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6 steps to scoping a project

Scoping a project is essential if you want to succeed in client relationship management. This step-by-step guide will help you scope projects and deliver stunning results every time. 

If you’re new to scoping projects for your clients, it can be hard to figure out where to start. From outlining project objectives to developing a reasonable project timeline, there’s a lot that goes into a project’s scope. 

Knowing how to write a scope of work is only one part of the equation. Before you can get to that step, you first need a process for scoping the project in the first place. Let’s look at what it means to scope a project and dive into the six actionable steps to guide you through the process like a pro.

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What does it mean to scope a project?

Some businesses scope projects in an informal way by simply discussing project requirements with their clients and creating a loose outline. But if you’re working on a larger project or with a higher-paying client, a formal project scope is in order. 

Why is scoping a project necessary? 

Scoping a project matters for many reasons. One of the top reasons to scope a project is to ensure that you and your client are on the same page regarding project requirements and objectives. Getting on the same page before you start working ensures you can knock the project out of the park on the first try, which prevents you from having to redo work while also satisfying your clients’ needs.

Scoping a project ahead of time also helps you prevent scope creep—that terrible thing that happens when project guidelines and expectations keep changing, making it impossible to stick to your initial timeline. Scope creep is frustrating for all parties involved. When your project keeps getting bigger and bigger over time, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. And if your clients’ standards keep changing, they’re likely to end up disappointed, even if you went above and beyond. 

When you scope a project ahead of time, there’s a document to fall back on when issues come up. If a client wants you to do more than you agreed to initially, it’s easier to discuss changes in your pricing and timeline because you have a document outlining your initial agreement.  

How do you collaborate with clients while scoping a project? 

Scoping a project can’t happen in a vacuum. You have to collaborate with your clients to get this right. Usually, you start by having a discovery session with everyone involved in the project. But you may find that as you work on your project scope, there’s some back-and-forth between you, your client, and other project stakeholders. Remember: Going back and forth in the beginning will prevent project creep later on.

Key information to gather

While it’s important to trust the process and keep the line of communication open between you and your client, knowing what information to gather up front can reduce the amount of back-and-forth you have to go through. Here are some of the key questions we recommend asking before you begin scoping your project in earnest:

  • What are your expectations for this project, and how do you plan to measure success? 
  • When do you need this project completed by, and how flexible are you on that deadline? 
  • What’s the best way to communicate with your team, especially when an immediate answer is necessary? 
  • What are the requirements for this project? 
  • What is your budget for this project? 
  • Who are the key stakeholders? 
  • Whom else should I be working with? 

6 steps for defining a project’s scope

Once you’ve collected information from your client, you can begin scoping your project. This six-step process will ensure you develop a project scope that makes sense, covers all project requirements, and prevents scope creep from setting in. 

1. Understand the project’s goals

Step one in defining your project scope is making sure you understand your project’s goals. Start your document by outlining those goals, including any key performance indicators (KPIs) you or the client plans to measure to determine whether those goals have been achieved. 

Understanding the project’s goals upfront does two major things: 

  • It helps you develop a plan of action to meet the client’s stated goals.
  • It ensures that when the project is completed, the client knows exactly what metrics to use to measure your success.

Think of your project goals almost like a rubric. By having something to measure yourself against, you eliminate uncertainty around whether your client will be satisfied with the work you produce. 

2. Outline the project’s deliverables and tasks

The next step in your project scope is for you to outline exactly which deliverables your clients can expect to receive. The more specific you can be here, the more likely you are to have satisfied customers at the end of the project. For example, if you’re a freelance writer, don’t just write “five blog posts” as your deliverables. Instead, consider something like “five keyword-optimized 1,000-word blog posts.” 

By being specific up front, you ensure that your client knows exactly what their budget covers. This allows them to ask for adjustments before you start working, which is key if you’re trying to avoid scope creep. 

3. Allocate resources according to your client’s budget

Once you know the budget you’re working with, outline exactly which portion of the budget will be used for each of your deliverables. If you’re working with other team members, this is also the time to outline exactly how much of the budget will go to each member of the team. 

The allocating-resources step is also the time to be realistic about what a client can afford. Adjust your deliverables, if necessary, to be in line with the budget your client gave you. Although few clients will be upset if you come in a bit under the budget, most—if not all—will have something to say about a project that goes over budget. If you believe that your client’s expectations are out of line with their budget, now is the time to have that tough conversation. 

4. Develop a project timeline and key milestones

Next, develop a timeline for your project, including key milestones. Ideas for milestones include when you’ll send clients a “proof” copy of the deliverables, due dates for when clients need to have information ready for you, and delivery dates for final products. 

Be specific with your timeline, remembering to leave space for unexpected events. As a general rule of thumb, set aside 20% of the amount of time it takes to complete a project as buffer time. This helps account for setbacks—from power outages to clients not providing information on time—without forcing you to change your delivery times or work late into the night. 

5. Identify key stakeholders, dependencies, and roadblocks

One of the biggest things that can set a project back is a project dependency. This is when one aspect of a project can’t be done unless something else is done first. For example, consider a blog post. The content can’t be posted until the writer has created the content and the graphic designer has supplied all of the requisite images. 

As you’re scoping your project, identify where your dependencies are. Also look for other potential roadblocks, such as key stakeholders who may want to voice their opinions at different stages. These are the places where you’re most likely to encounter problems along the way. 

Include information within your project scope about how you’ll handle these potential roadblocks as they emerge. For example, you might outline how long a client has to reply to a proof before you’ll move on to the next step. If they reply after that time elapses, you either won’t be able to take their feedback on board or will have to charge extra. 

Building these systems in before you start your project can save both you and your client a lot of heartache.

6. Provide a project scope statement to your client

The final stage of scoping your project involves sending your project scope statement to your client for approval. Schedule a time for you and your client to go over the project scope statement together so that you can be sure they understand the document completely. This is the time for them to voice any issues they have with the scope. 

Edit the scope as many times as you need so that you and your client are both satisfied with the end result. Then make sure you both sign the project scope statement. This solidifies the commitment to one another and gives you a solid audit trail if there’s a dispute down the road. 

Keep your project scope documents in one place with HoneyBook

Once you’ve developed a scope of work, you need a way to organize it, keep your key dates in mind, and ensure your documents are available if project stakeholders ask for an update. HoneyBook can help. 

As an end-to-end go-to client management platform, HoneyBook can help you keep all of your project scope documents organized and available at the click of a mouse. Business owners can create their own proposals that streamline the booking process by including contracts, invoicing, and payment processing. It’s easy to edit file templates and send them back to clients while collaborating on the final scope. Plus, businesses can maintain all client communication through HoneyBook and schedule meetings – all in one place.

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