Project Managers Aren’t the Only People Who Define Scope

The Importance of Scope on a Documentation Project

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), the scope of a project is the work to be done on that project. The scope of a project is generally defined using a work breakdown structure (WBS) allowing the user to set goals, objectives, priorities, and deadlines making a project manageable. Knowing the exact scope provides the ability to create detailed cost estimation.

Defining the scope of a project so that all aspects of the project are determined and tracked to completion is not only important to make sure the project is on time and on budget, but also that all changes are properly managed. Change management can make or break a project as it can affect costs, schedule, and the deliverable itself. This may sound like a lot of work, but on large projects with extensive resources, tracking a project makes all the difference in how successful the result is.

What does this have to do with technical writing? All documentation projects need project scope clearly defined. A clear and detailed definition of the deliverable, especially larger projects such as extensive manuals, websites, and long-term documentation changes can help eliminate project overages and decrease project failure risk. What does that mean?

Scope creep and Project Completion Risk – Even Small Projects Can Suffer

If a documentation project, especially a larger one, isn’t clearly defined and tracked, it can lead to scope creep. According to the PMBOK, scope creep means adding features/functionality (to the project scope) without addressing the effects on time, costs, and resources. Scope creep can lead to project failure. If expectations for the project owner and all stakeholders are clearly agreed upon, stakeholders will know what they are getting upon project completion, which means it is easier to keep a project on time and within budget.

“Scope creep: Adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorized (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope)” (Larson, & Larson, 2009, para. 4).

What should a technical writer watch out for? Lack of planning. Problematic project definitions such as incomplete requirements, lack of communication between stakeholders, lack of resources, failure to reach project milestones, schedule issues, lack of change management, quality control issues, indecision regarding the deliverables, and unrealistic expectations increase project completion risk.  

Defining project scope is important on any scale documentation project because it provides a clearly defined baseline plan of project objectives, schedule targets, and budget estimates negotiated at the start of a project. Preventing scope creep on documentation projects, or preventing your projects from going over budget and overtime without controls, helps you achieve your goals of completing the project as agreed. Once a documentation project scope is determined, get sign-off on the written scope statement from the primary stakeholders. Follow up by staying on top of changes, schedule, budget, and resources.

Additional Reading

Project Management Institute: Top five causes of scope creep … and what to do about them –


Larson, R. & Larson, E. (2009). Top five causes of scope creep … and what to do about them. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2009—North America, Orlando, FL. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Lu Kondor has worked as a technical writer for more than 20 years for major corporations. She has a Doctorate in Business Management and has worked in a large variety of organizations including entertainment, software, electric utility, manufacturing, oil and gas, chemical, and nuclear process industries. She is an adjunct lecturer in Advanced Technical Writing as well as Information Design for more than 14 years.

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