Reading Time: 4 minutes
I’m in the middle of planning my second family wedding in less than a year. Unopened wedding presents still sit in my house from the first one as I get ready to meet with the groom’s parents to discuss the next wedding – only four months away.  Weddings aren’t that much different from many other business projects – except for the ceremony part.

While you’ll never hear the wedding party utter the word scope, the need to identify it is still a factor when it comes to a wedding. Before I sign a contract for an expensive band, I need to know if I’m hosting an engagement party. Before we decide on whether to invite 350 people, or only 100, I need to understand what kind of vision the bride and groom have for the wedding.

It’s the same with all kinds of projects – you can get into a lot of trouble if you start executing without understanding the scope of the entire project.

In the construction world, we seem to understand this. No reputable contractor would start digging the foundation before they had detailed plans and the necessary permits. But in the IT world, we’ve become “agile” and there seems to be less talk about the scope of the full project. We just keep adding features, without really thinking about the end game. Sometimes, perhaps, this can work. But I’ve seen too many examples of times when companies would have been well-served if they had understood the end-game, and thought ahead just a little more.

So, in this blog, I’ll offer some suggestions for how to identify scope before you get into execution. Yes, people may be impatient and want to get started, but resist the urge until you have the scope nailed down.

Identify the key stakeholders.

It may not seem like this is related to your scope, but until you understand who the key players are, it’s dangerous to finalize the scope.

Let’s take a project that has been in the Richmond, Virginia news recently. A company, Bird Rides Inc., of Santa Monica, California, dropped dozens of “dockless” electric rental scooters on the streets without any authorization from the City. Almost immediately, the Department of Public Works began impounding them.

Bird Rides is a company started by a former Uber executive and the app allows users to locate a scooter, unlock it, use it, and leave it wherever it is convenient. Hence, the term “dockless”.

Perhaps Bird thought that bad press was better than no press. I don’t know the financial implication of this strategy, but they’ve used it before with mixed results – and the next chapter of this story remains to be written.

Whether you’re planning a wedding, construction project, IT project, or major launch in a new city, understanding the key stakeholders in any project needs to happen sooner, rather than later. And it might help you identify your scope.

Understand the vision, or the end-game.

One question here might be the time frame. There is clearly a move towards shorter projects for good reason. Our world is changing so rapidly that it often makes no sense to be talking about five-year projects. Can you break it down into multiple projects? It just depends on what you’re doing.

If your project is to build your dream home, you can plan out all of the important pieces before you start. Depending on your budget, you may research all kinds of higher-end features, since this is your dream home. If your project is to relocate one of your medical teams to a new location for three years until a new medical center is finished, you’ll likely be cautious about spending monies on higher end features, since it’s a temporary relocation.

On business projects, make sure your vision, or end-game, accounts for how you will measure the benefits from your project investment.

On business projects, make sure your vision, or end-game, accounts for how you will measure the benefits from your project investment. Click To Tweet

Delete scope that doesn’t contribute to that vision.

It is so easy to think your project needs to include everything. Focus on the 20% that will give you the 80% return on your investment. Delete the scope pieces that don’t contribute to your vision, and document your scope exclusions. Understanding what you are not going to do is just as important as understanding what you are going to do.

Document each area of scope as a user story.

For those unfamiliar with user stories, I have written about them here. I love thinking about scope inclusions as user stories. It’s even true with weddings.

The phrase “so that” is very powerful. We will host an engagement party SO THAT the parents’ friends and family can meet the bride or groom. We will hire a very engaging band so that our guests have a great time. Contrast those statements with these. We will host an engagement party so that the bridal party has a chance for a celebration together before the big weekend. Or, we will hire a DJ because we want better control over the play list during the evening.

Consider your budget.

For most of us, our budget will drive scope. Few people and businesses have unlimited resources. So, as you begin to create your scope, assess the projected cost of each component. Delete scope pieces that you can’t afford.

Are you working to identify scope on a new project, and struggling? Give me a call.