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Why You Need a Scope of Work (SOW): What It Is and How to Create One

   |   MBO Partners   |   August 5, 2019

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What is a Scope of Work?

Before starting a new project, independent professionals are often asked to prepare a Scope of Work (SOW) document that outlines the terms of their project and details items like payment terms, roles and responsibilities, and a timeline for work. This is a straightforward document, but if you’re compiling one for the first time, the structure and content of a SOW can be intimidating.

While the terms “Scope of Work” and “Statement of Work” are often used interchangeably, the two terms actually mean different things. The scope of work articulates the details of a project including tasks, materials and equipment (if appropriate), activities, deliverables and time frame. It sets clear expectations upfront and serves as a guiding post to keep you and the client on track.

Why you need a Scope of Work

1. Set expectations

The scope of work articulates the details of a project including tasks, materials and equipment (if appropriate), activities, deliverables and time frame. It sets clear expectations upfront and serves as a guiding post to keep you and the client on track

The SOW’s  main goal is to take a client’s vision and break it into concrete results. 

2. Eliminate frustration

One of the main goals of the SOW is to eliminate frustration between consultant and client, setting clear expectations for what will be accomplished, for how much, and when.

3. Negotiation tool

An SOW can be used as a point of negotiation in the buying phase. You can often adjust the Scope of Work rather than the fee to fit a client budget. You can see some examples of this in our SOW guide. 

What should I include in a Scope of Work?

A Scope of Work contains many components and should be carefully constructed. From the client side, it is used to communicate the goals and expected results of the project and ensure that key issues are not overlooked. Because this document is often requested before a project is awarded, there is some difference between a proposal Scope and a finalized Scope—often the latter is a revision of the documentation provided during the initial proposal.

Scopes often vary widely by industry and by client. Some clients, such as government entities and universities, may have very specific requirements for an SOW. As a rule of thumb, a scope of work should include the following:

  1. The purpose of the project.
  2. Work that will be performed.
  3. Work that will not be performed.
  4. Process for change orders.
  5. Roles and responsibilities (you and client).
  6. Timeline for work.
  7. Performance measurement.
  8. Payment terms 

Download our guide to learn more about writing a Scope of Work.  Our guide also includes: 

  • Sample Issues and resolutions
  • Sample Scopes of Work, and
  • Tips and strategies

To learn more about why you need an SOW and how to create one for your project, download our Scope of Work guide.


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