Reading Time: 3 minutes

When I watch a team of professionals getting started on a new project the team can sometimes wear out before it has even defined project scope. People are threatening to quit because they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. Things change every week and it feels daunting. In this blog, I provide five tips to help your teams.

When a team has been formed to solve a problem that no one has tackled before, it can be challenging to define the scope. Frequently, the client (or the management team) doesn’t know what it wants, except in very abstract ways. The project may be completely new and foreign to everyone involved. It just takes time to figure out what the client needs and how to provide it.

In a Scrum environment, the scope is allowed to evolve as the product manager re-prioritizes the work after every sprint. In the business world, where budgets are critical, that’s nearly impossible. Executives simply need to know what the work will cost and yet, no one really knows what the work really is. So, how can teams get clarity on scope?

Write things down.

Memories are short. People hear what they want to hear. The spoken word is fleeting. As you try to define your activities, write down a clear explanation of what is needed. Don’t write a book; make it clear and concise. This document will evolve. You won’t get it all right on day one.

Break the project down into the essential but necessary activities.

Each activity should represent a work package with a deliverable that the client (or your management) understands and has agreed to fund. The description needs to clearly describe exactly what this deliverable looks like. Is it a detailed Excel analysis, a Word executive summary, a PDF’d marketing brochure that is ready for printing, a Powtoons video ready for posting on YouTube? Understand what “done” means.

Define activities in sizes that can be completed in a matter of days, not weeks.

I’ve written before on the problem of estimating percent complete on projects where progress is not observable. If your activities are going to take weeks to finish, the client is going to be tempted to ask how you are coming. It’s only natural that they want to know about progress. If you break your project down into activities that can be completed in a reasonable time frame, there are two benefits:

  • You get feedback from the client before spending too much money.
  • You set your team up for small wins, which builds momentum.

Set up your project so that your team can achieve small wins. Click To Tweet

Ask for templates and recommended deliverable formats.

Most organizations that you will work with didn’t start yesterday. They have some systems in place. If they already have a policy manual, there is probably a template for writing new policies. If you’ve been hired to take over a marketing account, find out what has worked before, and what hasn’t worked.

Include scope exclusions

In every project, there will be things that you can’t include. Write those scope exclusions down. When you are defining an activity, don’t hesitate to include what the final deliverable does NOT include. The more clarity the better.

Defining scope means knowing what you are going to do, as well as what you are NOT going to do. Click To Tweet

Are your teams exhausted before they have even defined project scope? Trying to define project scope on innovative projects is hard. I hope these tips help. If you need more help, check out these coaching packages or give me a call.