Scope smart, succeed strong: The crucial role of project scoping

For the majority of projects that fail, the route cause lies in three areas:

  1. Poor scoping and requirement definition
  2. Not being able to mobilise the right team with the necessary skills and expertise
  3. Ineffective governance and project controls

In this article we’ll focus on the first of these – poor scoping.

The scoping phase of any project is the most critical. It either sets you up for success or becomes the cracks in the foundation that will continue to destabilise your project.

If projects are not scoped well, it leads to significant wastage in time and money in either patch up work and superficial fixes of the symptoms, or serious invasive surgery to try and cure the problem entirely.

To avoid the pitfalls of rushing into execution, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the potential challenges that may arise on both the client and freelancer sides. On the client’s side, the desire to jump right into the project can stem from well-intended enthusiasm, a belief that the project has already been adequately scoped, or internal pressure to produce quick results. Similarly, on the freelancer side, the rush may be driven by a lack of confidence to challenge clients and limited expertise in conducting effective scoping processes, thus struggling to demonstrate the value of such processes to the client.

A significant issue that many freelancers face is when clients fail to recognise the importance of the scoping phase, leading to a reluctance to invest in it. Consequently, freelancers are left with a difficult choice: either engaging in unpaid work to compensate or forging ahead with the project, knowing that they lack a solid starting point to confidently proceed and meet the client’s expectations. By recognising these potential pitfalls and emphasising the significance of comprehensive scoping, both clients and freelancers can establish a strong foundation for successful project execution.

Importance of scoping for clients

  • Helps achieve one version of the truth

In larger organsations, achieving strategic alignment across different business verticals and functional stakeholders can be challenging. During projects, stakeholders often have varying views, priorities, and agendas, which can lead to conflicts and difficulties for the project team. This is why scoping is a critical process to identify and resolve these conflicts before project initiation.

Through scoping, stakeholders can achieve an agreed-upon view of the project scope, even if it means not everyone gets exactly what they want. This alignment fosters a collaborative environment where everyone is working towards a shared vision, ensuring that the project is set up for success from the outset. It ensures stakeholders are engaged, provides clarity to the project team, and facilitates easier measurement of success.

  • Ensure business readiness to initiate the project

Feasibility: Before proceeding further in a project, it is crucial to determine the scale, complexity, capacity, and capability required for the project. This process of scoping provides an initial understanding of the potential size and impact of the initiative. It helps gauge the time, cost, and whether the business has the necessary resources and capability to support the project. This insight prevents wasting time on initiatives that may later be halted or paused due to costs or scale beyond the organisation’s capacity.

Internal impacts and resource requirements: Scoping serves as the initial stage for assessing the project’s impact on people, processes, and technology within the organisation. It identifies the business components that will be directly impacted, require contribution, or need to be informed about the project. This evaluation helps define the stakeholders (both internal and on-demand) who should be involved, the systems that need consideration, and potential cultural implications. Scoping helps identify if the required stakeholders are already overwhelmed and lack capacity, if the systems are undergoing significant changes, or if people and processes are still recovering from recent disruptions, it may not be the right time to pursue the project.

Ability to leverage outcomes effectively: It is vital that once the project is successfully delivered, the organisation can effectively leverage the outcomes to realise the intended benefits. Often, projects succeed in isolation, but the deliverables are not ready to be incorporated or rolled out by the business.

Many projects end up with outputs that remain unused on shelves, awaiting implementation or adoption.

Even with significant investments, only limited return on investment (ROI) can be achieved if the last stage of fully implementing and realising the benefits is not followed through. Incomplete solutions from “half deliveries” can create inefficiencies and workarounds, as legacy processes, products, or systems still need to be maintained instead of replaced.

  • More productive engagement with relevant external talent

Being absolutely clear and aligned on your requirements, what is in and out of scope, the desired outcomes and strategic purpose/objectives prior to engaging any external consultants is essential in both building the right execution team with the right capabilities and setting them up for success. The whole process becomes easier from working out what internal and external expertise is required, assessing and selecting these individuals, giving them clarity and focus on what is expected so that they can execute effectively and then governing and managing project progress. This also allows freelancers/consultants to provide accurate proposals, pricing and timelines and therefore avoids expectation gaps post initiation.

Importance of scoping for freelancers

  • Show your value, build rapport and create shared accountability

Collaborative scoping workshops with clients, involving all relevant stakeholders, facilitates the achievement of consensus. This approach fosters shared accountability and prevents future blame shifting. Moreover, it cultivates rapport and establishes a team dynamic rather than a traditional client-supplier relationship. The client is actively encouraged to think, participate, contribute, and become an integral part of the project instead of being on the sidelines. Conducting these sessions also enables a freelancer to showcase their expertise, knowledge, and cultural compatibility. Proficiency in conducting highly engaging, interactive, and productive scoping sessions sets you apart.

  • Avoid expectation gaps and ambiguity

The scoping process plays a crucial role in minimising conflicts between clients and external partners by addressing expectation mismatches. It brings clarity and ensures alignment on the project’s purpose, execution, and deliverables, starting from the proposal stage.

An effective scope empowers freelancers to create detailed and accurate proposals, including appropriate pricing and sizing.

By developing a single, accurate proposal as requirements become clearer, freelancers save time and can evaluate the client’s commitment early on.

The scope document serves as a foundation throughout project execution. It helps maintain focus by reminding stakeholders of the original objectives and prevents deviations. Additionally, it provides a reference point to resolve future disagreements regarding project delivery.

Baselining the “current state” through the scope allows for proper measurement of project impact and success criteria. Collecting relevant data before starting work eliminates debates and subjectivity when assessing desired outcomes. This approach keeps the project team focused on delivering progress rather than spending energy on proving it.

  • Scope creep

Effective scoping plays a crucial role in preventing scope creep, which refers to uncontrolled expansion of project scope beyond its original boundaries. By defining and documenting the project scope upfront, the scoping process helps establish clear boundaries and expectations for all stakeholders involved.

Moreover, scoping involves establishing a change management process. This process outlines how changes to the project scope will be evaluated, approved, and incorporated. By having a structured mechanism in place, it becomes easier to assess whether a requested change aligns with the project’s objectives and whether it warrants adjusting the scope. This prevents ad-hoc additions or modifications that can lead to scope creep.

By proactively addressing potential scope creep risks, projects can stay on track, delivering the agreed-upon objectives on time within the defined scope.

Scoping meetings for clients and consultants – before, during and after

In summary: What makes a good scope?


  • Context / as is state / background
  • Purpose and objectives
  • Activities and requirements in scope and out of scope
  • Structure/phasing
  • Client sponsor and involved stakeholders
  • Success criteria / deliverables / outputs
  • budget, desired timelines
  • Technical information and data as well as narrative
  • Examples of desired outputs
  • Stimulus such as relevant market trends or example case studies
  • Expertise/capability is needed to deliver the scope
  • Next steps, what will happen after the project is delivered


  • Tells a story, answers the key questions of Why? What? and When? The How is what the proposals should cover.
  • Structured and framework driven
  • All relevant stakeholders involved and contributing
  • Final consensus achieved
  • Co-created with client and formally signed-off
  • Concise and clear language – avoid death by PowerPoint
  • Identify challenges identified, potential risks, assumptions made

Mastering the art of scoping is challenging, but by incorporating the essential points covered in this article, you’re on the right path. Achieving a well-defined scope with clear alignment between clients and freelancers is a significant step towards ensuring successful outcomes. Ultimately, this is the desired objective for all stakeholders.