Scoping a project is a vital thing to get right. The only way you can get an accurate idea of how much a project is going to cost and how long it’s going to take is to first know exactly what the project includes, and also, what it doesn’t include. That’s why you have to make sure the client is explicit about what they expect you to deliver.
Consider a project you may have undertaken in your private life. It may have been renovating a property, or taking an overseas holiday. How well did you plan for it? Did you carefully ’scope the project‘, or did you approach it more casually? Looking back now, would you rather have scoped it more carefully than you did?
Before you can accurately define the scope, you need to first reach clear agreement with the client on what constitutes the project objectives.
Once that is done, you should then have a clear idea of what is to be included in the scope of the project, and importantly, what is not to be included.
Sometimes there are multiple stakeholders, with diverse interests and expectations of a project. In this situation you have to take extra care to ensure that they effectively communicate these to you. It’s important to realise that communication is the most common obstacle to accurate scope definition. Any misunderstandings or misinterpretations are likely to lead to mistakes in the scope definition.
An objective is a task that will help achieve a goal. For the goal of maximising profit, for example, there may be several supporting objectives, such as producing a competitive product, marketing that product effectively, handling order entry and billing rapidly and accurately, and managing inventory efficiently.
Assume that your New Year’s Eve resolution for 2007 was to save enough money to have a holiday in Europe in January 2008. With this as your goal, what objectives would you have to meet to obtain this goal?
Some possibilities might include:
put $200 a month from your salary into a special savings account
reduce your spending on new clothes by $50 a month
only have one meal a week in a restaurant
sell your car.
As you can see from these suggestions, the objectives are quite specific and can be measured to make sure that they are being met.
These include performance standards to be achieved by the new system, in terms of:
Project objectives can help you define the scope, since each objective should have at least one deliverable assigned to it.
To obtain achievable project objectives, they should be developed using the SMART method: How much time is needed to accomplish the objectives? This needs to be set accurately, too much or too little time may affect team performance. Considering resources, knowledge and time availability, can you accomplish the objectives? You must obtain agreement on the objectives from stakeholders. You must be able to evaluate if the objectives are obtainable and how far away completion is. Objectives are well defined and clear.
The purpose of setting system boundaries is to limit the area of investigation. Boundaries need to be set otherwise the scope of the project can grow. Only those systems that are part of the problem or impact the solution need to be investigated.
Some questions to ask to identify systems for investigation are:
Which people or systems does the system interact with?
What real–world objects and people does the system capture information about?
The purpose of a context diagram is to introduce everyone involved to all of the elements that make up the business area, i.e. real–world objects about which the existing system captures information.
The context diagram gives an overview of the whole system and shows how external entities interact with the system. External entities are the people or systems outside the system we are investigating, which interact with it in some way.
the circle represents the system as one overall process
The boxes represent the external entities with which the system interfaces
The arrows represent information flowing from the system to the external entities and from the external entities into the system, the direction of the arrow head showing the direction that the information is flowing.
Only major data flows and external entities are shown in the context diagram.
context diagram describing a system that processes student enrolments.
The business processes that can be identified from this diagram are as follows:
A prospective student completes an application form and submits it to the enrolment office.
The enrolment office staff process the enrolment and send the student details to the relevant teaching department.
The business processes that can be identified from this diagram are as follows:
The accounts department provides details of the amount that the student is required to pay for this course and the enrolment staff create an account to give to the student.
The student pays the fee to the enrolment staff and this is then forwarded to the accounts department.
The enrolment staff give the student a timetable
The business processes that can be identified from this diagram
In this situation, the student is an external entity, because they are providing information to the enrolment system. The accounts department is also an external entity for the same reason. Both of these external entities also receive information from the system. The teaching department is also an external entity because it receives information from the system. The specific type of information is labelled on the arrows.
Since a context diagram is a simple diagram it is very easy for users with no computing skills to understand the business processes that it portrays.
Substantiation at this stage means to obtain agreement from the client that the contents of the problem statement are correct – specifically the scope and objectives of the investigation that will be performed – and may involve changes in response to client feedback.
If the report covers several different business areas then there may be more than one person who will need to check the accuracy of the contents.
It may also include an authorisation to either continue to the next phase, in this case an analysis of the problem, or to terminate the project at this point. The decision will be made by the client, based on the information contained in the report
Often, during a project, you will develop standards specifically for that project. This would be done in collaboration with the other members of the project team and incorporating any existing organisational standards.
Organisational standards are a set of rules or procedures providing a guide as to how to correctly perform a specific activity or operation within an organisation. They’re also often referred to as organisational guidelines. There should be a set of standards for every type of activity within an organisation.
The major aim of organisational standards is to increase the efficiency or productivity of an organisation by following prescribed steps. The standards are also used as a benchmark from which potential improvements can be easily identified.
Standards are also essential for producing and maintaining good documentation. They make it easier to develop, use and maintain documentation.
There is great benefit in today’s business world for all documentation produced by an organisation to be consistent with the company image. ‘Corporate branding’ as it is often called or ‘corporate identity’ promotes consistency and engenders confidence in existing and potential clients.
An effective way for an organisation to create a consistent style or image, and ensure all employees follow the style requirements is to produce a style guide that is to be used in all of its documentation, to project the correct corporate image.
A style guide is a reference document that contains a set of formatting and layout instructions defining the business guidelines for each type of document to be used within the company.
. Style guides ensure consistency throughout the company, allowing each department to contribute to the presentation and maintenance of an organisation’s image.
Style guides can be as short as a single page that just lists variations from a commercially available guide or the main company style guide. Or, they can be lengthy in–house guides with no reference to commercial guides.
Standards are set both by the organisation for which you work and by the industry in which the business operates.
Industry standards are generally adopted by organisations to ensure that the documentation that they produce is of good quality and relevant to their specific industry. Organisations then modify these standards to incorporate their own organisational policies and requirements.
In Australia, most industry standards are published by Standards Australia. They are an independent, non–government organisation. However, through a Memorandum of Understanding, they are recognised by the Commonwealth Government as the peak non–government Standards body in Australia. They represent Australia on the two peak International Standards organisation, ISO and IEC. Their primary role is to prepare standards through an open process of consultation and consensus in which all interested parties from a variety of industries are invited to participate.
The system boundaries and scope of a problem must be identified so that we have a starting point for further investigation. Objectives and expected aims must also be identified. A Problem Statement can then be produced which will contain the above details in a format based on the standards and guidelines of the business.