Project success starts with a strong scope of work

An in-depth article about the importance of scopes of work, with practical strategies to get the most out of these critical documents.
Gillian Laging
7 min

Project success starts with a strong scope of work

We’ve worked on hundreds of projects, and have first-hand experience of the impact these magic documents can have on project success or failure. 

Getting agreement at this stage is easier than figuring out what was/wasn’t included down the track. So, here’s a few pointers to creating a strong scope of work.

6 Things to remember when writing your scope of work

  1. What's not included matters: Defining what's not included is as important as what is included. Prevent scope creep and misunderstandings by setting the right expectations from the start.
  1. Showcase the value of exclusions: Make it easy for clients to add work later if they change their mind. Maintaining visibility of exclusions highlights their value from the beginning. This reduces the chance of those changes biting you as scope creep and fosters a positive and collaborative relationship with your client.
  1. Make it easy to capture change requests: Prepare for project changes so you don’t feel like you have to work for free when you’re already under pressure. When you do throw in some free extras, demonstrating their value is great for client relationships and can also help highlight where your business has room to grow. 
  1. Keep communication transparent: Open communication is paramount during projects. By keeping your clients in the loop you’ll build trust and they’ll be less likely to hassle you for every small detail. A client communication portal like Scopey centralises discussions, documents, project updates and approvals.
  1. Maintaining client-contractor relationships: While you may want to be known as helpful and easy to work with, you can do this without working for free. Managing client requests professionally through Scopey's communication portal will improve project outcomes while ensuring your time is valued.
  1. A good scope of work is good for you and the client: By maintaining good scope management practices, it will become easier to deliver high-quality projects consistently. Burning yourself out by managing scopes of work and scope changes manually is just going to reduce the quality of what you do and reduce client satisfaction.

Those six points should help you make a good start, but read on for a more detailed overview of this important process.

Let’s get  serious about creating a strong scope of work:

After your initial client conversations where you’ve dug into the problems to solve, but before you seal the deal and get to work, there’s a critical step you need to take first. As tempting as it is to jump into getting the work done, creating a detailed scope of work will mean better outcomes for everyone.

Your scope of work will establish the boundaries of your project and serve as a guide for yourself, your team (if you have one), the client, and all the peripheral players that are big on ideas and low on budget. Without a well-defined scope, it’s impossible to deliver the intended results—because there are none. You might get lucky for a while, until you don’t. Even if you think you understand the goals and objectives, can you be sure that other people do? 

Don’t stake your financial and mental health on assuming everyone is on the same page.

An illustration of the three pillars of a successful project: Business goals, scope of work and project strategy.

A scope of work aligns the project objectives with the strategy and goals of your client.

In cases where you have a sneaking suspicion there’s not much of a strategy behind a project, the scope of work is even more important! Getting agreement on the project objectives will save you from people shifting the goalposts. 

In cases where the project is serving an organisation’s strategy, demonstrating how the project will support the strategy will help secure support and resources necessary for the project’s success.

Once you’ve established why the project is being undertaken and what it needs to achieve, you can begin defining the project inclusions and deliverables. This is the core part of your scope of work and should establish the project boundaries, i.e. the parameters for what is and isn’t included in the project. And what is excluded is just as important as what is included, so don’t rely on omission to make that clear—note down all the things that you could but won’t be doing. 

An illustration of the impact scope creep can have on a project: needing additional time, additional budget, or additional staff.
Mitigate these risks with a strong scope of work.

Writing a scope of work is an activity in risk management. 

While you’re defining the project inclusions, keep in mind the way the project could go sideways and how you might minimise those risks and their impact. This is especially important for complex projects, which may have multiple stakeholders and dependencies. Mitigation strategies could include additional budget, the timing of milestones, specifying the number of revisions included in the quote, and dozens of other tactics depending on the type of project.

Then, consider how the scope can help you manage expectations—and your expectations are just as important as the client’s. If resources or feedback are required within a certain time frame, make sure that is understood. Make it clear what the timeline is, what  your project milestones are, how frequently you’ll communicate and through what channels, and how and when you will invoice. 

An illustration of new requests being added to a scope of work.

Deviations from the scope will happen. So make it easy to capture them! 

Changes made while the project is underway can completely push things off the rails. Ultimately, the client will have the final say on the inclusions and any deviations, but you as the service provider still need to keep the project under control. Having a clear process to capture change requests will save confusion about who has approved what, and what impact that will have on the final cost. 

Commonly used processes for change control are too slow for modern projects, and when you’re juggling multiple clients and multiple dependencies it can be easier to do it for free. This is where Scopey can make a huge difference because it’s a totally new and much more effective way to manage change. While many businesses are happy to make small changes for free, it’s important to quantify the value you’re providing. This will help demonstrate how you go above and beyond, instead of doing the work only to find your client doesn’t value it—without visibility it’s just part of the package. It can also help identify trends in the work that you do, and if you find yourself doing many similar change requests for free, it’s time to begin pricing them into future projects or offering them as value-adds.

An illustration that represents a project using up the budget and how/when to communicate that with clients.

Vanquish nasty surprises with communication and transparency.

When you’re under the pump, it can be easy to forget to provide an update or to clarify some details you’re not 100% sure about. But, maintaining project transparency should be baked into your process. If there’s a misunderstanding, or the budget looks like it won’t be adequate, the earlier you get on to it, the better. 

For example, if you’re working on a project that is billed by the hour (rather than a fixed rate) let your client know when they’ve reached 80% of their budget and not when it runs out. If any hard decisions need to be made about inclusions, they’ve got a bit of wiggle room. 

Record-keeping is also important, but again, it’s about keeping it as easy as possible because you don’t want to spend all your time on admin. A system like Scopey that automatically keeps track of who has asked what and who has approved what is a great way to keep tabs on approved scope changes without trawling through email chains and Slack messages. 

It’s always frustrating being left in the dark. So full transparency over the project status, inclusions and budget can do the communication heavy-lifting for you.

So, at what point do you need a scope of work? 

Our advice is that you should have one for every project, big or small. You can tailor your scopes of work to suit your project complexity and pricing structure, and they’re just as valuable for people who quote one flat rate as well as for those that break it down by line item. Ultimately, it’s about ensuring everyone is working towards the same goals, and that any misunderstandings or conflicts can be quickly resolved.

Scopes of work can be a lot of work, but you can simplify the process with software and consistent processes. The more you do it, the more business intelligence you will build up and it will be easier to identify and go after the projects that are right for you. 

The great news is that Scopey is designed to make this process easy.

Scopey will be released soon. Sign up for our waitlist, we may even provide you with beta access. 

A button saying "escape the curse of unbilled time".