scope of work
Project Management

5 Things That Should Be In Every Scope Of Work

Experienced project managers know that when it comes to work that needs to get done, “defining the relationship” is key. That’s right – just like clear expectations can benefit your love life, clear expectations also matter in the workplace when you’re kickstarting a project. Enter the scope of work, a document that will save you headaches down the road.

“I wish more teams knew that creating a scope of work can reduce frustration and effort in the long run. Taking the time to understand the project needs and how the project’s goals will be met can provide teams the opportunity to ask questions and highlight risks, which can clarify the project context and strengthen alignment to the definition of success,” says organizational coach and consultant Allison Pollard. “Teams’ involvement in creating a scope of work also increases their ability to adjust their plans later as issues and changes occur.”

What is a scope of work document and what does it include?

Scope of work is a breakdown of a project and the work that will need to be performed to bring the project to successful completion, as agreed upon by all relevant stakeholders. It includes information like project goals, timelines and milestones, deliverables, individual tasks, and expected outcomes. Simply put, it’s about what needs to get done, who will be doing it, and by when, and what outcomes to expect. This defines the project, assigns responsibilities, and gets everyone on the same page about executing the work so they can move forward with clarity.

Important factors to consider in a scope of work

Besides the basic information above, it’s super important to weave in two key factors in every scope of work for ultimate success, according to Pollard:

“To ensure success, a scope of work should include (1) a description of the project’s customers and value of the product to them and (2) qualitative and quantitative indicators of the project’s outcomes,” she says.

  • Breakdown of project customers and the value of the product to them

“The description of the project’s customers and value of the product to them should emphasize what makes the product different and compelling to customers. This description also includes information about the product and what actions the team will take to deliver the product to customers,” she adds.

According to her, this definition clarifies the boundaries of the work for the team and everyone associated with the project.

  • Qualitative and quantitative indicators of the project’s outcomes

You may think delivering the project and following through on the plan is enough. But that doesn’t equal success. For that reason, the scope of work absolutely needs to include metrics that define success. “In order to achieve the organization’s vision, the scope of work should include the indicators for the successful project outcome. Describing these indicators as the qualitative and quantitative intentions for ‘done’ for the overall project provides the team filters for future decisions that will keep them aligned to success,” says Pollard.

Common scope of work mistakes

Before creating your scope of work document, be aware of common mistakes that can trip up your project-management ambitions.

The first one is having only one person, whether that be a product owner or someone else, be responsible for creating the scope of work as a list of proposed deliverables with a timeline and then only engaging the team later for review and buy-in, according to Pollard.

“This often stems from an underlying belief that we must maximize teams’ productivity and eliminate activities that pull them away from coding and testing software. Unfortunately, it encourages teams to act as order-takers,” she explains.

“By neglecting the team’s understanding of the project needs and instead over-emphasizing the deliverables, businesses will become frustrated by project delays and subject to difficulties in managing scope and priorities because teams are not adequately able to do the right thing on their own or make recommendations.”

And you also want to avoid the subtle mistake of not discussing what’s outside the scope of work. Mary Beth Imbarrato, project management, change management, and strategic planning consultant, says that discussing what is out of scope helps make sure everyone is perfectly clear about what is “in” and what is “out.”

She also says that a scope of work should be locked down from the get-go as much as possible. “Many, many projects are not successful because the scope was never locked down and people keep adding to it. Part of the definition of a project is having an end. By continuously adding scope, you have a never-ending project.” And if it goes on forever, it’s no longer a true project – that’s a clear indicator that your scope of work has not achieved its purpose.

Scope of work checklist

Imbarrato shared a helpful scope of work checklist to keep in mind as you finalize your document. If you can answer the following questions with confidence, you’ve got a pretty solid scope of work on your hands:

  1. What problem are we trying to solve with this project?
  2. Does the scope reflect what will need to be delivered in order to solve that problem?
  3. Is the scope tangible so that it can be planned effectively and delivered?
  4. What does success look like once we deliver on this scope?
  5. Once we deliver on this scope that has been defined, will the project be complete?

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