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Information Resources

Scoping a Project

February 12, 2013 - Information Resources
Scoping a Project

Part I: Anxiety

It’s going to come to no surprise that writing a scope is a tedious undertaking. The onus of this labor is passed back-and-forth between a client and a project lead, both believing it to be the other’s obligation. But consider a project as an enterprise, much like a small business; a comprehensive production scope is its business plan:

  1. It’s academic writing,
  2. It’s expected to be heavily detailed,
  3. It’s theoretical, ambitious, and yet largely speculative,
  4. It’s subject to both internal and external scrutiny,
  5. It’s demanding of concentration, revision,
  6. and all you really want to do is get started on the fun part—the actualization of your goals.

If you approach the scope as a necessary and beneficial part of pre-production, and use this article as a guideline, any anxiety you may have about this document may become considerably more manageable.

1. It doesn’t have to be academic. You think in incomplete sentences and lists. Chances are good that your production team does too. Consider these excerpts from a hypothetical scope:

User Accounts

Fields: First Name, Last Initial, (Username?), Email Address, Zip Code

Featured Products module

i. 10 per week, chosen by me
ii. Slideshow, slides right-to left, 2s on each
iii. Shows: product image, name and price
iv. Click to view Product Details page

Administration: Reporting
i.    Download weekly report with the following columns

  1. Week Start Date
  2. Week End Date
  3. Number of Items Sold
  4. Average Cost of Items Sold
  5. Total Cost of items Sold
  6. Average Shipping Cost
  7. Total Shipping Cost

2. Scoping is a strategic process, not a visual one. In a visual process, most people are accustomed to starting at the upper-left corner and slowing describing every detail until they reach the bottom-right.  In a strategic process, most people are accustomed to tackling the details differently. Try breaking your scope down from one giant puzzle into two more digestible parts:

  1. The User Experience
  2. The Admin Experience

Once you have two smaller pieces, try breaking each further down into even more simplified components, such as:

i. The End User Experience

  1. Browsing
  2. Creating an Account
  3. Personalizing their Experience
  4. Buying an Item

Suddenly, out of the anxiety, a very clear and meaningful outline starts forming, and all you’ve done is segmented a plot of land into pieces that can be examined simply and separately.

3. A project scope is a good way to organize your goals, but beyond that, it’s a great conversation starter. It doubles as an agenda for a structured and productive call with your development team. For each of their tasks, they’re experts in those fields, so working your way through the scope with them will be enormously helpful in fleshing out the individual items. They’ll offer up their plans for how each task can be achieved, improving your confidence in the production process, minimizing the anxiety you have for the scope, and ultimately transforming the speculation into strategy.

4. Scrutiny is just another way of saying: You’re not quite there yet.

  1. External scrutiny is only going to benefit the overall project’s success, because it introduces new opinions and new aspects that may not have been considered when the scope was originally drafted. It is your prerogative to qualify these opinions, refute what you don’t agree with, and adapt what’s meaningful (to both you and your goals.)
  2. Internal Scrutiny is a process by which we develop doubts about our own decision-making, and can either hinder production, or reinforce our need to gather more information before committing to a decision. It’s one of the biggest sources of anxiety when drafting a scope, but can easily be overcome by simply remembering: a draft is a draft. Your team is going to tell you if they agree with your doubts. Furthermore, they’re going to recommend perhaps unconsidered options more fitting of your needs and free of the internal scrutiny you could have had. Then, cross out that item, replace it with a new one, and you’ve got a new draft, a stronger scope, and no more internal scrutiny.

5. What if you’ve got a vague idea of how this project is going to be realized, but haven’t worked out all the finer details? Should you wait to write your scope until every last detail is imagined?

If you read those two sentences once again, you’ll realize that the answer is in the question. You’re going to discover that the more you revisit your ideas, mentally, the more you’re going to need to organize them on paper, to sort through them. And the more you delay this process [until you can afford the concentration], the more anxiety you build inside for actually committing to the process.

Item #2 (breaking your scope down into smaller parts) in this list is going to give you more confidence in approaching the scope. Don’t worry about details immediately and you’ll find the scoping process a lot less intimidating. Let the bigger-picture objectives pave the way for the more specific ones, and you’ll find that your scope will start scoping itself.

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