The Project Boundaries are the list of project goals, assumptions, and constraints that are agreed upon by the project team and stakeholders and form the basis for project planning.
When to use
The project boundaries are clarified by the project team as they transition from initiation to planning. These boundaries act as objectives and constraints in the development of the project plan.
Project Boundaries are most beneficial early in the project and whenever the project is undergoing change. An agreement between the project team and stakeholders on boundaries will reduce the likelihood of confusion on project goals and missed expectations at the end of the project. Setting the project boundaries at the time of initiation allows the project team to plan the project with a clear understanding of project goals, assumptions, and constraints. This speeds and simplifies the planning process. In addition, whenever there is a request for a project change, the boundaries help the team evaluate whether that change is within scope or out of scope. Clear boundaries will reduce the likelihood of scope creep.
There are a variety of ways to capture and identify boundaries. Typically, some of them can be found in the Project Charter and, if it exists, a requirements document. A best practice for identifying boundaries to be used in planning is the ask the “W” questions:
- What is the project supposed to accomplish?
- Why do we need to do this project?
- Who are the customers, stakeholders, and team members for this project?
- When does the project need to start and end?
- Where is the project activity to take place?
- How should the project team approach the project? (procedures, examples, constraints)
The answer to some questions may be, “It doesn’t matter” or the answer may be very specific. If it doesn’t matter, that is an area of flexibility the team can use to optimize the project plan. If it is very specific, that becomes a constraint the must be addressed in the plan.
Hints & tips
- Ask each stakeholder all six questions. Look for inconsistencies between stakeholders and resolve them.
- Answers of “It doesn’t matter” or, “I don’t care” are great answers. They give the project team flexibility on those boundary conditions.
- Vague answers like, “As soon as possible.” for the “When” question, or “Everybody.” for the “Who” question often lead to missed expectations on the part of the stakeholders. If that type of boundary is important to them, work to get a specific answer.
- I use these questions whenever I am being asked to start a project – even if it is just a small action item. The questions only take a few seconds to ask, and the answers are very helpful for planning and executing the work.
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