Defining Project Scope: Make It Actionable And Approved

Project scope is a defining metric, reflecting the totality of the overall purpose and vision for a given project.  Once defined and approved, scope provides a roadmap for project planning and execution.  To achieve successful results, project scope must be clearly stated in specific, measureable terms, ready for stakeholder negotiation, acceptance and approval.  Read on for more.

Actionable Scope is Key to Project Success

Project scope exists at multiple levels, starting with the project outcome itself, and then expanding to include the corresponding “process effort” required to plan, manage and execute. In addition, in order to achieve all established project goals and objective, scope specifications must go beyond “what will be done” (the scope inclusions), to also state “what won’t be done” (the scope exclusions).

"A picture is worth a thousand words". Get an illustrated view of the project definition process in our infographic: Project Definition: Making Projects Ready for Action and Approval

In order to fill all strategic and operational needs, project scope is defined using a series of logical and physical “templates” – providing the steps and strategies required to determine scope, along with the physical documentation formats needed to produce tangible “scope deliverables”.  Tangible formats are essential to ensure informed consent and approval, forming the basis upon which scope terms can be reviewed and negotiated. And, when it comes to defining and documenting project scope, there is one key rule – make it actionable.

Scope lies at the heart of the project definition process, specifying “what will be done” and “what won’t be done”. A well defined scope sets realistic expectations, and creates a framework for project execution. Can you proceed without defined scope? Sure. But you don’t want to, and you certainly don’t need to. If you follow effective, standardized practices for scope definition and documentation, approval will most certainly be a key part of that process.

Top Five Characteristics of Actionable Scope

While scope "specifics" will vary according to the nature and conditions of the project at hand, standardized scope "specifications" should share all of the following characteristics:

  1. Project scope must be specific. Scope must be defined in clear, specific terms, covering both stated inclusions and exclusions. This is essential to ensure that the project scope is execution-capable, considering related work effort tasks and activities. In addition, stakeholders must know what they are approving.
  2. Project scope must be measureable.  Scope specifications must be sufficiently measureable so that they can be verified against specific status and quality criteria. Stakeholders must believe that scope accuracy can be measured.
  3. Project scope must be relevant.  Scope specifications must be sufficiently relevant to and aligned with project needs, goals, and objectives. Stakeholders must believe that “scope and vision” have been properly aligned.
  4. Project scope must be negotiated.  Scope specifications must be determined through active negotiation and collaboration. Stakeholders must participate in the scope development process, contributing and compromising as need to reach prioritized results.
  5. Project scope must be approved.  Once completed, scope specifications must be approved and accepted. Approval represents informed consent and acceptance. Through documented acceptance, stakeholders assume shared responsibility for the project. 


  • Identify the needs and interests of both the influencing and decision making stakeholders.
  • Create a formal negotiating process, setting due dates and meeting schedules.
  • Establish negotiating parameters (goals, objectives, roles and responsibilities).
  • Create a baseline scope as a starting point for negotiations.
  • Document the results of meetings and related follow-up actions.
  • Utilize project sponsors and executives to provide guidance as needed.
  • Keep personal agendas out of the negotiation process with a focus on prioritized needs.

Stay in Control to Avoid "Scope Creep"

Scope management is essential to on time project delivery.  Since the best outcomes depend on balanced needs and capabilities, scope “creep” (i.e. when scope is allowed to expand uncontrolled) must be avoided.  Scope should never exceed negotiated boundaries – not without further planning and buy-in.  Scope "status" must be continually monitored, allowing for managed change as needed. 

  • Scope is proposed as part of project selection.
  • Scope is defined and approved as part of project definition.
  • Scope management procedures are established as part of project goverance.
  • Scope is managed according to the Governance Plan as part of project oversight.
  • Scope results are evaluated for lessons learned as part of project review.

Above all, a well-defined scope will result from collaborative planning and decision making, to engage project stakeholders, and receive valuable input as needed. Considering the undeniable connection between scope definition and project success, these negotiations are often tricky, fraught with political peril. At any point in time, individual stakeholders may seek to expand scope, lessen scope, or make project changes without any thought to scope at all. In addition, external forces may seek to limit the scope of one project in favor of another. The possibilities are endless. It’s important to know the players, and set expectations for every stage of the game.

The Project Committee Planner and Template Kit

The Project Committee Planner and Template Kit

The Project Committee Planner and Template Kit provides time-saving steps and customizable templates to organize, operate and evaluate all types of project committees.  Available for instant download.

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