Scope Check

What do immature PMs do early in their career? Create a template of the PMBOK activities within MS Project. Here is a tip for new project managers that want to be more relavent and plug into the second(and under-hyped)knowledge area–Scope. In the Monitor/Control process group there are two scope activities: verify scope and control scope. How does that work? Leap into the activities instead of mapping them.

For non-PMPs this post references the PMI knowledge areas and process groups found in the PMBOK v4. Look up Scope and Triple Constraint for some additional background.

Strategy: Over Simplification (On Purpose!)

It’s important to get in the head of the business. An easy way to see the project through their eyes is to look at the project charter. If it is written well it is simple and communicates the strategic function of the project. If it isn’t written well, or you don’t have one, begin by asking “What does the project provide(in business-speak)?” In logistics, you just move a box. In an integration project, you just copy a file. In advertizing, you’re just showing people a picture.

Obviously, that quippy answer is a shortsighted interpretation of what the project requirements are. The reality is that this limited view is what the stakeholder is wanting. In their minds, it is all the project really is. Project strategic business benefits or objectives are the target on the horizon. In Agile circles, the term is doneness criteria.

It is worth controlling your perspective as well as that of the project team by frequently returning to an over simplified statement of the business benefits. How long should that function really take? How much does it cost to show someone that picture? Putting perspective around scope will turn out to be very valuable.

The first scope-related task is to verify it. That is to say, clarify and set realistic expectations. Make sure that the stakeholder comprehends governance, reporting, acquisition, and storage needs. Ask the questions: Is the current scope realistic? Does the team understand it? Do the stakeholders agree?

Sounds easy enough, but then you have to control scope. That means that you have to deal with change requests and wish lists. Go back and compare requests to the strategic business benefits from the charter. If they don’t match up the request probably isn’t going forward.


The single best payoff in terms of project success comes from having good project definition early.

Scope activities are ongoing. People in the organization get new ideas and even healthy requirements get further definition. In addition, business changes and new needs surface. Project management is about change and adding value to the business.

Change will dictate the frequency that scope is verified and controlled. In IT, an average project needs weekly attention to keep expectations managed.

If you have a change control board for the project, their availability will play into the frequency, also. Their motivation is to act as a gatekeeper. If the project can’t pull together a CCB, it might need a Scope Manager.


To an up-and-coming PM, scope activities must sound like busy-making. In practice though, controlling scope can get out of hand. Someone has to be the gatekeeper for scope changes. I once decided to delegate that responsibility to the person naturally equipped for the job–my BA. It was a brilliant move, which resulted in the sudden and effective resolution of numerous requests. The key resource was the BA’s built-in networking of people throughout the company.

I would suggest to people entering the project management profession that sometime after they abandon the creative pursuits that involve templating the knowledge areas and process groups in a project file, monitoring scope is second in importance to monitoring risk. Putting these activities to work will provide great opportunities to communicate with the stakeholders and the team–which will increase the project’s chances for success.

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