Scope Review and Definition
Before you can go any further with your project, you need to have a better understanding of what exactly is the project requires. The size, sophistication, and magnitude of your project is called your project’s scope. Defining scope will help you in multiple ways.
To start, you will need to know whether you are adequately staffed to deliver on the project and will rely on the definition of your scope to assist in finding the right people to build out your team.
To define your project’s scope, you need to involve the individuals on your team who have the broadest understanding of what is needed to complete a project. For larger teams, this usually translates to the project lead, technical architect, art director, or other designated leader in a discipline. For individuals working alone, it is often helpful to enlist the assistance of peers or the community either directly or indirectly to get important information necessary to build your project’s scope.
When working to identify the scope of your project, there are a number of scope categories you need to consider. Planning your project requires some level of comfort with unanswered questions and ambiguity. Over the course of the planning process, you’ll be able to address these questions and gaps to the best of your ability, and then you can begin the creation of the project.
Every project has some level of constraints that need to be applied to it. These constraints individually and collectively determine the overall scope and sophistication of your project.
Sometimes the word constraints sends a negative connotation. Although constraints do put limits on projects, overcoming them has led to innovations that have inspired completely new product lines or industries. Constraints may be limitations by definition but aren’t limitations on the opportunities that can come out of the project. Working successfully within the constraints and respecting them is the best way to enter into a project.
Some basic constraints are common for almost every project. This section will review each of them and how they are applied to your project.
All projects have a finite amount of money that can be spent on resources and equipment, but budgets come in different forms. Sometimes you have one lump sum of money that is available for an entire project. How it is spent within the term of the project isn’t important. Other times your budget will be tied to specific phases or milestones of the project, where you don’t have the entire sum of money available throughout the project. Or you may find that you can’t spend tons of money on new artwork or on tons of people to help out, so you need to find ways to make do with less in certain areas or phases.
How ever your budget is structured, your budgetary limitations will need to be considered in determining the scope of your project.
The next most common project constraint is time. Most projects have an end date. But schedules can take different forms, and sometimes aren’t determined by the project at all.
The schedule and budget are often linked, meaning that the budget is calculated based on the duration of time the project will take, or vice versa. In project management terms, these two constraints have a symbiotic relationship. If you have a specific project or scope, when you constrict budget you’ll often need to adjust the schedule accordingly.
For many projects, the schedule can be determined by another project in the company. For example, if you are creating a Web site for a restaurant, the project may be linked to the opening of the restaurant and can’t be delayed. As we mentioned in the “Budget” section, the funds that are available may be linked to specific points in the fiscal year that can be applied to the schedule or due date for the project.
You may also find that a project will have multiple due dates or milestones. As projects get larger and have more phases or moving pieces, each of these phases may have specific dates associated with them. For example, your contract with your client or customer might require that specific milestones be met by certain dates. This reduces the perceived risk to the client, because the client knows that they’ll have the opportunity to review the work at each milestone and make adjustments if necessary.
Building these milestones or checkpoints into your project schedule can help you build a relationship with your client. It puts the client at ease and makes it easier for you to complete sections of the project in a logical order. It helps to avoid an “all-or-nothing” approach when you embark on larger or more sophisticated projects. And having defined sections of a project helps with estimating because you can separate the project into each section or phase to identify costs.
Sometimes projects can have too much time. These projects may have a release date to submit for consideration on getting venture capital or other similar processes. For projects of this type, getting it right is more important than getting it done on time. At times, though, projects can enter into what is known as the perpetual beta, meaning that they never seem to get released and are plagued with growing levels of features without a set limit. Although new projects might not want to have a forced date set on them, there should be some well understood level of “release status” that can signify when the project is done and serve as a goal for the team.
Team and experience
At times, your team’s experience (or lack thereof) can create constraints for your project. Each of us has a level of experience that allows us to tackle projects of a certain scale. Your team may not be up to the challenge of a very large-scale project or a project using certain technologies or frameworks. For example, if your team is unfamiliar with a particular technology that’s required for a project, your ability to deliver will be limited unless your budget permits you to acquire additional people with the required skills. It’s important to understand what each person on your team can do. Otherwise, you may need to find new individuals to help out at an increased cost that might not have been originally included in the budget.
Other client needs
Finally, clients will have their own needs and constraints that they will apply to the project. These can include limitations on interface based on their target customer, their ability to deliver materials of a certain type, or their own sophistication as a company or team.