The Importance of the Project Scope Statement

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The Importance Of The Project Scope Statement

Kim Heldman, PMP Lakewood, Colorado, USA

If the project plan is the heartbeat of a solid project management methodology, the scope statement is the breath. The scope statement details the vision of the project. It describes the goals, the deliverables, and documents what a successful conclusion to the project looks like.

Unfortunately, many stakeholders have little interest in going through the exercise of writing a scope statement. Even further, while most project managers do take the time to create a well-rounded scope statement, they often archive it before the signatures are dry and never look at it again. It’s important to keep checking back with the scope statement throughout the project to make certain you’re delivering what the customer is expecting.

One of my favorite analogies, and I use it often with my customer base, is the remodel story. Imagine you have hired a contractor to finish the basement. The question is, do you give the contractor direction or do you let him decide what the layout will look like? Sure, the contractor will likely have some ideas on layout, how big the rooms should be, and where the plumbing already exists. But what if you want two bedrooms, a three-quarter bath, and a game room; and the contractor builds one bedroom, a full bath, and a family room with a full bar? Not at all close to what you were thinking.

And therein lies the importance of the scope statement. It is the project blueprint. It describes the characteristics of the finished product or service of the project. Without it you may build one bedroom when your stakeholder is expecting two. The scope statement helps you manage stakeholder expectations. More than once, I have been knee deep in the project lifecycle, usually after a few key deliverables are in prototype stage, and have a stakeholder say, “I thought we were getting two bedrooms.” This is where the scope statement comes to the rescue. You certainly don’t want to wield it as though it were a weapon, but it is a great way to gently remind your stakeholders what they agreed to back at the beginning of the project.

It’s a good idea to periodically review your scope statement with your stakeholders. Project status meetings or steering committee meetings are a logical place to conduct this review. Devote some time every other meeting, or at intervals that make sense given the size and scope of your project, to reviewing the deliverables listed in the scope statement.

If you’re conducting regular status meetings, you’re likely doing this to some extent already. Status meetings typically address the work accomplished last period, and the anticipated work to be completed during the next work period. Occassionaly take the time to go beyond the next work period and remind everyone of the key deliverables that are scheduled to be delivered later in the project.

Regularly reviewing the project scope statement can increase your chances for a successful project and keep your stakeholder’s expectations aligned with the goals of the project.

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