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How to Define Where Your Project Starts and Stops

2 of 5 in Series: The Essentials of Defining Your Project

Sometimes the project you're managing stands alone, but, more often, it’s one part of related efforts to achieve a common result. Manage the project by clearly defining the beginning and end to help you avoid duplicating the work of other related projects, and, where appropriate, coordinate your efforts with theirs.

Your description of your project’s scope of work should specify clearly where your project starts and where it ends. Suppose your project is to develop a new product for your organization. You may frame your project’s scope description as follows:

This project entails designing, developing, and testing a new product.

If you feel your statement is in any way ambiguous, you may clarify your scope further by stating what you will not do:

This project won’t include finalizing the market requirements or launching the new product.

To make sure your project’s scope of work description is clear, do the following:

  • Check for hidden inferences. Suppose your boss has asked you to design and develop a new product. Check to be sure she doesn’t assume you’ll also perform the market research to determine the new product’s characteristics.

  • Use words that clearly describe intended activities. Suppose your project entails the implementation of a new information system. Are you sure that everyone defines implementation in the same way? For instance, do people expect it to include installing the new software, training people to use it, evaluating its performance, fixing problems with it, or something else?

  • Confirm your understanding of your project’s scope with your project’s drivers and supporters.

    For example, say you have an assignment to prepare for the competitive acquisition of certain equipment and you develop a plan to include the selection of the vendor, award of the contract, and production and delivery of the equipment. You prepare a project estimate of six months and $500,000. But your boss expects it to take less than two months and cost less than $25,000.

    Stop and reassess. It could be the case that your only job is to select the potential vendor, not actually place the order and have the equipment manufactured and delivered.

    The question isn’t whether the company plans to buy the equipment. (Certainly the intention to buy the equipment is the reason for the project.) The real question is whether your project or a different project in the future would purchase the equipment.

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