Staying within the defined scope of your project helps you deliver on the deliverables you agreed upon within a reasonable timeframe.
However, out-of-scope happens to be one of the biggest challenges project managers face during project management. Since no project is immune to out-of-scope, you need to identify the causes and what to do to prevent your project from going out of scope.
In this article, we will define what out of scope is, what causes it, and how to avoid it in project management.
What is Out of Scope in Project Management?
Out of scope is an increase in the scope of a project during the duration of the project. Out of scope occurs when you get requests that are not included in the scope statement or any of the agreed deliverables.
Here is a real-life out-of-scope example:
Assume you're working on a web development and design project where you're creating a website from scratch for a software company.
You create your project scope, including your objectives, deliverables, timelines, budget, and constraints.
In addition to providing clarity to all stakeholders, your project's scope will define its boundaries, and everyone involved knows what's expected of them.
The client requests you to work on the technical side of things, such as page layouts, website coding, and data integration, as they conduct quantitative and qualitative research and write the copy.
You agree and have the project scope approved.
Here are two instances where out-of-scope might show up as you work on the project:
Your client keeps popping up in Slack or via email with feature requests they want to see, yet you have not agreed to deliver them in your deliverables.
The client fails to deliver the copy promised in the scope statement, asking you to conduct the research and write it simply because you can do it.
If you agree to either of these, the project will stall, you'll miss your timelines, and there will be friction between you and your client due to requests that are out of scope and, consequently, unmet expectations.
Out-of-scope vs. Scope creep vs. Beyond Scope
Scope creep, out-of-scope, and beyond-scope may sound similar but have distinct differences.
Out of scope refers to tasks, requirements, or changes that fall outside the boundaries defined in the project's scope statement or agreed-upon deliverables.
Scope creep refers to the gradual expansion or growth of a project's scope beyond its initial boundaries.
On the other hand, beyond scope includes tasks and requirements that aren't explicitly included in your project's scope but are still considered relevant and necessary for achieving project success.
These tasks or requirements may arise during the project's lifecycle. Even though they go beyond the initial scope, they are still valuable additions that contribute to the overall project objectives and desired outcomes.
Each of these terms involves changes or additions to a project, but they're perceived and managed differently.
Out-of-scope items were never intended to be part of the project, while scope creep refers to the tendency for a project's scope to expand over time, potentially leading to challenges in managing resources, timelines, and overall project success.
Beyond scope includes tasks and requirements that aren't in the initial project scope statement but are still considered relevant to the success of the project.
Causes of Out of Scope (and Solutions)
Here's what causes out-of-scope shows in project management:
- Lack of clarity in your project's scope
- Poor communication with relevant stakeholders
- Lack of change management process
- Being overzealous
As a project manager, you must be vigilant from the beginning to the end of your project and avoid these issues appearing and derailing your project.
Let's dive deeper into each of these causes and what to do to avoid them:
Lack of clarity in your project scope
Sometimes you'll meet clients who struggle with articulating their requirements.
It makes it difficult to understand their objectives, identify deliverables, and narrow down on specific outcomes that determine the project's success.
When you start working on a project without clarifying its scope, you open the door to numerous requests throughout the project. As you spend time meeting these requests, you slow down the project and put a strain on the resources you have, which ends up frustrating everyone involved.
A flawed process during collecting project requirements also leads to a lack of clarity. Collecting project requirements involves getting an accurate estimate of your expenses, timelines, and other resources you need to complete the project on time while still maintaining the quality of your deliverables.
Without accurate estimates of what you require, your project stalls midway, and you miss your deadline, or you end up with lower-quality deliverables as you try to stretch your resources.
So, how do you make sure that you have a clear project scope before you start working on your project?
- Start planning your project early by having a kickoff meeting. Invite every stakeholder and inform them of what is expected of them and work together to create a project scope.
- In cases where your client isn't able to articulate their vision clearly, guide them by providing samples and outcomes of projects similar to what they have in mind to help them clarify their goals.
- Expand your requirements collection process to other stakeholders who will provide you with relevant information on project requirements. As you do this, conduct research on other similar projects to understand their requirements and inform you on how to manage the resources you have.
- Once you've identified your project's goals, requirements, and deliverables, document your project scope. Schedule an interactive presentation by sharing the project scope with everyone involved and asking for feedback. This allows you to clarify what they don't understand and make changes to any element of your project scope, and get their buy-in before you start working on the project.
Failing to communicate with relevant stakeholders
Given that different stakeholders are involved in the project, you're in charge of directing the activities going on during the project.
To make sure everyone is working within the project scope, create a workflow indicating what needs to be done at each stage of the project and communicate with your team members to make sure everyone knows what they need to do.
Failure to do this leaves you vulnerable to interference from stakeholders with misaligned interests, with some directing your team members on what they need to do, which is often out of scope.
Transparent and proactive communication helps you stay organized and hold everyone accountable during the project.
So, how do you make sure that everyone is on the same page over the course of your project?
- Have a communication plan when managing a project to help you communicate with your team and stakeholders in a timely manner while making sure they get information that is relevant to their role.
- Schedule one-on-one meetings with your clients to share status updates and review the progress of your project.
- Use collaboration tools with different user roles and permissions that allow you to communicate with your team members about the tasks they're working on.
Lack of a change management process
During the duration of your project, you'll need to accommodate requests, assess their impact on the scope of your project, approve them, and implement them.
Other times, you'll need to reject some of the requests you get.
Managing these requests can be overwhelming when dealing with different stakeholders who keep sending in new requests every now and then.
Without a change in the management process, you end up compromising on your deliverables as you try to make everyone happy by fulfilling different requests that you get.
Other times, you may reject meaningful suggestions that may improve the quality of your deliverables and the overall outcome of the project.
Going back to our earlier web design and development example, a client might look at a website they like during the project planning phase and request that you create a similar website.
However, along the way, they might come across other websites and request that you add the features they like to the final deliverable.
This request is not in scope, and without assessing the impact of this request on your timeline, budget, and other resources you have, accommodating it will affect the outcome of your project.
Other times, business changes such as mergers and acquisitions happen, and this will affect your project. Business needs and stakeholders change due to these changes, and this will have a ripple effect on your project's deliverables.
If your project goes on in such cases, you will deal with new requests that will help the project's outcomes align with what the business needs, leaving you overwhelmed and out of scope.
How do you put a change management process in place?
- Create a change management system that includes online forms that relevant stakeholders are required to fill in when requesting changes or feature requests.
- Analyze all requests and assess their impact on the project scope. For changes that won't impact your project scope, work with your team to plan how they will implement these change requests.
- Have a cut-off date for feature requests to eliminate last-minute requests that derail the completion of your projects.
Whenever a project manager goes out of their way to over-deliver on a project, it always seems like a noble thing until it's not.
Adding features and deliverables will lead to out-of-scope because you'll need more time and resources to implement them. When this occurs in a project you're managing, it's often not backed by good intentions. Being overzealous may be motivated by the following:
- Cover-up: A good-looking deliverable might make the client or relevant stakeholders overlook faults in other deliverables
- Team members who want to prove themselves end up spending resources on one deliverable at the expense of others
One project may go well, but once another client requests that you deliver the same standard to them at a lower cost and you fail to do so, you'll end up with a bad reputation. If you agree to their requests, your profit margins will suffer.
So, how do you deliver quality projects consistently without going out of scope?
- Agree on a quality standard for each deliverable and stick by it. There's always something to improve in your deliverables, and pursuing perfection will only lead to out-of-scope.
- Establish a process that you use to implement your project and deliver specific outputs. This keeps your team focused on the work at hand, and they're not distracted by shiny objects.
Time to manage your projects better
In an ideal world, managing your projects should be a smooth process, right from project planning, scope approval, and execution up to project closure.
You will meet deadlines and collaborate effectively with your team members. However, we all know that every project you manage is never immune to being out of scope.
We've shared different causes of out-of-scope and strategies that will help you avoid them, so it's up to you to monitor your project and address these issues before it leaves you overwhelmed and unable to deliver on your projects.
On top of this, consider using ActiveCollab to streamline your workflow, help you manage your team members and feature requests, and meet all your deadlines.