There’s a long list of things that can make a project go sideways, and a poorly defined scope document (or even lack thereof) is surely at the top of that list.
Maybe you don’t know what a scope is, and that’s okay. In fact, not all organizations require scopes for projects, so crafting project scope documents might not be a common practice for you.
But if you’re interested in setting project expectations and keeping your projects on a manageable and trackable timeline, a scope can help!
What is a project scope document?
A project scope document—sometimes called a scope of work (SOW)—is a critical piece of project paperwork that gets teams and stakeholders aligned on the boundaries of a project before it even begins.
A well-crafted scope document can save you from major headaches by defining the following project elements:
These critical scope aspects enable you to say no more easily when new requests arise as you’re trying to deliver a project on time and under budget.
In the end, a well-documented scope statement gets everyone—team and stakeholders alike—aligned around these important details that can make or break a project.
How to write a scope of work document
There’s no doubt that a lot of thought, discussion, and sometimes even debate goes into finalizing a solid scope. But all that work is worth it because having a well-considered scope document can increase your chances of leading a project to successful completion.
There are lots of different ways to craft a scope statement. Let’s take a closer look at some of the details that go into a solid project SOW.
What’s included in the scope of a project?
Here’s a list of possible elements you should consider adding to your scope statement.
Business case and goals
Every project has goals, and this is where you’ll define them. This section typically includes the reasons the project is being supported (or funded), along with a set of business goals or intended project outcomes for your team to keep in mind while executing the project.
These details are critical to document because there will be times when stakeholder (and sometimes even team) requests creep in and put your timeline and budget at risk. But you can push those risks away if change requests don’t meet the documented business case.
Project description and deliverables
This one is simple: a plain language overview of the project’s deliverables. Avoid confusion by clearly outlining what will be delivered for approval through the course of the project, as well as the final deliverable.
For instance, if you’re creating a television ad for a client, you might say something like: Company Name will produce and deliver one 60-second video advertisement in AVI format to be used on television.
It’s a simple description of what you’re working to deliver, but it also spells out small details like the quantity, amount, length, or whatever other aspects accurately describe the project.
Your scope should help you come to an agreement on what will be delivered and leave no question when the project is complete. Acceptance criteria can be measured, achieved, and used to prove that work is complete.
Examples of some of the conditions or criteria of acceptance can be found in project requirements, user acceptance testing, or even just a final stakeholder review and approval.
Every project has its limits, and you need to be sure you’re not exceeding those limits to complete a project on time and under budget.
Limitations can come in many forms, but one example would be technology. For instance, if you’re building an application that depends on a specific technology, be sure to mention that. There may be several ways to code that website, but if you’re boxed into a complicated technology, you can cover yourself by specifying those limitations in your scope.
Doing so will help you when you run into a limitation and don’t have the time or budget to explore alternatives. Think of it as an insurance policy for your project.
You know what they say about assumptions, and you probably know it’s true. If you don’t outline them, you’ll end up with confusion, missed expectations, and project problems. So take time to list out all the assumptions you’ve thought about that will affect the work you’ll do or the outcomes of that work.
You’ve already listed out the deliverables you will provide, but sometimes it’s just as important to itemize what you will NOT deliver. This helps you avoid awkward “But weren’t you going to…” questions or requests. Really, it’s about setting expectations and avoiding any miscommunication around the work you have planned.
This is an optional portion of your project SOW, depending on the type of organization you work in.
If you’re part of a consulting agency that charges external clients for your work, you’ll want to outline project costs, possibly even on the phase or milestone level.
You have to do what feels right for your project and organization. But the clearer you can be about costs and the work associated with it, the easier it will be for you to manage it—and make a case for more funds when additional scope creeps in.
Scope documents create agreement by nature, but sometimes you need proof! So include a signature field in your scope document and have your lead stakeholder or project funder sign the document.
On that note, it’s important to remember that if you’re collecting money for the work—or if there are high stakes—you’ll likely want to have your scope document reviewed by a lawyer before it’s signed. After all, the scope document is a contract.
Additional resources with scope document examples
A considerable amount of work goes into the creation of a scope document, but, remember, there’s no single right or wrong way to write one.
Tailor your scope document to your needs to get agreement on what will be produced. Just be as detailed as possible to ensure your projects finish on time and under budget with a happy team and stakeholders.
Use the elements above to craft your next project scope and defend your team from the inevitable scope creep. Or check out these handy resources for some extra inspiration:
- Watch Class 06 of The Art & Science of Leading Projects to learn more about using scope documents to set and guide project expectations—plus download our free Sample Project Scope PDF.
- Download our free project brief template. This is a great scope document option for teams that work on internal projects with no clients or money involved.
Keep scope top of mind once project work begins
Once you get final sign-off on your scope of work, it’s time to start building out your project plan. We recommend adding scope reminders to your project plan so all the effort you put into your scope document doesn’t go to waste.
Here’s how to communicate scope at the project and task level in TeamGantt using the Comments feature.
1. Upload the signed scope of work to your project documents.
This makes it easy for anyone on the team to access the final scope document if questions or new requests pop up along the way.
2. Add notes to each task to define the scope clearly.
Breaking the scope down at the task level eliminates confusion and helps ensure each project piece stays on track.
Remember, project scope is all about setting expectations, and expectations are never a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Share your project scope proactively so everyone’s clear on the guardrails, and don’t be shy about reminders.
With a solid scope in hand and an open line of communication, your project can finish on time and on budget, with high fives all around. 🎉
Ready to see just how quick and easy project management can be? Give TeamGantt a free try today!