What is a Consulting SOW (Scope of Work)?
A Scope of Work (SOW) is a document that defines how a project will be executed through specific tasks, activities, deliverables, and timelines.
A SOW also provides important legal protections for both you and your client. While many people associate SOWs with large-company projects, they are equally important for small businesses. In fact, SOWs can be helpful to anyone who is working with a client on a project that they must complete in a specific time frame for a specific price.
An SOW is truly foundational to any contractor-client relationship. This document helps to determine and set boundaries, provides guidelines for how to measure performance against project goals, and outlines payment terms. It can help create a positive start to your working relationship with a client, and avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings down the road.
Why a project SOW is important
The main purpose of an SOW is to break down your and your client’s vision for a project into concrete details. Think of an SOW as an essential communication tool—use it to discuss and agree on project expectations, objectives, and roles that will help keep you and your client on track. When writing a SOW, it is really important to clearly articulate these details because both you and your client will sign the document, making it a contractual obligation.
As an independent professional, you know that client disagreements can arise with any project. A clear and comprehensive SOW can help outline processes to deal with disputes if they arise, which can minimize future frustration. For example, some clients may ask for small additions, changes, or deliverables to a project that result in scope creep over time. However, if you have an SOW in place, this is a document you can fall back on. If the requested changes don’t fall within the scope of the SOW, then you can discuss a new plan, budget, and timeline to add additional work to the project.
SOWs can also help avoid billing issues. Including payment information such as project cost, methods, and due dates in your SOW can hold clients accountable. Remember, a SOW is a contract your client has signed—they have agreed to payment terms and must adhere to them.
8 Terms to include in an SOW
Be sure to develop an SOW at the very beginning of a new project so you can use it to discuss and manage expectations from the start. While the content of your specific SOW will depend on your particular project, the industry you work in, and the client you are working with, you will likely need to include the following:
- The purpose of the project. Often included in the introduction to your Scope of Work, this brief statement or paragraph explains the reason for the work.
- Work that will be performed. Are you being hired to build a new website, launch a new product or train a team? Outline the work that you will do and include the specific tasks and activities that will be performed to deliver the final output.
- Work that will not be performed. It can also be helpful to include a negative or excluded scope of work—work that is not included as part of the contract. For example, a web designer may exclude ongoing web maintenance as part of the scope.
- Process for change orders. It is not uncommon for a project to require changes. The client’s needs may expand or change or you may encounter unexpected challenges. Including an agreed-upon process for changing the scope and fees can streamline your workflow and prevent unnecessary delays during the course of the project or engagement.
- Roles and responsibilities (you and client). Outlining the roles and responsibilities will help keep everyone accountable and eliminate potential confusion.
- Timeline for work. When will the work start? How long is it expected to last? Is this a fixed-time project or long term engagement? Are there milestones?
- Performance measurement. How will you measure progress? Are there specific metrics that will define success in the client’s view? This section of the SOW will help define the expected result of the project and how results are communicated over the course of the engagement.
- Payment terms. Include the total budget amount and the timing of payments. Are you on a monthly budget? Is there an up-front payment and subsequent milestone payments? Are payments tied to specific tasks?
Think of an SOW as a blueprint for your project—it should contain clear terms, agreements, and processes. While you do want to be as specific as you can about objectives and deliverables, also be flexible and realistic when working with your client on this document; use it to ensure you are on the same page with project goals and build your relationship with strong communication from the start.
Want help creating an SOW for your next project? Download our SOW template to use as a guide.