Published here January 2015.


Musings Index

Challenged by the Word "Scope"? – Part 1

Sometime ago on LinkedIn, I was asked a direct question.

"On your site, Walter Wawruck says in his paper 'Evolution of Scope: The division of the life of a project into a series of distinct stages provides the project manager and the sponsor with a mechanism for guiding and controlling the evolution of the project scope. Evolution, as used here, does not mean change. It means elaboration or progressive expansion of detail. As McCoy suggests, the project objectives do not change at each successive stage, but the definition becomes more exact.'

Could you comment on the difference between 'evolution of scope' vs. 'evaluation of scope'?

I think that the meaning of the term "Evolution of Scope" is clear from the text quoted. However, this question is difficult to answer because I don't know what the questioner had in mind when making a comparison with the phrase "evaluation of scope". I rather suspect that he had intended to type in "elaboration" since that was Walter's original wording. Still, since the question originates from this web site, it does give an opportunity to talk about the definition of "scope". In fact it gives the opportunity to talk about definitions generally.

For over a decade I have been featuring on my web site the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Common Project Management Terms. For purposes of comparison, I have continued to collect interesting definitions expressly described in various project management articles and have made these Glossary updates available to anyone wishing to purchase an electronic copy. I believe that these have been helpful to many people.

At the same time, various organizations such as PMI and ISO have endeavored to establish fixed meanings to various well-established project management terms or labels. They have then made these specific definitions copyright so that in principle, no one can use them exactly as expressed without obtaining permission. The upshot of this is that to avoid copyright infringement various other people have attempted to characterize the same intent but with different wording. Of course this seems to us to be self-defeating because the result has been a plethora of definitions with "slightly" different wordings that confuse the issue. That's because any change in wording necessarily does shift the meaning of a term either in emphasis, nuance or both.

But all of this raises the question of whether it makes sense to try to establish a universal fixed glossary of terms in project management in the first place. I have come to the conclusion that it does not. After all, reference to any dictionary shows that most words have a selection of meanings depending on the sense intended in the circumstances described. That is why I firmly believe that any serious or academic paper should be preceded by a short list of key definitions, especially if the meanings to be used in the subsequent text are narrower than might otherwise be implied.

Lawyers do it when laying out contracts — and so should we, when writing at length.

Next month, we'll really get around to talking about scope!

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