Effective scoping is the key to successful web projects

Most web projects have good people doing great work on them. So why do so many fail?

Jan 28, 2024
Written by:
Tim Grubb

We learned the hard way

We believe that the answer is poor scoping and we found this out the hard way, as a younger company making mistakes and having difficult conversations with our clients at the end of projects.

Adopting and continuously refining how we scope projects with our clients totally changed our business. It has underpinned our ability to consistently deliver and, as a result, talk with confidence to our clients about what is possible and what resources are needed to achieve an outcome.

For us, scoping must be:

  1. Detailed
  2. Developed through collaboration
  3. Understood by everyone who matters, not just a select group.

Scope must be detailed

All web project methodologies unpack designs and define user requirements. For us, the revelation is the level of detail that is needed, which requires a very thorough process.

When we look at designs we ask "what happens when we click on this? Then what happens? Then what happens?"

It's this probing and delving deeper that is critical to a good scoping process. It requires quite focussed workshops and a shared commitment to dedicate the time and mental energy to the task.

Developing scope collaboratively

In addition to a commitment of time and mental energy, good scoping also requires a commitment that the right people will turn up.

The biggest mistake we used to make was relying on one or two people to capture requirements and define scope, and then to share that through documents with the rest of the project group.

Now we insist that everyone is involved, which ensures that the right conversations are had between the right people, and everyone understands what has been decided and the context for those decisions.

It absolves the Project Manager of the task of ‘gate keeping’ the scope, and removes the nasty business of carefully litigating what was in and out of scope, months after it was agreed. It also removes the need for lengthy documents that nobody reads. Instead, the scope is a collection of cards on a wall (virtual or otherwise) that everyone can access and engage with.

The all important roadmap

Involving everyone on a project can be expensive, so there needs to be a focussed approach.

Understanding how people actually interact with complex information is also important. When you open the process up to the wider team, it is important to use an approach to describing and understanding scope that everybody can engage with.

For us, the roadmap workshop is the cornerstone of our projects and it is where we come together to define and confirm the scope before development begins.

Developing a roadmap looks familiar to anyone who knows agile software development because it shares a lot of the language, and involves putting cards on a wall.

The visual element of the roadmap allows everyone to engage and understand what is being agreed. It is comprehensive, relatable, but also accessible for everyone involved.

Benefits of a good scope

Ultimately it’s about the outcome. Effective scoping allows our clients to:

  • Prioritise - rule things in and out of scope, at a pretty granular level, to manage their budget. We can have honest and informed conversations about where the money is going and clients are empowered to make key decisions while understanding what the implications of their changes will be.
  • Have confidence (and be able to communicate with stakeholders effectively) regarding the time and budget. Too often, poorly scoped projects "bake in" uncertainty around timelines and deliverables which then can extend to stakeholders and create a lack of confidence before the work has even begun.
  • Confidently plan work that is contingent on the project, such as integrating software or launching products or campaigns.

How do we know it works?

Refining our ability to effectively scope projects has driven Haunt's success and growth over the past few years.

This is ultimately based on our client getting what they expect on time and budget. But it also comes from us being able to predictably manage project resources.

A key way we measure the success of our projects is by measuring what we call "unders and overs" - basically how much each project is above or below what we quote the client.

Our projects went from being an average of 75% above or below our estimates to around 8%.

We keep working to improve this metric, but we are really proud of this number. If you talk to agency principles they'll tell you this is pretty good (if they're honest).

Our clients almost always pay the quoted amount (unless we agree otherwise due to scope changes), so effectively this is an internal measure of success.

That said, it is in everyone's interests that a project is accurately scoped. Even if a client doesn't pay any more, having a project run over will impact them in other ways that are best avoided.


Massive shout out to the progenitors and practitioners of AgencyAgile who taught us (almost) everything we know! If you are interested in our journey, that’s the place to start.