South East Training - The Project Management Toolkit

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Establishing the Project Scope

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One of the most common causes of project failure is ‘scope creep’. This is where a project mushrooms, out of control, with new requirements being added without proper consideration of the impact this will have on the project outcomes. It stands to reason that if new requirements are added, the project will require additional time and resources, or something else has to be sacrificed to accommodate the additional work.

It is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure the project team has a very clear understanding of the project’s scope from the outset, and this is monitored throughout the project to ensure creep does not occur. If it is necessary to expand the scope, as sometimes happens, then the plan needs to be adjusted accordingly and additional resources procured as appropriate.

In defining the scope at the beginning of the project, it is important that all aspects of the project are considered, not just the deliverables, and that those elements that stakeholders might assume are part of the project but which are not, are also identified. So, if the project is to launch a new marketing campaign in Europe it is probably wise to identify any European countries that will not be included for legislative, economic or logistical reasons. Similarly, if a project has to be paid for out of a particular budget, it may be important to emphasis that there are no other sources of funding. This approach helps manage stakeholder expectations.

The Scoping Tool

Perhaps one of the most useful and yet simplest tools for managing projects is the scoping tool. The tool is best used by a group.

  • Draw a box on a flipchart, or better a large white board. The box should occupy approximately half the area (see tip below).
  • Describe the area on the outside of the box as ‘IS NOT’ - what is not included in completing the required project.
  • Describe the area inside the box as ‘IS’ - what is included in completing the required project.
  • Ask the team members to think individually about what should be included in the project (IS) and what others might think should be included but won’t be (IS NOT).
  • Ask the team members to give you their thoughts and write the responses in the appropriate area.
  • Review the diagram to ensure you have covered every aspect of the project.
  • Where there is division as to whether an element should be in or out, have a discussion with the team, or consult other stakeholders, until you reach a conclusion. You cannot have an element sitting on the boundary.


The scoping tool not only helps you decide what is and is not part of the project, it provides clarity both to you and the project team, and helps manage stakeholder expectations. The tool is also useful if, at a future stage, it is necessary to adjust the scope of the project to meet budgetary or time constraints.

Tip: To achieve roughly equal areas, faintly draw a 10 x 5 grid. Draw the box to encompass the middle 8 x 3 cells leaving a margin one cell thick. The inner area will be 24 units and the outer 26. It is very important to make sure the box is not too small as this will inhibit the group’s thinking as to what should be included in the project.


Consider the following example.  It concerns a joint conference between HM Treasury and HMRC.  It is fictitious. Also note that the diagram is far from complete.  A real example is likley to have twice or three times as many elements once completed.