Manage project scope using MS Project 2010

-- Vivek Prakash

Project Scope

Defining and controlling project scope play a critical role in project success. Scope is on one side of the triple constraints triangle. Scope come first as time and cost both depend upon scope. If scope is not defined correctly, time and cost are bound to be wrong.

If you look at the reasons for the project failure, poorly defined scope will top the list. Scope basically define what needs to be done on the project. Every things in the project is based on this information. The estimates, time line, cost, quality can be defined as good as the scope is.

Why is there a lack of clarity in the scope of the project? The first challenge is that the scope is defined in the beginning of the project when information about project is limited. Tendency of jumping on the execution quickly and not focusing on planning is the second major one. Not doing enough detailing of the scope lead to inappropriate requirement gathering. Not signing off defined scope with client and absence of a good change management system lead to scope creep.

To overcome these challenges, it is important that project managers must give enough emphasis on planning and define the scope meticulously as a first step. To define precise scope, WBS is a commonly used tool.

WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) techniques is a method of decomposing projects deliverables into smaller more manageable pieces. Main project deliverable is decomposed into smaller deliverables, which are further subdivided into sub-deliverables. We continue doing this process until we reach to a stage where we find a deliverable/sub-deliverable big enough to be easily managed, estimated, planned and limited resources can be assigned. There is no ground rule for what is …

manageable, it depends upon size of the project and experience of project management team. WBS helps in defining the scope as detailed as possible. Only caution is that do not sub-divide to a level, it becomes a management overhead.

MS Project supports defining the scope using WBS at a detailed level. In MS Project 2010, you can define WBS to a depth comfortable to you. A new feature manually scheduled task in MS Project 2010 allows to define WBS items even without complete information. You can also plan from top to bottom like the way you define WBS on paper. These features allow to define scope more realistically, without changing your practices and detailing in the beginning when you don’t have complete information.

Once you are through with the scope, it is necessary that it gets reviewed internally and externally and when stakeholders agree to the scope, you should baseline. A baseline scope is a scope that is signed off with your user/client. Baseline is important for a good change management system and tracking the changes later. If you have not baseline the scope, your change management system will merely be a showpiece and scope creep is unavoidable.

Now when a change (addition or deletion in the signed off scope) is requested, MS Project will help you to assess the impact on current plan and incorporate the change. When you add additional scope in the MS Project, it gives you a platform to understand the impact in terms of time, cost and resources. Ideally you need to add time as well as cost to the project for maintaining the balance. However if you cannot add time, you can work out how many additional resources you need to finish the project in same time and if this is feasible. On the other side if you do not have resources, you can calculate how much you need to extend the project. Projects are complex and if a project is of reasonable size, intuition and only experience do not work. You must have a tool (like MS Project) using which you can balance the various dimensions or be ready for a fire fighting at the time of delivery, delays, partial delivery, defects etc.

As I mentioned earlier, scheduler like MS Project are available in all EPM however if cost is one of the hurdle, you can use open source tool. Scope definition and baseline can be done fairly. You can reasonably play around to workout impact of the change.