and energy. The truth is, a project scope document or scope of work document can make a big difference in your overall success. Let’s take a look at some of the most important factors when it comes to creating this type of document and what you’re going to need to be successful with it. That way, you can get started right away.

The first thing is that you and your client are going to understand exactly what you’re doing and what needs to be completed for the project to be a success. You’ll use this document to spell out each step of the process and to make sure that both of you are clear on what the other one expects. That’s going to make it easier for you both to complete the project properly and to be happy about it. No one needs to be blindsided and no one will be disappointed in the outcome because it’s all decided and explained right from the start.

Next, you’re going to have a path of all the tasks and deliverables that have to be created. This is going to be important for you or the supervisor in charge to assign each of the tasks. You’ll be able to see everything that you and the client agreed to, which will allow you to see which people on your team are the best for each of those tasks. Before you know it you’re going to have a much better chance of getting tasks performed to the best possible ability. Plus, you can create a more cohesive schedule of the tasks and a timeline for completion.

By knowing exactly what needs to be done you can create a budget for how much those projects are going to cost. You can also create a better timeline. By elaborating on each of the different tasks and the sub-tasks that are needed to get to the final goal you’re going to be able to look at each step and see if it will take a few hours, a few days or a few weeks. Then you can add all of the pieces together. You also know all of the materials and hours that it will take, which allows you to create the cost and take into account the client budget to get the needed tasks completed.

Next, you’ll see how to focus people on the actual objectives that go along with the project. You will use this document to lay out all of the details related to the project scope and then you can make sure that everyone understands those objectives. This is also going to enable everyone to get clarification on the objectives and on what they are supposed to be doing when they are working on their own tasks. That way, no one gets mixed up with the problem.

Finally, you’ll be able to make sure that the project stays within the original span that it’s supposed to have. There’s no reason to worry about someone going off on a different aspect that isn’t covered by the project because you can quickly and easily refer back to this document to get the information they need. Everything that is being done for the project can be tied back to this document, without anyone having to ask too many questions or perform work that your company isn’t getting paid for, which can account for lost time.

Creating a Project Scope Document

Okay, so you’re going to have to put some effort and thought into this process. You’re going to need to delve into the project that you’re completing and come up with an in-depth description of each aspect. Keep in mind that this is first stage isn’t going to be as cohesive. In the first step of the process you just want to get everything written down. Jot down some notes that go along with each of the questions or sections we have below and start with that. You can refine things later.

Once you’ve got it down it’s time to start making the document look a little more professional. Keep in mind that you’re going to show this document to your supervisor, your team and the client. You want to make sure that everyone is going to be able to understand it and that they’re going to be able to see where things need to be changed, adjusted, improved or clarified. The better you can define the scope of work through this document the better off everyone is going to be in actually executing the final project.

What You Need to Know

First, what are the things that you should be adding into this document? There are several different pieces that you’ll want to gather together and make sure you’re writing out properly so you can get the most out of your statement.

Overall Project Goals

You have a goal in mind every time you create a project, so make sure that you start with that. This is likely the one (or few) things that your client told you they wanted you to give them when the whole thing was finished. So, you’ll need to express exactly what those goals are. Then, you want to make sure that you explain where the funding is coming from and who is going to support the goal itself. These are all of the things that someone (everyone) needs to be keeping an eye on when they’re working on the project itself.

Now, make sure that you keep track of the original goals that are set and make sure that anything else that you do fits into those goals. If the client wants to add something or a member of your team wants to add something you want to go back to those goals and see if it’s listed there or if it will help get to that goal. If it won’t then it’s something to be put aside for another time. You want to focus on the specific tasks that will get you to the goal you set.

Description of Project

Next, you want to explain exactly what it is that you’re going to deliver to the client when the project is fully completed. What are the final pieces of the puzzle? You might be delivering 2000 planners in a physical format, designed and packaged for sale. Maybe you’re delivering a 6-page script for a short advertisement that will be broadcast on the company website. Maybe you’re creating a C++ coded version of the client website complete with video and audio clips throughout.

Make sure that you specifically state each deliverable that you need throughout the project (such as delivering a mock-up of the website at week three and a final deliverable at week six). Overall, this section should explain each of the different things that you will send to the client and it should be in short and simple to understand points. So, if you look at the deliverable you should be able to quickly see exactly what it means and how you’re going to give it to the client. So, make sure you specify the format, the length, the colors or styles or anything else that you were given from the client. That way, the deliverable will be accepted.

Criteria for Acceptance

What do you need to provide for the client to accept the project? What is it that they are looking to receive? Make sure that before you even start with the project you’re creating a document that outlines exactly what your client is looking for. Do they want the text to be a specific font? Are they looking for code in a specific format? Do they need a document that is a specific length? Make sure you get every detail that you can about what the client is looking for and include that in your scope of work document.

By filling in all of these details you can make sure that every step in the process is carried out properly. If the final deliverable (or any deliverables along the way) do not fit that specific criteria it means that it won’t be accepted. With everything spelled out from the start you will know that and will be able to improve your product and make sure that it’s exactly what the client requested. That’s going to make it more likely to be accepted the very first time.

Limits Put in Place

This is where you are going to specify to the client the things that you aren’t able to do. Keep in mind the timeline that the client (and you) have set as well as the budget that is available and the final deliverable that the client wants. What are the things that you can do and what are the things that you can’t do? Spell these things out to the client so they know what they can expect and what you are not going to promise them within the original scope.

If the client has put certain requirements in action that put limits on the things you’re able to do then make sure you specify that. If they want something coded in a specific language and you know that the coding is going to take more time then you need to let them know what the limitations are on what you can deliver within the timeline and budget available. You want to make sure that your client is informed of all of these things as early as possible so there’s no miscommunication and there’s no one upset later on in the process.

Assumptions & Exclusions

Make sure that you state in writing any assumptions that you are making toward the result of the project. If your client tells you they want a slide show but doesn’t specify a program or gantt chart software type to use state that you assume you will be using PowerPoint (or whatever slide show format you prefer). If the client doesn’t specify a text format or size state that you are assuming Times New Roman and 12 point font. Stating your assumptions right away will make sure no one is confused or unhappy later on (and the client can let you know right away if those assumptions are incorrect).

Next, make sure that you’re also stating anything that is not being delivered or provided. If the client is paying for a piece of content written in C++ make sure you specify that it will only be written in that language. If they want a physical product specify that you are not going to be creating a digital format for them. Anything that is not being provided but could be considered related to the final deliverable should be specified here so it can be discussed with the client as needed.

Costs & Budget

Discuss what the specific milestones are for the project and how much each of those are going to cost. This will help to outline just what you’re doing for the client and where their budget is being spent. You want to make sure you detail everything that you can including where costs are going to employee wages and where they’re being charged for specific work being done. Make sure that you associate each cost to the task that it’s paying to complete so the client knows what they’re getting for their money.

Final Agreement

Be sure that everyone necessary signs the document that you create. That means that you, your supervisor (at least one level above you) and the client should sign the document. You may want to make sure at least two people from the client’s business sign the document unless you’re working with a solo proprietor because this gives you confirmation that the agreement is backed by the full force of the company. This gives you something to bring forward if there’s ever a problem later down the line. You can show the client that they signed this document laying out all of the information about the project.

Keep it On Your Mind

Put the scope of work document somewhere that anyone on the team can review it. This will allow them to see what you’ve promised and what you haven’t promised. That way, if they assume a task goes along with their task they can look at whether it’s included in the deliverables or assumptions or if it’s in the exclusions. Either way, no one should be performing work that they aren’t going to get paid for or that the client did not request.

Breaking Down the Scope of Work

When it comes to laying things out for your team you may want to break the scope of work document down further. Even though you’re going to explain tasks to your client, you’re going to want to explain them even more to your team so they know what they are doing, who is responsible for each task and when it needs to be completed by. So, start by putting this document somewhere that everyone who needs it can access it (such as in your Gantt chart) and then start breaking it down.

Create individual tasks that need to be accomplished so that each person knows what needs to happen along the way. You can also specify how long the tasks are going to take (or should take) and even the budget for them if needed. Keep in mind that setting expectations is important and so is assigning each task to a person or team to get done. You want to make sure that everyone knows what they’re doing and that they can communicate with each other about the tasks that they’re working on.

Invite your team to post comments, questions or concerns within the document so that everyone can see them. This can also be done directly in the Gantt chart that you create for the project scope document. That way, everyone can see what everyone else is saying. They’ll also be able to make sure that questions and concerns are addressed quickly and that everyone involved knows if there’s a change made to the scope of work or to the final deliverables that you’ll be providing to your client. Encourage constant communication with other members of the team.

What You Deliver

In the end, your scope document is going to take a whole lot of time and effort. You’re going to have to put some serious work into it and you’re going to have to put some time into going over it with the client and your supervisor as well. Schedule at least one meeting to go over the document after you’ve passed it on to your supervisor and the client. Send it via postal mail or email and give them a week (or so) to go over the document on their own. Schedule a meeting when you send the document so that they know when they need to have evaluated it by.

When the meeting time comes, sit down with both parties (or with them one at a time if you prefer) and go over the document. This gives you time to make sure that everyone understands what is being promised and what isn’t. It also makes sure that you can make any changes necessary before you start implementing the plan. You need to be sure that everyone agrees to the plan and that everyone signs off on it before work begins. Once you do all of this, you’re going to be better prepared for the final deliverable.

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