Project Management Scope and How to Leverage PM Software

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Tiffany has a big task on her plate — plan and oversee the launch of a new website for her client, Bob’s Better Burgers. The thing is, without proper planning, projects are a hard beast to tame. One minute they’re like a well-organized circus routine, with dozens of moving parts blending together and moving in harmony. Then one piece gets out of line and chaos descends.

That’s where using project management software and having project management scope is a life-saver. Want to prep for a project that’s a roaring success? Define the boundaries of the project to get an exact framework for what to include — and not include.

But that’s only half the equation. You also need the right tools to facilitate an efficient planning phase and make execution possible. Fortunately, PM software has a range of capabilities that enable you to effectively control every step of scope management.

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Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Does Scope Mean?

First off, let’s define scope. It actually has two components: product scope vs. project scope.

Product Scope: This is the actual outcome (the product or service) you’re delivering, based on its particular features and functions. The Bob’s Better Burgers website is the end product in our example.

Project scope: You can’t create a product by snapping your fingers (if only it were that easy!). You need a project scope. It involves every detail and deliverable needed to turn an idea into reality — aka the actual work.

What does the project involve? How will you know if you’ve been successful? The project scope is your guiding beacon.

Tiffany can’t pull off a website launch until she first lists out each aspect, including things like the budget, resources needed, timeframe and more.

She needs to write a scope statement to keep track of the details. To do that, she documents everything that’s within the scope of the project. If something isn’t in the scope — creating social media pages for additional online presence, for example — the scope statement makes it clear.

How PM Software Features Let You Manage Project Scope

First, what does project scope management look like? It involves three main processes:

  • Planning: This is the stage where you construct the framework for the project and document key details.
  • Controlling: During this stage, you keep tabs on the progress and health of the project, as well as manage requests and changes.
  • Closing: Once the project has concluded, you’ll verify the work is completed, check to ensure your team has executed every agreed-on step and acquire formal agreement from everyone that the project is complete.

Planning and controlling break down into smaller steps. Let’s take a look at their six processes, according to the PMBOK, along with the project management software features that aid scope management:

Planning Step 1: Plan the Scope Management

To start, you’ll develop a scope management plan. This is the overarching view of the project as a whole and serves as homebase for all the information related to the project scope.

Say Bob, the restaurant owner, wants to know how Tiffany will validate or control the project. She can give him a precise answer because the management plan has everything laid out.

This is the first step in the planning phase, so Tiffany will gather input from Bob, the owner of the restaurant and other stakeholders, as well as draw from the project charter, to build the plan. It’ll cover things like:

  • How to mitigate scope creep
  • What to do if someone requests a change
  • What to do if stakeholders disagree about certain elements
  • How to accept the deliverables

How Project Management Software Aids Execution

User features are a main component of most PM tools. All the software on our project management Leaderboard, for example, lets you create guest accounts and user groups. You can invite clients, contractors and others to join the collaborative workspace and set permission levels for everyone who has access.

To illustrate, Tiffany could give her team members editor roles while limiting Bob to a view-only so he can have complete insight without changing anything. They communicate within the system, making it easy for Tiffany to check change requests and keep Bob in the loop.

Planning Step 2: Collect Your Requirements

This is where you create a requirements management plan. The document incorporates stakeholder input, which you can get through techniques like interviews, surveys and focus groups. Basically, your goal is to conduct thorough research to find out what the stakeholders’ needs are.

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For example, Tiffany would interview the Bob to learn what he wants and needs from the new website. He says his main goal is to create awareness about the restaurant. Tiffany writes that down so she can later check any proposed task or requested change to see if it contributes to the objective.

How Project Management Software Aids Execution

Some solutions, such as Smartsheet, offer customizable forms, which let you collect data in a streamlined way. Others, such as Jira, integrate with third-party apps to enable you to gather information using a variety of form layouts.


Example of a new form.

Planning Step 3: Define the Scope

You can now put the scope statement together using the requirements you gathered. This is your Constitution, so to speak — the document that includes every detail about your project and a description of what it entails so you’re never left guessing how to handle situations or whether something’s outside the scope.

You’ll want to include the following elements:

The business case: an explanation of why the project is needed.

The justification for Tiffany’s project is that Bob’s Better Burgers needs an online presence to create awareness for the restaurant leading up to the grand opening.

Description of the product scope: the particular details about the product.

Some of the characteristics of the website for Bob’s Better Burgers are a digital menu, the fact that it’s mobile-friendly, the restaurant logo across the top of each page and a form people can fill out for a chance to win a free meal during the opening weekend.

Deliverables (or objectives): the end product.

The deliverable for Tiffany’s team is a fully functioning website.

Criteria for acceptance: the elements needed to consider the project a success. The stakeholders don’t need to accept the deliverables if they fail to meet the criteria.

Before the project begins, Tiffany and Bob need to be on the same page about what success looks like. To Tiffany, having a functional website may be enough. But Bob might notice the digital menu layout doesn’t quite match the physical menus and disagree. Agreeing on the acceptance criteria ahead of time will avoid such problems.

Limitations: any restrictions on the goals, timeline or budget of the project.

For example, Tiffany could describe that turnaround time for the website content is a minimum of three weeks. Another limitation would be that the programmer can’t upload any graphics onto the site before he’s done the base coding required.

Project exclusions: everything that’s beyond the project’s scope.

Tiffany’s project involves building a new website. She’s not in charge of running a marketing campaign to generate traffic. This prevents her and her team from getting distracted by external details or questioning whether to include something.

Let’s imagine your project is a train. The exclusions represent the tracks. A project without clearly defined exclusions is like a train running over a frozen lake, where it can slip and slide out of control (a la Polar Express). With exclusions stated, your project will cruise along tracks that keep it in check and pointed forward.

Assumptions about the project: plans for how to handle situations in case changes happen (and when do they not?).

Tiffany knows she needs to describe how she and her team will handle any uncertainties that come up during the course of the project. She puts these assumptions down so it’s clear what procedures everyone will follow.

How Project Management Software Aids Execution

The ability to define and describe a project’s scope, processes, assumptions and more is a main component of many project management solutions. Wrike, for example, provides a default rich text field called “Description” in Projects to capture things like project description and scope. Users can also create custom fields to document any specific information.

File storage is a another common feature. Integrations with popular apps such as Google Drive and Dropbox allow you to quickly share and access every project document. Everyone involved can find the right document without wading through email threads or constantly jumping back to their computer’s hard drive folders.

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Planning Step 4: Create the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

In order to be successful, you need to break down the project into steps and tasks. Enter the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Don’t skip this element — it’ll keep your plans to stay on track.

You’ll use the following inputs to create your WBS:

  • Scope management plan
  • Requirements plan
  • Project scope statement
  • Organizational process assets
  • Approved change requests
  • Company environmental factors

The WBS, as the name suggests, lets you take the above information and shape it into a visual chart of all the levels and specific tasks involved. Then you can divide the scope statement into smaller chunks known as work packages. A best practice is to follow the 8/80 rule to define your packages. Each package should take at least eight hours of work but not exceed 80 hours. You can then divide the packages into specific tasks.

Keep in mind that the WBS should include every project deliverable. Follow the 100 percent rule, which states that the total work of each sub-level needs to equal 100 percent of the overall work.

By splitting the project up into components, the WBS enables you to set the project schedule — though it’s not a schedule itself. Laying out every piece helps you notice any gaps exist or duplicate work.

The WBS also gives an accurate picture of the cost. It’s easy to identify the cost per package once you can visualize each individual component. Then add those up to find the overall project budget needed.

The packages for Bob’s Better Burgers website might look like this:

  • Website
  • Content
  • Graphics

Based on those, Tiffany and her team would split everything into smaller levels that make the work manageable. For example, creating everything for the homepage. Tiffany could then see which tasks to assign to which team member:

  • The programmer would tackle the coding for the homepage
  • The copywriter would develop content for the homepage
  • The graphic artist would create images to include on the homepage

How Project Management Software Aids Execution

PM tools come with a number of ways to help you manage the work your project requires:

  • Gantt charts: Plot your task dates on a timeline and manage task dependencies.
  • Custom workflows: Create workflows that are best-suited for your team so tasks move seamlessly through the project phases.
  • Kanban view of tasks: Visualize workflows so that everyone always knows what’s on their plate.
  • Calendars: Keep your entire team on schedule and track deadlines in a single location.
Wrike Gantt Chart

Gantt charts let you visually lay out a project’s deliverables so your project stays on track.

This is the final of the four planning processes. Next up, managing the project while it’s happening.

Controlling Step 1: Validate the Scope

Planning is out of the way. Now it’s time to move to the process of validation. In other words, you need to get sign-off from the stakeholders.

Returning to our analogy, once Tiffany sends the deliverables to Bob, he needs to officially accept them. He may be pleased with the first iteration of the website, but perhaps the copy doesn’t quite capture the tone he’s after. He lets Tiffany know so she can ask the copywriter to make the necessary adjustments.

This repeats for each phase of the project, with Bob offering feedback along the way and requesting changes.

How Project Management Software Aids Execution

Besides user access capabilities and file sharing, risk management is another useful tool for validating scope (though not every software offers it).

Smartsheet, for example, lets you create a comprehensive plan, and use the pre-built Risk Analysis template to assess and organize all risks affecting a project. And Microsoft Project helps decision-makers evaluate proposals in light of business strategy.

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Controlling Step 2: Control the Scope

Validation is an ongoing process, so it’s important to control the changes that arise from the customer’s feedback. It’s critical to keep the scope under control, which requires you to monitor the project’s status.

To illustrate, Bob may decide he wants the website to have an extra page. Tiffany needs to assess this request and measure it against the baseline established during the planning phase. If she decides adding the page will help meet the project goal, she’ll tweak the project scope to reflect that change.

However, it’s important to watch for changes that won’t add anything of value to the end deliverable. The more changes you make, the easier it is to fall behind on deadlines. Plus, it’s likely your budget will swell like a balloon inflated by a leaf-blower.

How Project Management Software Aids Execution

Dashboards are an excellent way to keep your scope on track. They compile project data into a single view you can customize based on which KPIs you want to track, giving you a complete picture of the project’s status.

Zoho Projects Dashboard View

Example of a dashboard in project management software.

PM tools also provide visualization features that transform data into easy-to-understand pie charts, flow diagrams and more. Visual displays make it a breeze to keep tabs on project information and quickly identify any problem areas.

Project Closing: Are You Really Done?

The project is complete … or is it? Just because everything seems packaged and done up with a bow doesn’t mean every aspect has been completed, or that everyone agrees on its completion. The Project Closing process removes any doubt.

Tiffany’s team has launched the website and thinks their job is finished. However, when a glitch occurs a few days later, Bob contacts Tiffany to get it fixed. This is an example of a project that while technically complete is seen as ongoing.

Tiffany needs to ensure there’s formal agreement among everyone that her team has indeed met the requirements documented and is no longer in charge of making changes or managing updates. This will prevent her team from getting tied up with support details, which is outside the project scope.

The PMI identifies the never-ending project and the orphan product as two main results of failing to effectively close out a project. They suggest following best practices in your industry and splitting the project into distinct phases as a couple of ways to make it clear the project is done.

How Project Management Software Aids Execution

The ability to generate reports is not only useful during a project, it also comes in handy at the end when you need to wrap things up. Most software gives you the flexibility to use pre-built reports and custom reports based on your needs.

Once you’re at the point of closing the project, you can use the reporting feature to capture all relevant information. This lets you create a summary you can export to share with stakeholders and show you’ve completed all the deliverables in the scope statement.

And since most solutions make it easy to document scope, goals, project boundaries and more, you won’t have any trouble confirming the fact that you’ve met all objectives.

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Why You Should Care About Managing Project Management Scope

Avoid Scope Creep

Scope creep happens when you don’t properly manage the scope of your project, and it’s a constant plague in project management. One in every two projects in 2017 fell prey to scope creep, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI) Pulse of the Profession® 2018 report.

Use the control process described above to prevent extra work from inflating the project beyond its original intent. And with a feature-rich project management tool, you’ll get functionalities ranging from summary reports to task dependencies so you stay in complete control throughout the project’s duration.

Enable Clear Communication

The analogy I used is only one example of a typical project. When you’re managing a more complex project with hundreds of moving parts, you need excellent communication to keep the project in line.

By devoting time to building your project management scope, you’ll prevent your project from suffering communication gaps. And project management software acts as the power line that makes communication possible. Charts, timelines, workflows, portals and more help you organize work, keep everyone on the same page and consolidate conversations.

Together, they remove confusion and give your team as well as your customer confidence that the project isn’t the equivalent of a car driving through thick fog with no idea what’s coming.

Control Costs

Costs can punch a hole in your budget faster than you’d believe possible — which is why scope management plays a crucial role in your project’s success.

PM tools include budgeting and forecasting features so you can monitor your expenses. Mavenlink, for instance, calculates the project budget based on the resource plan and the appropriate bill rate for those scheduled hours, which lets users set a realistic budget.

Hit Timeline Goals

You can’t turn a deliverable in on time if there’s no specified deadline. With scope documented, you have a complete view of the project’s timeline.

Teamwork Projects Calendar View

The calendar view in PM software makes it easy to manage project timelines.

You can then take advantage of tools such as calendars and timelines to hit key milestones, along with resource features that let you monitor your team’s workload so they don’t fall behind schedule.

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Final Thoughts

Project management makes it possible for the business world to keep going round — from building a simple app to constructing a 50-story skyscraper.

Project scope is a key element in managing a successful project. With it, you’ll outline a detailed plan and put controls in place to keep the project from getting out of hand so you can deliver a quality product on time and on budget.

And thanks to countless project management tools, you have access to systems that will make your projects more efficient and effective. However, it will only be helpful if it has features you can use. Kind of like a hockey player wearing skates instead of tennis shoes. Make sure you find the right software for your needs by using our requirements template to jumpstart your selection.

How have you used project scope to manage your projects? Let us know in the comments!

Zachary TotahProject Management Scope and How to Leverage PM Software

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