How to Identify Scope Risks


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If you wish to be a successful project manager, you must manage scope risks. In this article, let's define scope risks, look at some examples, and explore eight ways to identify scope risks.

Hand holding card that says new requirements

What is Scope Risk?

Risk is "an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives" (PMBOK® Guide—7th Edition). Scope risks are uncertain events or conditions that are related to the project scope.

What do we mean when we say something is out of scope? It should not be included in the project. Things have a way of sneaking in, don't they? 

Keep in mind, product scope includes the features and functions of the products, services, and results. And project scope is the work required to create the deliverables.


-scope. WORD ORIGIN. Scope Root Word Definition

- indicating an instrument for observing, viewing, or detecting: microscope, telescope

What is Scope Creep in Project Management?

Have you ever started a project with two deliverables and midway you have five? Or perhaps you have a well-defined list of key software features. New stakeholders started adding to the list. In agile projects, the additional requirements/features (i.e., unplanned work) were added during an iteration. 

Scope Risk Examples

Scope tends to be a vague concept. Allow me to clarify with examples:

  • Individuals may add features to the product that were not approved.
  • The project team may not identify all the deliverables, requiring changes later.
  • Scope changes may not be processed through the change control process.
  • Requirements may not be properly analyzed and understood.
  • Requirements may not be properly prioritized.
  • Traceability structure may not be developed resulting in requirements not being managed through the design, development, and testing processes.
  • The project team may fail to identify all the activities required to create the deliverables.

Tip: Project Risk Categories

Here's a tip: specify risk categories when identifying risks. And the typical risk categories include:

  • Schedule
  • Scope
  • Cost
  • Quality 

Now, we can filter our risk register to scope risks. You and your team can review the scope risks and develop appropriate risk response plans. Wise project managers look for high leverage responses. A single response may address two or more risks.

Lastly, project managers can use risk categories to compare the amount of risk exposure between risk categories. You can invest your limited time and budget on the risk categories that matter most.

8 Ways to Identify Scope Risks

What tools and techniques can we use to identify scope risks? For most projects, you will only need a few methods. Pick the ones that make the most sense.



Select key stakeholders. Plan the interviews. Define specific questions related to the project scope — deliverables, assumptions, constraints, exclusions. Additionally, document the results.



Plan your brainstorming questions. Here are questions I like to use: What are the most significant risks related to the project deliverables? What are the most significant risks related to the project work? For instance, requirements, coding, testing, training, and implementation.



See if your company has a list of the most common risks. Look for scope-related risks. If not, create a checklist. After each project, conduct a post-review where you capture the most significant risks. This list may be used for subsequent projects. Warning – checklists are great, but no checklist contains all the risks.


Assumption Analysis

The PMBOK® Guide defines an assumption as “factors that are considered to be true, real, or certain without proof or demonstration." Assumptions are sources of risk. Project managers should ask stakeholders, “What assumptions do you have concerning this project?” Furthermore, document these assumptions and associated risks.


Cause and Effect Diagrams

Cause and Effect diagrams are powerful. Project managers can use this simple method to help identify causes of risks. If we address the cause, we will reduce the risk.


Nominal Group Technique (NGT)

Many project managers are not familiar with the Nominal Group Technique. It is brainstorming on steroids. Input is collected and prioritized. The output of NGT is a prioritized list; for risk identification, the result is a prioritized list of risks.


Affinity Diagrams

Creating affinity diagrams is a fun, creative, and beneficial exercise. Participants are asked to brainstorm risks. I ask participants to write each risk on a sticky note. Then participants sort the risks into groups or categories. Lastly, each group is given a title.



Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

One of the most powerful tools for identifying scope risks is to facilitate a WBS with your project team. Then walk through each of the lowest elements — commonly referred to as work packages — and ask the participants to identify risks.

How About You?

Having problems with scope issues? Develop and implement a simple scope management plan. Likewise, consider these steps:

First, educate your project team on WHAT scope includes.

Second, determine HOW you will identify the risks. Which risk identification tools and techniques will you use? How will you prevent and manage scope creep?

Third, identify the risks and develop your risk response plans. What actions will you and your team take for each risk?

Lastly, project managers should monitor risks to ensure that they are getting the expected results. 

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