A Scope of Work is a framework document that will outline the work that will be performed under a contract or subcontract. This document is not an actual contract, but it will detail the expectations for the job or project. A Scope of Work is typically broken up into various sections that detail the specific tasks and their individual deadlines.
The Scope of Work document may lead with a statement of purpose, which can be an overview of the job or contract. There can then be individual sections for the specific deliverables. Each section should include detailed information about the task and its deadline. There should also be a section regarding payment. This can include payment for the entire contract or payment per individual task. This information ensures that both parties are aware of their responsibilities regarding the assignment.
Here is our guide to scope of work documents (SOWs). We cover everything you need to know about SOWs--what they are, their use, what to include, how to draft one, and how to make sure your managers or team members stay within the limits of one.
What is a scope of work document?
A scope of work (SOW) document details the various elements and responsibilities of a project--its life cycle, timeline, size, etc. In general, a project manager drafts SOWs for employees or contractors. SOWs serve as the primary document informing a project; they, therefore, should be clear, concise, thorough, and easy to comprehend.
A well-crafted scope of work, sometimes referred to as a statement of work, should include the following components:
Objectives: What is the purpose of the project? What are its goals?
The project objectives should be clear, concise, and easy to identify. You want every employee from high-level team members to entry-level assistants reading the document to have no doubts regarding the project’s goals.
Deliverables (and Milestones): What end result must be attained? What are the deadlines or delivery dates for each phase of the project?
Deliverables may be measured by phase, period of time, the date of the project’s completion, etc.
Project deliverables may be tangible or intangible.
Regardless how you measure deliverables, they should be quantifiable.
Variables: Variables include cost, schedule, resources, and the technology required for each phase of the project, from initiation to completion.
Each variable should set clear limits on inclusions and exclusions.
Requirements (besides actual output): requirements include all things necessary to support the project.
Common requirements include things like a proof of originality.
Tasks: these include a catalog of individual action items required to complete each phase of the project.
Tasks should be broken down into a work breakdown structure (WBS)
Anything that isn’t part of this WBS is considered outside of the SOW.
Inclusions: this includes anything included in the project in the SOW.
Exclusions: this includes anything not included or specifically stated in the SOW.
Glossary: include a glossary in the SOW. It should explain each acronym used and include definitions of any unusual terms
When crafting a glossary, think from the perspective of someone outside the industry. What terms do they need explained, defined, or spelled-out?
Sometimes, a SOW may include a problem statement, which addresses a potential problem that the contractor is addressing for the company, as well as a detailed explanation or working thesis to establish how he or she will resolve such a problem.
Writing Tips: when writing a SOW, be sure to avoid ambiguous phrases or phrases that may be open to multiple interpretations. Furthermore, if something is mandatory, use words such as “must,” to reiterate.
A schedule of work is a more detailed, and micromanaged version of a scope of work document. A schedule is a precise form of project management that clearly spells out specific timelines (often daily) and the requirements for each day. The advantage of schedules is that they give your client detailed visibility into the different phases of the project and the allocation of their resources.
A SOW for independent consulting helps the consultant to execute the client’s projects. It sets boundaries for a project and provides metrics and measurements for project goals and objectives. They help facilitate communication between the consultant and client, enabling both parties to stay on the same page, maintain timelines, and manage expectations regarding deliverables. Lastly, SOWs offer protection from disputes relating to both miscommunication and legal action, if necessary.
SOWs for an agency are essentially the same as those for contractors. They ensure that you are not being taken advantage of and are not obligated to complete anything beyond the SOW.
Because of their importance, having a poorly written or excessively broad SOW can cause a project to become unnecessarily complicated or labor intensive. It is therefore essential to create a well-crafted SOW document.
Moreover, make sure any SOW you craft is one you can actually afford--time, effort, resources, etc.
A SOW establishes a baseline for objectives from which you can derive associated fees, costs, and resources. It also removes as much uncertainty as possible during the process of a given project. Lastly, it creates accountability and measurable efficiency for both the agency and client.
As an independent contractor or freelancer, setting rates is an important part of project work, and is generally determined by the SOW or anticipated SOW. Therefore, the contractor or freelancer should remember the following when it comes to SOWs and his or her pay:
Know your minimum acceptable rate (MAR): your MAR is the baseline you must charge per hour to not lose money working on a project.
See a more detailed definition of this in the calculator section of this guide.
Charging per hour or per project: in general, it is preferable to charge per-project, rather than per hour. The per hour model can cause a consultant to work slowly. Per project models also make it difficult to assess a fair total project cost for a client.
Value of service: you should clearly understand the value of your service to the client. In situations where you believe the service you provide cannot be easily performed by someone else, you should charge more.
Competition: who is your competition and how much are they charging? Understanding the how much other competitors are charging will help you determine your own rate.
SOW certainty: how clearly do you understand the SOW and all of the resources you need to complete the project?
You should have a clear understanding of what is required, and what resources you require to complete each phase of the project. Does this project have any special requirements that may result in unforeseen expenses? You want to avoid a scenario in which you encounter an unexpected expense you must cover out of pocket.
Rates are not permanent: you can change them based on the project, even if you are working with the same client, by the scope of the project, or as you acquire more experience and expertise. For example, if a project includes maintenance agreements, this could potentially change the pay rate.
Scope creep refers to the common practice whereby the scope of work expands as the project progresses or changes in a manner whereby it no longer follows the SOW. This is a common problem for freelancers and consultants.
Remember, if a conflict develops because work extends beyond the SOW, legal action is possible. It is also important to remember that both the client and customer can venture beyond the SOW.
Therefore, it is important that either party inquire with the other before project closure, especially if they feel the other side is going beyond the SOW. If the project scope needs to be expanded, it may be necessary to amend the SOW agreement and include additional notes about pay rate, payment schedule, deliverables, etc.
If a customer asks you to expand your SOW, do not simply refuse. Instead, consider telling them that you will need to reevaluate how the new proposed SOW will impact cost, payment terms, the timing of deliverables, the end product etc.
A scope of work (SOW) document is an agreement on the work to be performed on a project -- a map that guides the completion of the project. A SOW is a project scope statement used when working/collaborating with people outside a business/organization to avoid miscommunication, misinterpretations of expectations, presumptions, and/or disputes; a scope of work in project management is a project plan that details everything that will be completed for stakeholders. To be effective, a SOW must have explicit details, visualizations/examples, definitions of terminology, time for reviews and unexpected changes, and definitions of success.
For functionality, a scope of work (SOW) document should include the following sections:
Introduction: This section describes the type of work being done -- a service or a product -- and the parties involved. The introduction can also define the formal agreements that the SOW can be used to create later, including a standing offer, an agreement to buy a service or product at a certain price for a particular period of time, or a legally binding contract that formalizes mutually agreed upon details.
Project Overview/Objectives: This section explains the project -- its context and goals.
Scope of Work: This section describes in a general fashion the work that must be performed to complete the project, using bullet points or an uncomplicated summary. This section can also include the technical requirements involved.
List of Tasks: This section lists the specific actions that must be taken to accomplish the project. The tasks should be broken down into phases such as research/planning, design. build, and test.
Project Schedule: This section describes how long the project will take, the timeframe, and the phases/milestones involved, where the project work will occur (including any meetings), the resources required and who is responsible for completing each task.
Project Deliverables: This section defines the expected outcomes of the project -- exactly what will be received when the project is completed.
Adoption Plan: This section describes the process for putting the deliverables into place.
Project Management: This section details how and when payments will be made/pricing, who is responsible for signing off on the deliverables, approving any changes to the scope, and support/maintenance, and any additional requirements that need to be agreed upon.
Standards for Success/Sign-Off/Signatures: This section describes how the deliverables will be accepted at the end of the project -- authorized, reviewed and signed off on.
External SOW Templates
A statement of work, sometimes referred to as a scope of work and often called an SOW, is a contract between a business/organization and and a client, especially nonprofit and education-based clients, that takes the place of a more formal agreement. Although the terms scope of work and statement of work (SOW) are often used interchangeably to describe important documents in project planning, the scope of work can also be defined as a component of the statement of work -- a legally binding document that includes all the terms for which the parties are responsible.
A statement of work should include the following sections:
Introduction: This section should include the purpose of the project and its importance for the stakeholders.
Project Goals:This section explains the goals of the project.
Scope of Work/Project Objectives and Deliverables: This section should detail how all the tasks are to be completed and what is required for their completion, how the completion of the tasks will affect the outcome of the deliverables, and how the deliverables will come together to finish the project.
Project Layout and Timeline: This section should detail the project schedule, including kickoff, task completion dates, stakeholder review dates, deliverable completion dates, testing spans, and project closeout.
Terms and Conditions: This section should include everything that depends upon the delivery of the project and any additional support required from the stakeholders, including payment terms, security clearances, travel requirements, testing support, hardware or software systems access, the standards for accepting deliverables, the definition(s) of success for the stakeholders, and who will review/approve the deliverables.
Completion Criteria/Signatures: This section should include language that binds the parties to all the terms in the document and a spaces for the parties' signatures.
Birthday Party & Party Invitations
Addresses of Guests
Timeline of Project
Jan. 15 - Finalize guest list
Feb. 15 - Finalize list of addresses
March 15 - Pick invitation card style and have them all printed
April 15 - Buy postage, envelopes and mail the invitations
May 15 - Note final guest list
June 15 - Birthday Party
Final guest selection and list of addresses
Mailing all guest invitations
Finalizing the list of RSVPs
Check on the mail status of invitation cards
Check RSVPs against invitation list
Finalize total cost of each pre-party step to determine remaining budget for the party
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