Concept of two businessmen fighting in an office representing a project manager fighting to manage his project's scope.One of the most important issues in any project is the scope. More precisely, how you manage it is one of the keys to having a successful outcome and satisfied stakeholders. So what are the right steps to take to ensure that this happens?

Define It Early and Document It

One of your first tasks – once you have done the necessary research and understand what is needed – is to define the scope. This is a hugely important step and it is essential that you get it right first time. This means being sure of what is in and out of scope. You need to pay a lot of attention to the out of scope stuff in particular. It is definitely worth going over the out of scope items with your stakeholders until you are all sure that it is definitely not to be included. After this you need to document what is in and out of scope in your project documentation and get it signed off.

Control It

Once the scope has been well defined and documented you might think that your work on this aspect has been done. This is a dangerous way to think, as scope has a habit of creeping as a project moves on. If you find this happening then you need to get a project meeting set up urgently to go over the situation and agree the way forward. Each case is different and while sometimes you might decide to extend the scope there will be other times when it will be best to resist the pressure to do this. The stakeholders might not always agree with your approach but provided that you can back it up with facts and figures then you should be able to get the right decision agreed by all concerned.

Don’t Forget About It

Even if you think that you have everything under control you should still be aware of the risk of project scope. This is something which can sneak up on at any stage of the project and if you don’t manage to control it then it can ruin everything you have done to date. Probably the best way to do this is to simply talk about it on a regular basis. If you make it something which you mention at every other project meeting then it will remain in people’s minds and won’t be forgotten about.

Don’t Underestimate the Damage of Scope Creep

The clue about the danger of scope creep is really in the name. It is something which creeps up on you and then catches you out when you least expect it. If the problem were to do with an immediate and obvious impact then it would be called scope rush or something. The very fact that it is something which creeps up on you means that you need to be very careful of underestimating it. It might seem that taking on one little bit of work extra won’t cause any problems. Then you take on another and another until the whole thing is out of control and unmanageable. With each potential increase in the scope which is presented to you there is a need for understanding, analysis and then sign off. Without these three steps you can find things quickly running out of control.

What about Scope Reduction?

If you think that the scope needs to be reduced – or if circumstances cause this to be the case – then this is something else which you need to handle quickly and effectively. You will want to look at all of the information and then get the project scope reduction signed off as quickly as possible. The next area for concern is over whether a smaller project is going to run as efficiently with all of the people still in your team. There is a concept known as Parkinson’s Law which suggests that the work you have to do expands to fill the time available to do it in. This means that if your team is left with a lot less to do they might still take the same amount of time as they would have done with the original size of project. Of course, another danger is that they end up allowing project scope creep into the newly reduced piece of work. Looking for separate projects to keep everyone fully occupied could be a good move to allow the team to carry on working with a good rhythm and without losing any momentum when the size of their piece of work is reduced significantly.