Courses Project Management Techniques Lesson 3

Scoping Your Project

Project scope defines what goals, steps, and or tasks are included in the project. Metaphorically-speaking, the scope is akin to the outlines of a town on a map. Defining a project’s scope is a critical project management technique, since it helps the project stay on track.

The Dangers of Scope Creep

Without a well-defined scope, your project can suffer from what’s often called “scope creep.”

Scope creep: uncontrolled changes to a project’s goals, requirements, or tasks after the project has begun.

It’s natural for teams to fall victim to scope creep. So often, you notice new opportunities or problems when you dig into a specific area of your business. Or perhaps you figure “I’m already working on this related issue…it’s not too much extra work to do this other thing while I’m thinking of it.” Most scope creep comes from a good place: a desire to make your product or service better. But still, it’s worth trying to limit scope creep as much as possible.

Scope creep is dangerous for a myriad of reasons. Changing the scope after work has begun can delay or even block a project’s completion. It can also cause a team to go over-budget or beyond other allocated resources. Last, it can muddy the waters of what you’re trying to accomplish, distracting people from the core goals.

Avoiding Scope Creep with Technical Specs

The best way to avoid scope creep is to create a detailed project plan,. This is often called a technical specification (or tech spec,) since so many tech teams use them. Every person who’s working on the project can use them to make decisions and stay on track. Nota bene: a tech spec is valuable for all kinds of teams, not just technical ones.

A good tech spec clarifies exactly what’s included in a project and what isn’t. We published a technical specification template in our templates directory to help you get started. It’s adapted from some smart and talented members of the Lyft engineering team. As they put it:

“…tech specs are an upfront investment of time and effort that in the long run can create exponential payoffs for you and your team.”

Once you’ve built your tech spec, make sure everyone has a chance to review it and give input. Let people ask questions and poke holes. If you decide to make any changes to your scope, (especially if you’re including more goals or more tasks,) evaluate whether they’ll impact your project completion date. Most important, make sure to share your project scope in a central place like Tettra, so that everyone can refer to it. Your tech spec will act as a north star throughout your work on the project, helping everyone focus on the right things.