How To Develop a Project Scope Statement in 8 Steps

Industry Advice Management

Whether a company builds bridges, software, or cell phones, the work that goes into these finished products is managed as a series of projects that have specific objectives, timelines, and budgets. 

A project management plan is critical to ensuring that teams complete their work on time and as expected. But before project managers can develop an in-depth plan and a project team can execute that plan, everyone needs to know what work should be done and why it is important. 

That’s where the project scope statement comes into play. A project scope statement provides a detailed description of the work that must be done to deliver the output of a project on time and within the allotted budget. The document also places the objectives of the project and its output—which could be a product that a company is releasing to the marketplace or analysis that leadership will use to make an informed business decision—within the larger context of the organization’s goals and objectives.

“Developing a project scope statement is so important for the rest of the project plan,” says Jacques Alexis, associate teaching professor professor in the project management graduate program at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. “You need to understand the structure in which the project will be carried out and consider internal and external factors.”

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Why is a project scope statement important?

According to the Project Management Institute, a strong project scope statement has several key characteristics. It should:

  • Define the boundaries of the project.
  • Define the business need and the expected outcome of the project.
  • Identify constraints that limit a project team’s options for developing a solution. 
  • List assumptions regarding decisions outside the project team’s control.
  • Identify business processes impacted by the project.
  • Identify internal and external entities with which the project team will interface.

“The project scope statement tries to reduce uncertainty by defining the scope and ensuring all key stakeholders are on board and have a clear understanding of the project,” Alexis says. “If you have a strong process, there will be fewer change requests. If you can do that, then you have a better chance of success.”

As with all project management documents, Alexis adds, the project scope statement may have a consistent format from one project to another, but it should also be customizable depending on the size, scale, and complexity of the project. These factors will also impact the types of stakeholders who must be involved in both developing and receiving the project scope statement.

How is a project scope statement different from other project management documents?

While a project scope statement is critical to the success of a project, certain components of the project are covered in different documents. Here are two important examples.

Product scope statement. Just as there are subtle differences in the roles of a product manager and project manager, there are some differences between project scope and product scope. A product scope includes additional information about the features and functions of the product, service, or solution that a project will deliver. A project scope will state, “Ship a new tablet PC by the end of 2020,” but the product scope will provide details about screen size, type of processor, amount of memory, and so on. 

Project master plan. If the project scope statement is the foundation upon which the project is built, then the project master plan is the rest of the building. The project master plan provides a detailed project schedule and work structure, as well as plans and procedures for risk management, quality management, and communications management, Alexis says. Successful execution of the project master plan, however, depends on the strength of your project scope statement, he adds. 

8 key steps to developing a project scope statement

Alexis has nearly two decades of experience managing major programs and projects within the manufacturing and power generation industries, with current work focusing on sustainability initiatives. Based on his experience, he recommends project managers follow the eight steps below to develop an effective project scope statement.

1. Understand why the project was initiated.

Projects are not carried out in a vacuum, Alexis says; they are initiated to meet specific goals for an organization. For example, an organization may be looking to reduce operating costs by 5% by the end of next year, improve efficiency by 10%, or increase head count by 20%. “As much as possible, the goals of the organization should be expressed in the project scope statement,” Alexis notes. 

2. Define the key objectives of the project.

Once project managers understand what the organization is trying to achieve, they need to define the objectives of the specific project. The objectives should note why the project is being done, what will be done, when it will be done, and how much it will cost. In other words, the objectives describe why executives selected and funded a project and justify why the project exists, Alexis says. Objectives should be written with the SMART goal-setting best practices in mind—meaning they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

3. Outline the project statement of work.

The statement of work provides a detailed breakdown of the work that a project team will perform. For a project focused on creating an internal review of new markets to enter, for example, items in the scope of work might include identifying and prioritizing targets, analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of each potential target, assessing the steps the company must take to enter each market, and providing guidance and recommendations for key decision-makers.

4. Identify major deliverables.

Project managers should work alongside key stakeholders to list the items that will be delivered at the end of the project, Alexis says. In the project scope statement, these items can be described at a high level—a new market assessment report, for example, or a new software feature—but they should still be tangible and measurable targets. A separate document, the work detail structure, will outline the specific activities associated with a particular deliverable. One way to remember the difference, according to Alexis: Deliverables are usually expressed as nouns and adjectives, while work details are expressed as verbs.  

5. Select key milestones.

A key milestone indicates when stakeholders can expect a particular deliverable to be completed. More complex projects may also include milestones for specific steps involved in creating or completing a deliverable. Milestones must include a specific date, Alexis says—not just that a report will be finished, but that it will be finished by October 15 of next year, for example. 

6. Identify major constraints.

The project scope statement should note any limitations that the project team will face as it works to complete a project. These constraints could include personnel, resources, schedule, or other requirements.

7. List scope exclusions.

This list consists of deliverables that a project sponsor may assume are included in the scope of the project but are not, in fact, included. For example, a project sponsor may assume that a project to develop a management system also includes certification of that system. The project scope statement should clearly indicate if the project team will get the system certified or if the sponsor is responsible for obtaining certification after the project has been completed. This clarity helps project managers avoid “scope creep,” which occurs when deliverables that were not part of the original scope statement are added to a project midstream.

8. Obtain sign-off.

Requiring key stakeholders to sign the project scope statement offers confirmation that they are aware of and understand the contents of the scope, Alexis says. This helps avoid miscommunication that can lead to rework during or after the project—ultimately saving project managers and organizations frustration, time, and money.

How to further develop project management skills

Earning a master’s in project management is one way to acquire project management knowledge and skills in a professional setting. Along with learning how to develop a project scope statement, you will learn how to communicate with executives and project sponsors, practice the use of soft skills to manage teams, and prepare to take on additional responsibility by managing a larger team and/or a larger budget.

To learn more about how an advanced degree can help you advance your career in project management, explore our program page

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2019. It has since been updated for relevance and accuracy.