DEFINING PROJECT SCOPE

Every project starts with an excellent idea and huge excitement. However, many projects fail. A major contribution to unsuccessful projects is the lack of understanding or a properly defined scope shared between the stakeholders. A lack of understanding on the scope leads to wrong planning which in turn leads to scope creeps and uncomfortable discussions later.
Here is the most famous internet picture about how projects can go wrong
A properly defined and managed scope leads to a proper plan which then results in successful execution of a project within agreed costs and specified schedule.  While most people understand the need of a plan, surprisingly little emphasis is given on the significance of right steps taken during scoping of a project.
Scope is  fundamental to achieve three things in a project:
Define the boundaries of the project. The scope statement guarantees a common ground and clear understanding of the project between the stakeholders, thus helping to manage the notorious scope creep. In other words, project scope outlines what is included in the project and what is excluded. Therefore, it forms the basis for the project plan.
Ensure a common understanding of the project among stakeholders. In addition to being the foundation of the overall project plan, the scope of the projects ensures that all interested parties are on the same page. By setting the right expectations with stakeholders, project managers can reduce the chances of misunderstandings of requirements that could arise later and potentially derail the project.
Help manage change requests. Additionally, scope can help the project manager to manage the project effectively by using it as a guide to evaluate all the modification requests. For every request that is raised later, the project manager can go back and check if the request lies within the scope or not and if the change request does not fall within the limits defined in the project, the project manager can rightfully choose to raise a change request.
A Gartner survey conducted to provide insights into IT project performance in organizations across North America, France, Germany and the United Kingdom concluded that high-cost variance, delays, and functionality issues are the leading costs of project failures. All of those things can actually be managed during proper scoping.
Infact, poor quality of  execution fares pretty low in comparison to cost, time and functionality issues.
The affirmation of the well-written project scope clearly defines the boundaries of a project. The scope of a project directly influences the other two elements of the triple project constraint, i.e. time and resources. Adequate scoping is, in fact, the base for any software project internally as well as externally. Only when all stakeholders are on the same page in terms of scope, the project can execute well.

SO WHY IMPROPER SCOPING HAPPENS

Often entrepreneurs find themselves failing at having proper scope for their work. The consequence of this is major cost overruns, excessive delays, bad estimates, and inadequate resource scheduling. Of Course none of it is deliberate but shit does happen. Here are some of the reasons why improper scoping happens are:
WHY-IMPROPER-SCOPING-HAPPENS

Rushing Through The Project Planning Process

Determining the scope of a project is not possible without spending a considerable amount of upfront time properly planning. Developing granular requirements and understanding end to end user flow and function points require considerable thought, coordination, and time. It also requires multiple back and forth meetings between the team and the whole process may seem overwhelming.
An entrepreneur may choose an easy road, falling into a promise when someone just says “Yes, we got it”  5 minutes into the meeting. It’s like a song to the ears of an entrepreneur under rush.
Too much urgency to start the development process can inevitably be the cause of your project failure.

Applying Half-baked Project Management Concepts

Many entrepreneurs read ideas over the internet or from books but may end up with a spaghetti of different things like agile means change things fast or an MVP could mean really launching something in a month. While this leads them to choose short roads to release, it also leads them to skip the important scoping stage.

Not Seeking An Expert Opinion

The role of experts is extremely useful during the planning and risk identification processes as they are very critical to project success. Particularly big and complex projects, experts or specialists from outside your organization can help you make unbiased and accurate decisions. Not seeking expert help in defining your project scope can cause you to make inaccurate estimates and ultimately under-deliver

Using Vague Language In Scoping

A scope with language that is not clear, too general, or not measurable is of little use to the stakeholders. The project could easily go astray if the stakeholders don’t clearly understand the scope.

Not Including The Details

Not including clarity for functions considered within scope as well as functionality that is out of scope can leave stakeholders confused later. A detailed scope should also list out the risks and assumptions taken while creating the scope.
So you now know what to avoid when defining the project scope. You may still be wondering what constitutes a good scope. However, before that, we first need to understand what makes up a scope.
WHAT MAKES UP A SCOPE
The scope definition of a software project consists of the following key aspects:
WHAT MAKES UP A SCOPE

Modules

The modules in a project scope define the major different parts of the project. The software application for any project may contain several different modules. Each module serves unique and separate business operations. Each of these required modules should be defined in the scope.   

User Stories

A user story is defined as an informal, natural language description of features of a software system. It is one of the most important aspects of any project scope. Its purpose is to articulate how a feature in a software product will be used by the end user.

Wireframes

Wireframes are an essential part in the project scope definition and software development process. A wireframe is a schematic or blueprint that is useful for helping everyone think and communicate about the structure of the software or website. A wireframe is a low-fidelity design layout that serves to outline structure and layout, conveys direction and presents all information of any page in a visual format.

Dependencies

A project dependency can be defined as a logical, constraint-based or preferential relationship between two activities in the development phase such that the completion or the initiation of one is reliant on the other. Dependencies inevitably arise in a project. You will rarely come across a project in which all the tasks and activities are independent of each other. Therefore, defining dependencies is vital as it plays a very important role in project management.

Technology Stack

A Tech Stack is a set of tools, languages, and frameworks that are used to construct and power an application. It consists of a combination of software applications, frameworks, and programming languages that realize some aspects of the program. The choice of technology stack of your project influences not only the speed and timeline of the development but also dictates the ability to scale in the future.

Timeline

A project timeline tracks the chronological order of activities that are supposed to be taken during the development of a project. These timelines give teams an understanding of a project’s stages at just a glance, keeping everyone informed and aligned at every stage of the project. It also gives teams a plan for allocation of resources. The timeline consists of a series of tasks, each with its due date and duration. The link between those tasks can help to reveal underlying dependencies and pre-empt any potential blockers.

Clarity on Scalability

The scope in terms of the scale and future expansion is a crucial aspect of any scope definition. Stakeholders should be clear about the scale of the project. Clear definition of the potential user base and potential scaling-up requirements are imperative to define in the scope. It should be clear whether you are developing something just to test the market or manage a million users.
The aforementioned aspects are the key points in any scope definition. With that being understood, let’s look at what makes a good scope.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A GOOD SCOPE
Some of the key points that make a scope useful and precise are:
WHAT-CONSTITUTES-A-GOOD-SCOPE

Granularity

While scope indicates what will be contained, granularity determines what is  known about each configuration item or relationship. Well-defined scopes are granular and have an adequate amount of detail for all stakeholders to understand the requirements and end-goal well. An adequately granular scope definition will help the project see successful completion with the least amount of hiccups.  

Fully Defined Wireframes 

Wireframes work as excellent communication devices. They facilitate feedback from the users, instigate conversations with the stakeholders, and generate ideas between the designers. Wireframing is the perfect way for the team to gauge how the user would interact with the interface. A good scope is always backed up with detailed wireframes so that the scope is not built just on a list but actual visuals.

Technology Bottlenecks are Known

Identifying potential bottlenecks in the scope definition can make stakeholders prepared for such developments and devise a comprehensive plan to counter it. It is pertinent that the choice of technology is in line with end goals. For e.g while a WordPress website may be a good choice for starters it cannot give the scalability and flexibility of a custom website.

Dependencies are Checked

A scope should clarify about how each project task is dependent on others and if there is any other third party dependency in order to create an achievable project schedule. Commonly occurring dependencies include 3rd party APIs or libraries that could be at the heart of some functionality. For e.g If you are looking to integrate EHR systems, you need to check integration possibilities with the particular EHR and what all is allowed and what all is not. This information should define your features and plans. Understanding dependencies help you work out the proper flow of the tasks.

KPIs are Defined

More often than not, organizations blindly adopt  KPIs that are industry-recognized and then wonder why that KPI does not end up being useful in any way. One of the most decisive, but usually overlooked, aspects of KPIs is that they are a form of communication between stakeholders. Succinct, clear, and relevant information is easier to understand and to act upon. Defining the KPIs in the scope of a project provides all stakeholders with a reference scale and parameters to determine the quality and success of a project.
KPIs

CONCLUSION

At Mindbowser, we follow the Design Sprint methodology to deep dive with our customers defining the scope and end goals for a project. Too often we find that there are  huge assumptions sitting behind a product plan that may otherwise go unnoticed. The Design Sprint process cohesively covers all aspects of a good project scope that builds a great foundation for a great execution later. Read more about Design Sprint here.
Similar to when you want to build a house, you cannot just bring in construction workers and ask them to start laying down the bricks. Similarly, an idea cannot just have developers come in and start building. A project requires a plan. A precise blueprint that can act as a bible for everyone to follow.
A precise and granular project scope definition is the most important factor contributing to the success of a project. It is vital for all stakeholders to invest ample time in defining the scope of the project. Infact, failing at defining the right scope can lead to ultimately failure at execution.
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Ayush Jain
Ayush is the CEO of Mindbowser Global Inc, a top-notch agency providing software development services to renowned companies like Dell, Pepsi as well as to a lot of growing startups. Ayush is also the director of the StartupGrind community and editor of theiotmagazine.com and chatbotsournal.com. Ayush serves on the board of several startups and is a seed investor.
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