Project Requirements vs. Scope – 4 Big Differences You Need to Know

Eugene LaiTue, 05/28/2019 - 13:40

Have you ever worked on a project in which the terms “scope” and “requirements” are used interchangeably? Did that cause any confusion for your clients/customers or for your project team? I am willing to bet that your answer is probably “YES” to both questions.

In today’s project-centric environment, more often than not, project teams do not have the luxury of going through formal training before taking on a project. Urgent initiatives come about and customers demand immediate results. This leads to teams scrambling to figure out what they need to do for a project to satisfy the customers who are eager to write a big check. In my experience, some project managers take time to compile a glossary of key terms to help project teams “speak the same language”; this is a great technique that is seldom seen.

There are distinct differences between “requirements” and “scope”, most of which are often misunderstood due to lack of formal definition. This can lead to negative consequences for your project. Let’s take a quick look at some of the differences and how they may apply to your project situation.

Characteristic

Scope

Requirement

Content Tasks
Materials
Deliverables
Personnel
Business value
Desired outcomes
Product Capabilities/Features
Context Internal External
Formality Medium / Low High
Level of Detail High High / Medium / Low
  1. Content – Scope is usually defined as a list of tasks, work products, and possibly personnel that is needed for a project to be considered “complete”. This may be a list of things to do (i.e. a WBS – Work Breakdown Structure). A requirement is usually much less detailed, and describes the desired functionality of a service or product that the customer needs. It may also describe the business value of the output within the customer’s operational environment (e.g. A system capable of sustained operation with 99.9999% uptime).
  2. Context – The biggest difference between scope and requirement for a project is the context. Scope is intended for internal work management, while requirement is generally targeted for customers or stakeholders who are technically external to the core project team.
  3. Formality – Scope for a project can be documented in different ways, but it is usually organized and managed within some type of electronic tool, whether a spreadsheet or project plan. The level of formality is generally low/medium depending on the size and complexity of the project. As for requirements, these are usually much more formal since they may be used as content for a legal agreement/contract if the work is being done for an external client.
  4. Detail – Since requirements are likely to be used for a formal agreement, the level of detail is usually high. However, there may be situations where the requirement is very high-level because the client/customer does not know exactly what they want, or is unable to specify the end product at the start of the project. On the other hand, scope is usually very detailed especially if the project manager is using this to track and communicate progress for the project.

Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between “scope” and “requirement”, which of the two have you been managing? Which do you feel needs improvement for your project?