12 minutesBy Canva Team

Making a project scope: How-tos, templates, and tips

Defining the scope of your project is your best weapon against scope creep. Learn more about scope creep in project management and how you can prevent it with an effective project scope document.
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What is a project scope?

Also known as a scope of work, a project scope is an outline of everything you need to complete a project. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Goals and objectives
  • Resources
  • Timelines
  • Deliverables
  • Budgets
  • Stakeholders
  • Processes
  • Assumptions
  • Dependencies
Example of a project scope that begins with an executive summary of the document

Example of a project scope that begins with an executive summary of the document.

When scoping a project, you not only define what’s in scope, but also what is out of scope. This is anything that is not part of your responsibility or does not contribute to your overall goals.

Essentially, if it’s out of scope, it’s out of your hands. Your client can’t add it onto your list of responsibilities without consultations and approval from your team. Out-of-scope items are typically listed in the project scope statement as boundaries, constraints, or exclusions.

Project scopes are defined in the project discovery phase, the very first stage of a project development cycle. During the scoping phase, the project team conducts research and analysis to validate their initial idea and protect themselves from potential risks — a major one being project scope creep.

What is a project scope statement?

A scope statement is a written document that details every aspect of your project scope.

When writing a project scope statement, keep the following in mind:

  • A project scope statement is always written before any kind of work on the project kicks off.
  • A project scope statement should always be reviewed and agreed upon by all team members and stakeholders.
  • Any changes to the project scope statement should undergo a pre-determined change control process to avoid problems down the line.
Example of a project scope that begins with a project title, manager, and statement

Before you write other details like your project title, start with your project statement first — this will set how you write the rest of your project scope.

Project scope vs. product scope

If you’re building or launching a product, you’ll also need to write a product scope. This specifies the traits, functions, and limitations of the product.

The difference between a product scope and a project scope is that the former tells you what a product does, how it works, and what it looks like, while the latter tells you what it will take to create the product.

Project charter vs. project scope

A project charter is a short, formal document outlining the general details of a project, including:

  • Stakeholders and team members
  • Goals and objectives
  • Scope
  • Timeline
  • Budget
  • Deliverables

This may sound a lot like a scope statement, but the key difference between the two is that a charter presents a rationale or justification for the project while a scope statement typically does not.

Oftentimes, project charters are also static documents, while scope statements are living documents that can change as the project evolves.

With Canva Docs, you and anyone else with access can view, edit, and add comments to your project scope document wherever and whenever necessary. Make revisions at your desktop or from your mobile device and watch your team make edits in real-time.

The importance of writing a project scope

In project management, scope creep is when stakeholders make changes to a project’s requirements, timeline, or deliverables without adjusting the budget or schedule accordingly.

One or two little changes may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but when they add up, scope creep can sneak up on you and wreak havoc on all your plans.

Some of the worst effects of project scope creep include:

  • Going over the budget
  • Overworking your team
  • Missing key deadlines
  • Delivering a subpar product or service
  • Losing the trust of your employees
  • Negatively impacting your own or your client’s brand image

Unfortunately, scope creep is an all-too common occurrence. A report by the Project Management Institute revealed that half of all projects experience scope creep and only 57% are completed within budget.

Among other factors like lack of communication between teams, no change control processes, and impractical timelines, one of the surest ways scope creep can derail your project is by having a poorly defined or non-existent project scope.

Add comments and emoji reactions in your Canva Doc

Avoid scope creep by keeping communication lines open. Coordinate with your team in real-time via comments and emoji reactions in your Canva Doc.

Example of project scope creep

To better illustrate the effects of scope creep, let’s take a look at a hypothetical (but all too common) situation:

Imagine you’re a branding agency and a local ice cream shop requests packaging designs for a new flavor they’ll launch for an upcoming holiday.

When you’re done designing concepts, the client suddenly asks if you can redesign their logo as well, suggesting elements and a color palette that clash with your packaging concepts. Your account manager agrees as they don’t want to lose the client, but don’t account for the time needed to reconceptualize everything.

A few days pass and the client asks if you can also design social media posts for the product launch. Without much time left, more designers are called in to work overtime to get all three deliverables done by the deadline.

Come presentation time, you realize that without a finalized packaging and logo design, your social media posts don’t have a clear concept. But the holiday is fast approaching and there’s no time to pivot. In the end, the client is disappointed with your incongruent designs and your design team is left feeling overworked and undervalued.

How a well-defined project scope helps prevent scope creep

A well-defined project scope statement can save you a lot of grief by:

  • Managing expectations: By specifying your exclusions and constraints, you establish healthy boundaries with your client and have a tangible document to refer to when you need to push back against a request that’s out of scope.
  • Keeping your team in check: It’s common for small and new teams to want to please their clients without considering a request’s feasibility. Having a scope statement you can access anytime can keep eager people-pleasers in check and avoid over-promising.
  • Avoiding the “too many cooks” problem: If you’ve ever been in a situation where there are too many decision-makers in a project, you know what we mean. A good project scope includes a detailed change control process and appoints a final decision-maker to avoid conflicts and delays.
  • Making your targets clearer: All of these, plus things like acceptance criteria, timelines, and deliverables put you on track for reaching your milestones on time.

What to include in a project scope?

Writing a project scope statement is easy if you know what elements to include. Most scope statements are made up of the following components:

Add a table of contents of your project scope’s components

Add a table of contents of your project scope’s components in the beginning for easier reference.

This brief introduction gives readers context about the project, from how it started to what problem you’re trying to solve, to your goals and objectives.

Save time with our Summarizer
Use Magic Write to generate a concise, easy-to-read summary of your project’s background. Then, use our design tools to add visual flair to make a lasting first impression.

Deliverables are items, services, or results produced during the project or upon its completion. To make sure deliverables are submitted on time, create a timeline spanning the duration of your project. Set milestones for when deliverables or sets of deliverables are to be accomplished.

Acceptance criteria are the predetermined conditions or requirements that must be met for deliverables to be acceptable.

When writing acceptance criteria, make sure they:

  • Are independently testable
  • Have a clear pass/fail result
  • Target the end result (the what), not the solution (the how)
  • Are neither too broad nor too narrow

Exclusions are tasks that will not be carried out in the project. Anything you consider out of your scope of work will fall under exclusions.

Constraints, on the other hand, are the limitations of your project. Examples of constraints in project management include:

  • Cost: Your general budget, the cost of goods and services needed to complete the project, your team’s salary, etc.
  • Risk: Liabilities and opportunities that could impact your project, such as workplace accidents and scope creep
  • Resources: The manpower, equipment, venues, and other items needed to perform your day-to-day tasks
  • Time: Your overall project timeline, goalposts, etc.

In project management, assumptions are events or outcomes that can potentially occur as you complete the project. Project scope management is all about making reasonable assumptions and preparing for each potential outcome.

Dependencies, on the other hand, are tasks that depend on or are integral to the completion of another task. Dependencies are important because they help you define the order in which you should carry out your tasks. Mapping out dependencies relies on knowing your project’s constraints.

Change control is a process of managing requests — be it from stakeholders or your own team — to change any part of your project that is beyond the specified scope. This process tells you who has the final say on whether changes can or cannot be made to the scope.

Establishing a good change control process is important for keeping scope creep at bay.

A sign-off sheet is a formal document summarizing all of the above components, comments, key details about the project, start and end dates, and signatures from everyone involved in the project. Once signed, this document marks the official closing of the project.

How to write a project scope

Learn how to write a comprehensive project scope statement with the following steps:

How to write a project scope

The first step to creating a project scope will always be defining your project goals and objectives. Essentially, these are the what and why of your project. As in, what do you hope to achieve with this endeavor and why?

Think of this as your compass. If you ever feel lost throughout the process of writing your scope, just go back to your goals and you’ll be able to reorient yourself once more.

Make tables to organize text
Type “/” on your Canva Doc to add a table to your scope statement. Organize your goals and objectives into neat tables for better readability.

To understand your project’s boundaries, you have to identify what resources are available to you. This includes your manpower, physical resources, facilities, budget, network, etc.

Requirements, on the other hand, include your deliverables, the quality of the desired output or product, hard deadlines, and your processes.

To fully flesh out the scope of a project, make a list of exclusions (anything out of the scope of work), constraints (anything that may limit or delay your work), assumptions (realistic guesses on potential events that could affect your work), and dependencies (tasks that rely on each other to be completed).

At this point, you’ll want to think about your change control process as well.

Once you’ve happy with your project scope statement, share your document with key stakeholders for approval. Also think about what kinds of changes you want to make to your scope before the project officially kicks off. Sometimes, during the buy-in phase, objectives, resources, and requirements change to the client’s needs, so you have to be flexible as well.

With your project scope statement approved, you can finally start working toward your objectives. But before anything, make sure your team members all have access to your project scope document. You want everyone to be on the same page at all times.

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a diagram that breaks down 100% of the work into smaller chunks such as deliverables, milestones, and individual tasks. Creating a WBS helps you visualize the requirements necessary for completing a goal, turning them into more manageable tasks and sub-tasks.

The WBS is actually part of the second phase of the project life cycle, the planning phase. But for some, creating a WBS immediately after the scope statement helps illustrate just how much time, work, and resources must go into every aspect of the project.

Get inspired with project scope templates

Jumpstart your project scope with a free, customizable project scope statement template. Browse a range of styles and layouts and choose the best one that fits your brand and project — then customize it as you see fit.

All you need in a project scope maker

Want to get your project off the ground right away? Canva’s free project scope generator has all the tools you need to create a striking project scope document. Use our simple drag-and-drop editor to add text, graphs, photos, and fun design elements before sharing your project scope with stakeholders. Not much of a writer? Our AI-powered assistant, Magic Write, can help fill in the gaps!

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Project scope best practices

Whether you’re new to project scope management and looking to establish a solid foundation or you’re a seasoned PM hoping to refine your skills, these tips can help you navigate the complexities of defining your project’s boundaries.

Learn to differentiate goals and objectives

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, in the context of project management, they’re actually quite different.

Goals are broad, high-level achievements that you work toward over a long period of time. Objectives, on the other hand, are smaller, specific, and measurable milestones that lead you to your goals. Think of objectives as stepping stones towards your goals.

List your objectives as action items under each goal

List your objectives as action items under each goal.

Write SMART goals

  • Specific: These are goals that have a clearly defined outcome. A vague goal may sound something like, “increase subscriptions”, while a specific goal sounds like, “increase subscriptions from the 18 to 34 demographic by the end of the quarter.”
  • Measurable: Have quantifiable goals. You can determine their success with metrics rather than just anecdotal evidence.
  • Achievable: This means goals that are realistic and achievable within the resources and limitations of your project.
  • Relevant: Relevant goals should be in line with your overall mission. Goals are not written just for the sake of it. They should bring you a step closer to the end of the project.
  • TIme-bound: These are goals that have specific deadlines. Creating deadlines for your goals helps you make a more realistic timeline.

Make your project scope statement visual

Project scope statements contain a lot of information — information that tends to overlap. To organize all your data better, use visual elements like charts, graphs, tables, color-coded boxes, and the like.

Find charts, tables, boxes, and other media and graphics in the Elements tab

Find charts, tables, boxes, and other media and graphics in the Elements tab. Canva has an extensive library you can choose from.

Record changes as they happen

In project management, change is inevitable. From changes to the management structure to external factors like market trends and new technology, there are many reasons for changes to occur as a project goes underway. To prevent scope creep to creep up on you unexpectedly, be sure to record even minor changes in your project scope statement.

Involve all stakeholders and team members from day one

Teamwork makes the dream work, they say. Make it a point to keep all your stakeholders and team members in the loop from the very first day. Not keeping stakeholders updated at every important stage can lead to major repercussions.

In one real-world example, the Denver International Airport went 250% over budget because their project to build a fully automated baggage handling system went through over 2,000 design changes. This can, in part, be chalked up to poor communication between high-level stakeholders and PMs.

Project scope FAQs

Project scope statements serve as a reminder of the responsibilities and capabilities of your team. They clarify what your team should and shouldn’t do and, in doing so, prevent issues like going over budget, overworking team members, and overshooting deadlines.

Defining the project scope is a collaborative effort between the project managers, project team, and project stakeholders. Things like project objectives, timeline, budget, and acceptance criteria are provided by the stakeholders. But ultimately, it is up to the project manager to compile all these elements and more into a final document.

A good project scope is specific — the more detailed the better. It should also be a team effort between stakeholders and the project team. Finally, a project scope that uses visual elements to organize data will be easier to understand and retain than one that just consists of big blocks of text.

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Manage expectations, keep clients and teams in check, and prevent the dreaded scope creep. Use Canva’s editable templates to create a project scope in a few easy steps.
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