Scope is a general term to describe everything that your project encompasses, everything that must be achieved for the project to be complete. This would encompass your vision, your goals and your requirements and would be embodied in documents such as a “project proposal” and at a lower level “commercial specifications” and “technical specifications”.
The word ‘vision’ produces shudders in technical and non-technical people the world over. And rightly so, for a vision is normally a collection of meaningless catch phrases and marketing dribble intended to dupe people into thinking that businesses are there for polite and altruistic reasons. This is not the kind of vision I mean.
When I talk about vision I’m simply saying that you need a single encapsulated idea which defines the aim of your project. Why are you doing the project in the first place ? A project is a standalone task (or set of tasks) that has an intended outcome. You work on your project, complete it and then move on to the next.
If you can’t state the aim of your project in a single sentence, then it’s not a project.
Maybe it’s an occupation, an idea for a business or possibly a way of life but it’s not a project. It might even be a program, a set of projects that need to be divided into single ‘efforts’. A project is a defined task with a finite life with a fixed end point and that end is defined by your ‘vision’.
Without a single, linking goal all the dependent steps of project planning become difficult. That single vision may be broken up in sub-goals but it provides the link that holds all of the disparate parts of the project together into a single enterprise. It gives your team and stakeholders a sense of purpose and defines the success of your project.
Goals are slightly lower-level and more specific than the vision. Goals should directly support the overall vision of the project but refine its definition. Typically goals are set out by customers or by a business and define how the success of the project will be achieved. While the vision encompasses the whole project, goals may refer only to the objectives of a particular segment of the project.
Note that the terms scope, vision and goal are largely interchangeable. Different organisations use them in different contexts to refer to much the same concepts. The definitions set out here are the most commonly used versions. Use the version most appropriate to you and your organisation.
Nick Jenkins is an IT manager with 10 years experience in software development, project management and software testing. He’s worked in various fields of IT development in Australia, Britain and the USA and occasionally he learned something along the way. Now he lives on the banks of the Swan River in Perth, Western Australia, and he publishes the odd guide to help aspiring IT professionals. Nick’s website can be found at www.nickjenkins.net.