In planning a research project, the first step for a researcher is to define the project scope. Most funding organizations require a project description, purpose, and objectives as mandatory proposal elements. Thus, by clearly identifying the research project purpose and objectives you have already formed a solid basis for the project scope. The project scope defines all the work, and only the required work, to complete the project objectives. Also, it is essential to recognizing what the boundaries are within a research project in order to identify what is in, or out of scope. Furthermore, in defining a project scope you should identify upfront any project assumptions and constraints that may impact your ability to carry out the project scope. Assumptions refers to project related details that you believe to be true, while constraints are limitations to project activities. These elements will help solidify the boundaries of the research project and will form the basis for you risk planning.
A helpful exercise in planning the scope of a project is to breakdown project scope into hierarchical work items, or all the activities that the project will undertake. This is known as creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). If the research project will be contractual in nature, project deliverables will have to be clearly identified. The purpose of a WBS in planning project scope, is that it allows you to breakdown each end deliverable into defined activities, or smaller work components, that are required to complete that deliverable. With the activity lists identified, the full scope of the project is more clearly illustrated and these activities can now be used for subsequent schedule and budget planning purposes.
For research projects that do not have defined deliverables, project objectives can be used as a means to breakdown required project activities into smaller work components. Thus, the project objectives can be treated as deliverables in the creation of a WBS. For this, the researcher would identify to the best of their ability all activities associated with carrying out each objective. These activities may be vague during the proposal preparation stage, however they can be further refined and clarified as the project progresses and more information is available. By identifying the high level activities required for carrying out the identified objectives, the researcher will be in a better position to plan and update the schedule and budget aspects of a project.