Before the project life cycle even begins, the Project Manager thinks about the scope of the project. He analyzes customer requirements and expectations, juxtaposes them with available resources and confronts them with time constraints. As a result, he can define the scope of the project well. However, even an exemplary performance of this task is not a guarantee that the scope of the project will grow excessively during implementation. So how to define the project scope well and avoid scope creep?

How to define the scope of a project and avoid scope creep? – table of contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Defining the scope of the project
  3. Understanding requirements
  4. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
  5. Priorities for risky tasks
  6. The Last Responsible Moment (LRM)
  7. How to avoid scope creep?
  8. Summary


According to the PMBOK, the project scope is “the work that needs to be accomplished to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions.” For the project outcome to meet stakeholder expectations and the project itself to be successful, you have to define the scope as precisely as possible.

Defining the scope of the project

The Project Manager should check at the outset that the planned project has clearly defined the following areas:

  • business and technical requirements of stakeholders,
  • labor division structure,
  • priorities for the tasks with the highest risk, i.e., those that are the most innovative or take place for the first time,
  • agreed with stakeholders on a “last responsible moment” (LRM, Last Responsible Moment) approach.

Let’s take a look at what questions a Project Manager should answer when defining each of them.

Understanding the requirements

The Project Manager should answer the following questions by playing the role of a stakeholder for a moment:

  1. What are the financial and non-financial benefits of this project? – Financial benefits may refer to sales of the product or service created in the project. However, the benefit can also be the improvement of the company’s image, the effectiveness of onboarding, or the implementation of new software to facilitate project management, such as Firmbee.
  2. Who will be affected by the implementation of the project? – Project implementation involves changes inside and outside the organization. Therefore, it is worth asking more specific questions:
  3. a. Will the implementation of the project tasks require reorganization within the company, changing the responsibilities of employees, hiring new people or working with freelancers?

    b. Will the results of the project be visible in the public space and have an impact on the local community?

    c. Who will benefit from its implementation?

  4. What needs should the project results meet?
  5. What technical specifications should the project results have?

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Creating a structure for the division of labor in a project involves answering hierarchically arranged questions:

  1. What is the main purpose of implementing the project?
  2. What are the specific objectives?
  3. Into which task are the specific objectives divided?
  4. When should the goals and objectives be met?
  5. Which specialists will be entrusted with each of them?

Only the main objective should remain completely unchanged. On the other hand, the answers to questions 2 through 5 are detailed and clarified in the course of the project.

Priorities for risky tasks

The most important questions about risky tasks are related to their accurate identification and determining how risk areas may affect the scope of the project.

  1. Which tasks have the highest risk of failure?
  2. On what factors does the success of each of these tasks depend? It could be the availability of materials, specialists, or, in the case of R&D projects, the hard-to-predict results of research and experiments, such as the curve of improving the accuracy of an artificial intelligence model during machine learning.
  3. What impact will the failure of this task have on the rest of the project?
  4. How will the prolonged performance of this task affect the ability to achieve the project goal?
  5. By how much can we increase the scope of the project to accomplish this task?

The Last Responsible Moment (LRM)

Prioritizing tasks is closely related to the Last Responsible Moment (LRM) principle, also known as the principle of the least opportune moment.

It is a risk minimization strategy of postponing tasks until it is riskier to continue postponing them than to complete them immediately. It avoids wasting effort when a task turns out to be unnecessary or changes are made to project goals or requirements.

This principle, derived from the Lean methodology, is also applied to decisions that are conclusive for the project and difficult to change, such as:

  • Purchase of specialized equipment that will be needed for further stages of project implementation,
  • Designing the structure of the objectives to be fulfilled by the tasks to be carried out.

The questions that a Manager operating according to the LRM principle should ask himself can be formulated as follows:

  • Is it necessary to start working on the task already?
  • What happens if I postpone the task?
  • What will be the consequences of taking a decision too late?
  • What could be the consequences of making a decision too early? For example, discovering later that it is unnecessary or that requirements have changed, the solution is not used or the business value has become obsolete.
scope of a project

How to avoid scope creep?

Even the best-planned projects tend to grow (scope creep) during their implementation, e.g. a product that was originally supposed to have two features is now suddenly going to have six. To avoid this, the Project Manager should establish a safe scope creep with the stakeholders. The basis for minimizing project scope creep is – in addition to defining the scope of tasks and business expectations – ongoing communication with the team and stakeholders. However, the most important defenses against scope creep are:

  • A well-prepared schedule,
  • Efficient use of task scheduling software and communication with the team,
  • Informing all interested parties about key changes in the project.

It is also worth remembering that avoiding scope creep is an ongoing process. Therefore, the scope of the project needs regular monitoring and control, and the Project Manager should stay put to react quickly and make decisions when situations arise that could lead to scope creep.


The project scope is a key element of a well-planned project, as it clearly defines what should be implemented and what is not included in the project.

The task of the Project Manager, therefore, is to define the scope of the project before work begins by:

  • Analysis of customer requirements and expectations,
  • Juxtaposing them with available resources, and
  • Confronting time constraints.

However, even a well-defined project scope can change during implementation. To avoid project scope sprawl, known as scope creep, stick to a work breakdown structure, carefully prioritize risky tasks, and use a “Last Responsible Moment” approach.

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How to define the scope of a project and avoid scope creep? | #36 Getting started with project management caroline becker avatar 1background

Author: Caroline Becker

As a Project Manager, Caroline is an expert in finding new methods to design the best workflows and optimize processes. Her organizational skills and ability to work under time pressure make her the best person to turn complicated projects into reality.

Getting started with project management:

  1. What is a project?
  2. What is project management?
  3. How to manage projects?
  4. Project management methods
  5. Types of projects
  6. 4 examples of projects
  7. Prioritization of projects
  8. Areas of project activity
  9. Definition of success in project management
  10. Why use project management software?
  11. How to choose the best project management software?
  12. Overview of project management software
  13. Project life cycle
  14. What is the project vision for?
  15. Project goal. What is it and how to define it well?
  16. Project initiation phase - what to pay attention to?
  17. The domain of planning in project management
  18. What is a project schedule and what is it for?
  19. How to use milestones in a project?
  20. Project execution
  21. How to prepare a successful project contingency plan?
  22. Importance of project closure
  23. Project failure. 5 reasons why projects fail
  24. 4Ps of management: project, product, program and portfolio
  25. Most important tasks and responsibilities of the Project Manager
  26. Most useful project manager skills
  27. How to become a project manager?
  28. 5 books every project manager should read
  29. How to set up a project team?
  30. Work breakdown structure - how to delegate work in a project?
  31. How to lead a team during hybrid work?
  32. Challenges project managers face when working with a team
  33. Types of project meetings
  34. Project monitoring. What parameters to watch?
  35. How to write a compelling
  36. How to define the scope of a project and avoid scope creep?
  37. Feasibility study – can we implement this project?
  38. Risk analysis in projects and tools to facilitate it
  39. How to create a project charter?
  40. What is a stakeholder register?
  41. Gantt chart in project management planning
  42. How to create a project budget?
  43. Time management in project
  44. How to create a project risk register?
  45. Project risk management strategies
  46. Project marketing
  47. Sources and areas of change in the project
  48. Project management change models
  49. What's after Agile? Methods in project management