This is our guide to scope of work documents (SOWs). We explain what SOWs are, how they work, what you need to include, how to draft one, and how to ensure your managers and team members stick to it.

How does a scope of work document work?

A scope of work document (SOW) outlines the various elements and responsibilities of a project, including its life cycle, timeline, and size. SOWs are generally written by project managers for employees or contractors. A SOW is the primary document informing a project, so it should be clear, concise, thorough, and easy to understand.

Components of a SOW

Scopes of work, sometimes referred to as statements of work, should include the following elements:

  1. What are the project’s objectives? Its goals: what are they?
    • It is important that the project objectives are clear, concise, and easy to understand. Employees from high-level team members to entry-level assistants should have no doubts about the project’s objectives after reading the document.
  2. What are the deliverables (and milestones)? When will each phase of the project be completed?
    • A deliverable may be measured by phase, time period, completion date, etc.
      • It is possible for project deliverables to be tangible or intangible.
      • Deliverables should be quantifiable no matter how they are measured.
  3. Variables: The variables include cost, schedule, resources, and the technology required for each phase of the project, from initiation to completion.
    • Included and excluded variables should have clear limits.
  4. In addition to the actual output, requirements include everything that is required to support the project.
    • An example of a common requirement is a proof of originality.
  5. In a project, tasks are individual action items required to complete each phase.
    • Creating a work breakdown structure (WBS) is a good idea.
      • An item that does not fall within the WBS is considered outside the scope of work.
  6. The scope of work includes everything included in the project.
  7. Exceptions: These are things not included or specifically mentioned in the SOW.
  8. Include a glossary in the SOW. A glossary of acronyms and uncommon terms should be included.
    • Consider the perspective of someone from outside of the industry when crafting a glossary. What terms need to be explained, defined, or spelled out?

As part of the SOW, the contractor may provide a problem statement explaining how he or she will resolve the problem, as well as a detailed explanation of how that will be accomplished.

Avoid ambiguous phrases or phrases that can be interpreted in many ways when writing a SOW. If something is mandatory, use words such as “must.”.

SOW vs Schedule of Work

Unlike a scope of work, a schedule of work is more detailed and micromanaged. A project’s schedule outlines the requirements for each day. With schedules, you can learn more about the resources and phases of your client’s project.

SOW for Independent Consulting

Consultants use SOWs to execute client projects. Metrics and measurements are used to define the boundaries and goals of a project. Clients and consultants communicate effectively, maintain timelines, and manage expectations by facilitating communication. Additionally, SOWs protect against miscommunications and legal action.

SOW for an Agency 

Contractors and agencies have similar SOWs. As a result, you won’t be taken advantage of and won’t have to do anything beyond the scope of the project.

However, poorly written or overly broad SOWs can unnecessarily complicate or increase the workload of projects. An effective SOW is therefore essential.

In addition, make sure you can afford your SOW in terms of time, effort, and resources.  

Why a SOW matters

A SOW can be used to determine fees, costs, and resources. As a result, uncertainty can be reduced as much as possible during project development. Last but not least, it holds clients and agencies accountable.

How a SOW Relates to Fees

An important aspect of project work is the SOW or anticipated SOW, which determines the rate of a freelancer or independent contractor. So when drafting SOWs, contractors and freelancers should consider the following:

  1. In order to avoid losing money on a project, identify your minimum acceptable rate (MAR).
  2. In general, charging by the project is more efficient than charging by the hour. Per hour models may lead to consultants working slowly. In addition, clients may find it difficult to estimate a fair project cost when using per-project models.
  3. Your clients should clearly understand what your service is worth. Whenever your service cannot be easily provided by anyone else, you should charge more.
  4. What are the prices of your competitors? Understanding what your competitors are charging can help you determine your own rate.
  5. Are you sure that you understand the SOW and all the resources you will need?
    • Understanding what you need to do for each phase will help you complete the project successfully. Have any unforeseen expenses been incurred because of special requirements on this project? A sudden expense that you will have to pay for yourself is not something you want to face.
  6. Regardless of whether you are working with the same client, the scope of the project, or as you gain experience, rates can change based on the project. A maintenance agreement could change the pay rate of a project, for example.

Being Aware of “Scope Creep”

‘Scope creep’ occurs when the scope of work expands or changes in a way that does not correspond to the original scope as the project proceeds. Freelancers and consultants often face this problem.

In the event that a conflict arises as a result of work that extends beyond the SOW, legal action may be necessary. Additionally, both client and customer can go beyond the SOW.

Therefore, either party should inquire with the other before closing a project, especially if they feel the other side is going beyond the scope of the agreement. As the scope of the project expands, the SOW agreement may need to be amended to include additional details such as the pay rate, the payment schedule, and the deliverables.

Don’t simply refuse to expand your SOW if a customer requests it. Consider telling them that you will need to reevaluate how the new SOW will impact costs, payment terms, delivery timing, and so on.

Scope of Work Template 

In a scope of work (SOW) document, the tasks to be completed on a project are outlined – a road map. A SOW is a project scope statement used when working/collaborating with people outside of a business/organization to avoid miscommunication, misinterpretation of expectations, presumptions, and/or disputes; a scope of work in project management is a detailed project plan detailing everything that will be completed for stakeholders. The SOW must include explicit details, visualizations and examples, definitions of terminology, time for reviews and unexpected changes, and success criteria.

An effective scope of work (SOW) document should include the following sections:

  • An introduction describes the type of work being done — a service or a product — and the parties involved. Additionally, the introduction can outline the formal agreements that the SOW can be used to create later, such as a standing offer, an agreement to purchase a product or service at a fixed price for a certain period, or a legally binding contract that formalizes details that have been mutually agreed upon.
  • Project Overview/Objectives: This section explains the project’s context and goals.
  • Work Scope: This section describes the work that must be performed to complete the project using bullet points or an uncomplicated summary. Also included here can be the technical requirements.
  • This section lists the specific actions that must be taken to complete the project. Research and planning should be broken down into phases. Build, test, and refine.
  • Project Schedule: In this section, the project timeline is listed, along with the phases/milestones, locations (including meetings), resources and who is in charge of each task.
  • Project Deliverables: This section describes what will be delivered at the end of the project.
  • Adoption Plan: This section describes how the deliverables will be put into place.
  • Project Management: This section specifies how and when payments will be made/pricing, who will approve any changes to the scope, support/maintenance, and any additional requirements that need to be agreed upon.

Standards for Success/Sign-Off/Signatures: In this section, we describe how the project deliverables will be reviewed, approved, and signed off on.

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