In scope vs. out of scope explained (and why it matters)

In this post, I’ll explain the meaning of in scope vs. out of scope, a term you often hear about in the context of project management.

As you are probably know already, every project has what is called ‘scope’. Put simply, scope defines the boundaries of a project: what the project should take care of and it should provide in terms of output. For a deeper look at the meaning of scope, read my introductory article about project scope.

As project leaders, we’ll have thorough discussions with the client and stakeholders to come up with a clear scope definition. And we confirm the scope by documenting our agreement in written form, either in a separate scope document or in the project charter.

So much about the term of scope.

Now let’s talk about in scope vs. out of scope.

In scope vs. Out of scope explained

If we say something is in scope, it means that a specific job or deliverable falls under the project’s responsibilities. It means, we have to do it! 

To give you an example: Imagine you are managing a construction project for building a house. Of course, the client would like to have electricity in all rooms. Therefore, you offered to do the electrical wiring. So the electrical wiring is in scope. You’ll take care of it and you charge the client for the service and all the materials used for the wiring.

Now let’s talk about out of scope and its meaning. We will again use the house construction example from above, but with the following twist: 

Suppose the client (and future home owner) has communicated to you that he would like to do the electrical wiring of the house by himself, because he enjoys tinkering with electrical stuff and he can also save a few thousand bucks this way. That means your project is not responsible for the electrical wiring anymore. We can also say: Electrical wiring is out of scope and it will also be excluded from the cost estimation.

Note the following: To say that some job is ‘out of scope’ does not necessarily mean that it will be completely skipped. Like in our project example, somebody has to do the electrical wiring of the house. But if our client decides to so that wiring himself, this means electrical wiring is out of scope from a project perspective!

The following graphic captures the difference between in scope and out of scope:

In scope vs. out of scope in project management

Why it matter to know what is in cope vs. what is out of scope

The scope determines the effort, cost and duration of a project. It is such an important factor that we must be very careful in defining what the scope of a project should be.

The problem in real-life projects is that people make all kinds of assumptions about what a project is supposed to deliver (what the scope should be). For example, a business client may assume that the custom-made machine you are building for them comes with training included. But maybe you provide training as a separate service that the client has to book separately if he wants to learn how to use his new machine.

Thus, as a project leader you must carefully manage the scope definition, which is essentially a matter of communication, and ensure everybody has the same understanding of what the scope of a project should be.

Setting clear boundaries as to what is in scope and what is out of scope is how you get to a clear scope definition. From there, you can derive  clear requirements, make solid effort and cost estimations and plan your project in a good way, being confident that things are going to be fine!

Hope this was helpful!

Adrian

P.S.: For a complete overview of the steps required for setting up a new project, check out my project kickoff checklist, which readers found very useful!