Skip to content

Project Scope versus Product Scope

Project Scope and Product Scope

A project scope defines the objectives that a project is set up to achieve within a certain time frame under certain budget. A product scope specifies the features, the deliverables, the price, the target market, and the intro date of the final product. Wikipedia describes these two terminologies in this way to reveal their correlations.

  • Project scope: the work that needs to be accomplished to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions.
  • Product scope: the features and functions that characterize a product, service, or result.

In other words, product scope decides the end goal, and project scope specifies the mechanism to realize such goal. More succinctly, product scope clarifies the WHAT, and the project scope expounds on the HOW. Naturally project is the object that encapsulates and manages all needed works in a carefully timed and controlled manner to attain the project objectives which is one of the three outcomes from project scoping.

Product Scope is Not the Complete Precursor of Project Scope

If the business definitions of product scope and project scope and the aspects of their respective focus lead some to believe that the former is the antecedent of the latter, then it is time to dispel such presumption.

In fact, upholding a predecessor versus successor view to these two objects in various operations would setback the initiation of the project when many things in this early phase of a project management cycle are still unsettled and project work can start with imprecision.

Identifying subject matter experts for potential consultations, translating already clarified requirements into hard restrictions and requirements, pinpointing needed skills and naming potential project team members, drafting communication channels and frequencies are just among many tasks that could be worked out or at least outlined with partially defined product scope and project scope.

Start Project Scoping before Product Scoping Concludes

How could the aforementioned arrangement be done effectively to gain on time without risking misaligning the project scope to the still incomplete product scope? The key is by way of fracturing and pipelining.

A product scope typically straddles across many aspects of the final deliverables entailing the features, functions, warranty, support, locality, pricing, and many other facets. These pieces cannot typically be finalized all at once during product scoping; some will become clear before the others.

This natural phenomenon is effectively a fractured plan when different elements are delineated either simultaneously or one after the others. Because of this innate characteristic, project scoping can start on the specified parts first without having to wait until the entire product scope has finished. Borrowed from the computing industry, this is called pipelining.

Use a Probabilistic Approach to Reduce Scope Creep Impacts

A modification of any defined portion of a product scope when a project is already in motion could trigger project realignment on objectives, resource, and schedule. This is called scope creep).

Scope creep could happen more frequently when a project begins rolling before product scoping is done. This is the necessary evil that is hard to avoid when the project team adopts the early-start modus operandi.

Therefore it is beneficial to the project team to establish a wise mechanism into this early project commencement approach to minimize the chances of and the impacts from scope creeps.

The good news to the project teams who want to effectively implement scope creep control in their projects is that the control cost could be low or outright negligible. The way to do this is to have those who scoped out their pieces to assign a probability number to it to signify the chance between 0 and 100 percent that they think their pieces would not need adjustments before the project completes. This estimate is the firm factor by the part owner to tell others quantitatively how likely the scoped part will stay unchanged.

By way of firm factors assigned to the scoped elements of the product, project teams can elect to work on those with firm factors higher than certain percentage that they are comfortable with, and they can rank the scoped portions according to their firm factors to prioritize which to work on first.


The demand for rapid product deployment to capture market shares requires initiating projects prior to the product scope being completely ascertained.

To accomplish the feat of a project early starter, a product team will need to fracture and pipeline their product scoping exercise and communicate timely to the project team so that the latter can initiate, plan, and possibly execute their project on the determined segments of the product specifications in the absence of a complete and final product scope.

Albeit this scheme is often used by organizations to gain a head start, the risk is high that some completed project works may have to be adjusted or even redone entirely at a later time because product team may revise their already scoped pieces when they progress deeper into their scoping cycle. This arrangement inevitably introduces potentially more scope creeps into the projects.

To minimize the loss triggered by scope changes due to an early project commencement, a creep avoidance technique should be embedded into the entire project cycles. This can be accomplished by the use of adding a firm factor into the product scoping operation, and project scoping will start only on the specified components higher than certain firm factors.

The firm factor thresholds for the scoped components reflect the organizations’ risk attitude or tolerance. From experience, it might be too risky for a project team to work on any piece with a firm factor less than 60%. Ultimately though, the organization has to clarify their own risk appetite and decide on firm factors that they can live with.

Lastly, it is not uncommon to accept different firm factors of different components of the product after the cost of redo or rectification both monetarily and schedule-wise are taken into account. Hence project scoping and product scoping can co-progress in parallel provided that a prudent and calculated method like the one suggested in this article is embraced by the project and product teams collaboratively.