One of the first things to do when you start a new project is to work out what it actually involves. As well as all the workshops about requirements and the documentation that results, there are some other things to investigate as part of your project scope.

Sit down with your project sponsor or other key users on the project and go through this checklist of 7 questions you should be asking about your project scope. They’ll appreciate that you have taken the time to ask and you’ll get a much better understanding of what they are expecting the project to deliver on their behalf.

1. Who Defines The Scope?

Your first point of call is to the project sponsor but they might not be the right person to define the detail of the project. Ask who is in a position to actually define the project’s requirements and be aware that it might be several people.

Once you know who, you can start organizing workshops to flesh out the requirements or review what you’ll already been presented with, if, for example, you are picking up a project mid-way through.

2. Who Approves The Scope?

Using a group to define the scope through a mindmapping process is very common, but someone needs to arbitrate when there is a conflict and make a decision when there are several potential options. Is this going to be your project sponsor? It’s possible that they will say yes, even if they don’t have the day-to-day knowledge of the process that is changing or the product you are building. Just be careful in those cases, and check with the person you think has the most knowledge of the projects requirements!

If you are told that a committee of people needs to approve the project scope, then that’s OK, but just be sure to add enough time in for that approval process. Getting consensus and full understanding from a group can take a while.

3. What Are Your Objectives?

Get the big picture. Understand what your project sponsor or key customer is trying to achieve, and you’ll find it a lot easier to help them get there.

The objectives for the project should be set out in the business case or Project Charter but if you haven’t seen that documentation yet (or it doesn’t exist) then start out with a conversation.

4. How Will You Know When You’ve Achieved Them?

This is important because it helps you set the critical success factors for your project. Talk about what the end result will be, what it will look like and how it will feel to users. It’s worth cross-referencing this against the project scope to make sure that everything expected at the end is in there.

You can also pick out the key points as those critical success factors and then measure your performance against them over the course of the project to check you are on track to deliver.

5. How Much Flexibility Is There?

This is a gentle way of introducing the project management iron triangle: time, cost and quality. What your project is capable of delivering relies on all of those being in harmony. Before you get into the delivery of the work, find out if there is any flexibility to ‘manage to the triangle’. In other words, what’s most important for your sponsor: is it hitting the deadline, even if that means taking items out of scope, or sticking to budget even if that means – again – taking items out of scope, or making sure the result meets all your quality targets even if that costs a bit more and takes a little longer.

Understanding the possibilities for varying the project’s scope once the work has begun will help you make the best decisions along the way. And you can simplify making decisions with flowcharts, which also make your process transparent to stakeholders.

6. What Are You Assuming?

Everyone makes assumptions. Your job, when it comes to defining project scope, is to make sure that you’ve got them all understood and documented. Your project sponsor might be assuming that the project will be ready for the summer even if he or she has asked for the moon on a plate.

Ask the right questions and you’ll uncover what assumptions they are holding and then you can manage the project and their expectations appropriately.

7. Is That Everything?

End with an open question. Let them reflect and be sure that they have covered everything that they wanted to raise with you. Ask this frequently during the project and to everyone involved?

There’s a lot more to finalizing your project scope than these 7 simple questions but they are a great place to start. You’ll uncover things you didn’t know, help your team set their priorities and make sure that you are starting work with a common understanding of what should be delivered. Talking about scope is a good way to get your project off to a fantastic start.


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