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Project Scope vs Requirements in Project Management: Explaining the Difference

When initiating a project, two important concepts that frame and guide the entire project management life cycle are project scope and project requirements. Now it’s common to see these terms used interchangeably, but they are actually different.

In this post, we’ll do a scope vs requirements comparison to explain what each of them really means, the key differences between them, and their respective management plans so that you’ll have a clear understanding of what is being talked about when you see any of the terms used.

Scope vs Requirements Overview

Bottomline Upfront: The main difference between them is that while the project scope outlines the boundaries and deliverables of the project work itself, the requirements detail capabilities needed in the product or service to meet business needs.

Scope pertains to the project to deliver a product, while requirements pertain to the end product. We will explain these differences more in-depth in this article as you read on.

What is Scope in Project Management?

Project scope defines the boundaries of a project and provides a common understanding of what the project entails, what will be delivered, and what won’t be included.

The scope statement is a foundational document that outlines the scope baseline. It includes:

  • Deliverables: the tangible outcomes produced by the project activities. These can be products, services, or results.
  • Milestones: Major project phases and milestones that make up the project lifecycle.
  • Acceptance Criteria: These are the standards that the completed deliverables must meet for sign-off and closure.
  • Project Exclusions: These state explicitly what is outside the boundaries of the project.

Developing the scope statement involves analyzing project requirements, constraints, assumptions, and other factors. It serves as the basis for planning out all project work through the work breakdown structure (WBS).

An unambiguous, well-defined scope sets clear expectations among the project team, sponsors, and stakeholders which enables the project manager to determine the resources, budget, and schedule required.

Monitoring project progress and controlling changes ensures that only approved scope changes are implemented to avoid the undesirable effects of scope creep.

What are Requirements in Project Management?

Project requirements outline the needs a project aims to address and the capabilities it must deliver. They describe the business needs, problems, or opportunities that drive the project.

Requirements are gathered early in the project through elicitation techniques like interviews, surveys, user observations, and workshops. The key is understanding what stakeholders expect the project to accomplish.

Effective requirements exhibit certain characteristics. These are:

  • Complete: All needs are captured to deliver expected benefits
  • Unambiguous: There is no confusion about intent or interpretation
  • Verifiable: They can be validated through testing
  • Realistic: They are technically feasible within constraints
  • Prioritized: They are ranked by importance to focus efforts

Documenting requirements thoroughly is critical. The requirements documentation captures all project needs and acceptance criteria, while the requirements traceability matrix maps each requirement to its originating document and tracks its status.

Solid requirements are the foundation for planning the project scope and deliverables. They provide the benchmark for assessing completion and enable managing stakeholder expectations.

Key Differences Between Project Scope and Requirements

Now let’s do a head-to-head comparison of scope and requirements to highlight the key differences between them:

Purpose

While the project scope describes the boundaries of the project stating what will be delivered and what falls outside the limits, requirements outline capabilities the project must achieve to meet business needs.

Level of Detail

The project scope is typically defined at a high level in the scope statement with detailed work activities elaborated later in the work breakdown structure (WBS).

In contrast, requirements go deep, specifying every capability the product or service must have in precise terms.

Orientation

The project scope focuses on the project work to be done to deliver the end product. Requirements on the other hand focus on the problem detailing what needs or desires must be addressed.

Fluidity

The project scope evolves over the project life cycle and is subject to change control processes, while project requirements are gathered early and baselined to remain largely fixed.

Measurement of Completion

You measure progress against the scope to track project completion while you validate against requirements to determine if stakeholder needs are met.

Planning

The project scope serves as the foundation for planning project activities while requirements are used for product planning and specifications.

Scope Management Plan vs Requirements Management Plan

Managing both the project scope and requirements requires the use of management plans. Let’s compare the management plan for scope and that of requirements:

Scope Management Plan

The scope management plan defines the processes for developing, monitoring, and controlling project scope. It establishes:

  • How the scope statement will be created and baselined
  • Development of the WBS
  • How the WBS will be maintained and approved
  • The process to control requested changes to the scope
  • How deliverable acceptance will be handled
  • How the scope will be verified against requirements

The scope management plan is part of the overall project management plan and provides guidance for the project team to manage scope effectively.

Requirements Management Plan

The requirements management plan outlines the processes for documenting, analyzing, prioritizing, and controlling requirements. Its key components include:

  • How requirements will be elicited, documented, and tracked
  • Traceability structure linking requirements to specific documents
  • How requirements will be categorized and prioritized
  • Process for analyzing requirements to detect conflicts or gaps
  • How requirements changes will be governed after baselining
  • Acceptance criteria that serve as requirements verification
  • Configuration management and auditing of requirements

This plan guides the project team through gathering robust requirements, creating the traceability matrix, and managing changes. It helps establish the protocols to capture requirements, assess technical feasibility, and identify resource needs.

Difference Between Requirements Management and Scope Management

The scope management plan governs the structure, approval, and control of the project scope, and the requirements management plan does the same for requirements.

Scope management focuses on planning and controlling the work itself, while requirements management focuses on gathering, documenting, and managing needs and capabilities. Effective management of both scope and requirements improves the likelihood of project success.

Scope vs Requirements Example

For further clarity, let’s take a look at examples of scope and requirements in project management:

Example of Project Scope

Let’s look at an example project to build a new mobile app for a bakery to facilitate online orders and delivery.

The project scope statement would outline key aspects like:

  • Deliverables: The completed mobile app, testing reports, end-user documentation
  • Phases: Design, development, testing, training, rollout
  • Acceptance Criteria: The app is fully functional on both iOS and Android with no defects. Customers can place, pay for, and receive orders successfully.
  • Exclusions: E-commerce platform, in-store systems integration

From this high-level project scope, a work breakdown structure (WBS) is developed with activities like:

  • Gather end-user requirements
  • Create app architecture
  • Design user interface
  • Develop the app and conduct alpha testing
  • Fix defects and conduct beta testing
  • Develop user manuals and tutorials
  • Deploy app on app stores

Example of Project Requirements

The requirements documentation for the mobile app contains what capabilities it needs to deliver, such as:

  • App compatible with the latest iOS and Android versions
  • Intuitive, user-friendly interface
  • Browse full bakery product catalog with filters
  • Add/remove items from online shopping cart
  • Registered users can save delivery address
  • Checkout with shopping cart total, tax, and delivery fee calculated
  • Accept payments securely via credit card and PayPal
  • Provide order status updates via in-app notifications
  • Delivery tracking from restaurant to customer address
  • Meet performance benchmarks for response time

The project manager in this scenario is to carefully review these requirements to ensure nothing is missed during the planning process. Verifying all requirements are met ensures stakeholder satisfaction once the delivered mobile app is put into production.

Conclusion

Defining project scope and gathering requirements thoroughly are critical steps in the project planning phase.

A clear scope sets expectations for project execution and product delivery. Comprehensive requirements ensure you build the right product to meet business needs.

Understanding the differences in purpose, detail, and focus between scope and requirements will make you a more effective project manager.

Leverage the scope and requirements management plans to control changes and deliverables.

FAQs

Does Scope or Requirements Come First?

Requirements come before scope. Requirements are gathered first to understand what capabilities stakeholders need, then those requirements are analyzed to develop the project scope and plan the work.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified Project Management professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced Project Managers and Business Analysts the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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