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How to Write a Project Scope of Work (Guide and Templates)

By MBO Partners | October 17, 2022

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Scope of Work

Overview

Use this step by step guide and templates to create a document that outlines the basic details of your project with a client, as well as highlights key terms, such as payments, revisions, and key deadlines. Much like a contract, a scope of work is a foundational document for any Independent – Client relationship.

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In this guide, you will learn


    What is a Scope of Work?

    Before starting a new project, Independent Workers are often asked to prepare a Scope of Work document that outlines the terms of their projects and details items like payment terms with a client. This is a straightforward document, but if you’re compiling one for the first time, the structure and importance of a Scope of Work, or SOW for short, can be intimidating.

    This MBO Partners guide will offer you step by step help to creating a document that outlines the basic details of your project with a client, as well as highlights key terms, such as payments, revisions, and key deadlines. Much like a contract, a scope of work is a foundational document for any Independent – Client relationship.

    While the terms “Scope of Work” and “Statement of Work” are often used interchangeably, the two terms actually mean different things.

    Why you need a Scope of Work

    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.

    To understand the importance of a detailed SOW, let’s pretend you are hiring a consultant to develop a mobile app. A properly-detailed Scope Of Work defines what the final product should do, then breaks out into more detail on what development platform it should be built on (Ruby, Python, etc.), what it should look like, how users will interact with it, and key features/components that make up the final product, and how much it costs for the final product.

    If the SOW is not detailed enough, and simply says “consultant to build an app accomplishing X or Y task,” the resulting “grey area” leaves room for the consultant to build a product that doesn’t integrate with a client’s existing systems, match design criteria, or miss key steps in the use flow. Cost could also become a factor if the client demands extra rounds of revisions, or asks for ongoing maintenance and development not detailed in the initial scope.

    The SOW’s main job is to take a client’s vision and break it into concrete details. Precision is important in any SOW, as ambiguity can lead to problems during the course of a project.

    It is also important to remember that a Scope of Work becomes part of a contractual obligation to a client. This makes it even more important to clearly articulate details.

    GOAL: 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. Some clients can be masters of “scope creep.” meaning that they add on new requests and requirements not set forth in the original scope of work.

    Scope creep (n.): To add new provisions, tasks, or expected deliverables that are outside an existing scope of work.

    Work that is not part of the Scope of Work can create frustration both for the consultant and the client. It can cause a breakdown in a business relationship and impede the progress of the original project. While it’s important the SOW to be clear and detailed, it’s wise to not make it too restrictive. Projects almost never go exactly as expected and building flexibility into the scope allows the ability to react to internal or external market changes.

    COMMUNICATION IS KEY

    The SOW is a communication tool: use it to discuss and agree upon objectives and expectations. Develop this document at the very beginning of a
    client engagement, using it if possible in your initial client meeting to manage expectations and define a project plan. It can also be used as a point of negotiation in the buying phase.

    If the client wants to negotiate price, you can adjust the Scope of Work, rather than your fee, to fit a client budget. Of note, adjusting the scope rather than the fee also creates an opportunity to provide a phased-in approach. For example, a consultant can break down a larger SOW into multiple projects that can be implemented over time.

    What is included in a Scope of Work?

    As anyone experienced in the request for proposal (RFP) process knows, an SOW is typically included in the requirements.

    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.

    Outline these items in your Scope of Work:

    • 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?

    The SOW will be customized based on your engagement, client and industry.

    For example, a technology SOW may be comprehensive and include equipment, testing and very detailed milestones. A level-of-effort SOW, by contrast, may have a certain number of hours as the deliverable and not require the level of detail. You may also have a performance based SOW in which you have flexibility in how you meet the client’s objectives.

    Your dedicated business manager at MBO Partners is happy to help review contracts, SOWs and more as part of your engagement. We can offer advice to help limit “scope creep,” negotiate optimal payment terms on your behalf, and more.

    Writing Contractor-Friendly RFPs isn’t as difficult as it looks. This article walks you step-by-step through the ideal RFP.

    Scope of Work Tips and Strategies

    Before you can write a good SOW, you need to ensure that you have a clear understanding of the project from the client.

    • What problem or issue will the project address?
    • Is the problem confined to a specific business unit or department?
    • Who are the stakeholders?
    • What specific services will be required?
    • What resources will you need to provide?
    • Are there resources that the client must provide in order to complete the project?
    • How must the project be delivered? For example, this may include specific output such as digital versus physical copy or deliverable milestones with phases of the project being delivered in specified time frames.
    • How will progress be communicated?
    • What is the end result?
    • How will success be measured?
    • How and when will payment be distributed?

    Your SOW should be error free, and easy to read. You will also want to be aware of words that have a legal interpretation.sow terms

    As in general business writing, refrain from using abbreviations and acronyms. Do not assume that abbreviations are universally understood or used, even within the same industry. If they are necessary to include, be sure to define them. Because it is part of the contract, it is tempting to use the passive voice. For example, “Writing services shall be provided to Company Y,” rather than “Company X will provide writing services to Company Y.” The active voice does a better job of clearly outlining tasks and responsibilities.

    Be consistent throughout the document. For example, if a scope of work includes public relations, avoid alternating between “PR” and “public relations.” Use the same term to describe the same concept throughout the document. When writing a scope, be direct and specific, clearly describing the services to be performed and the deliverables expected. Never assume that the client will know what is intended; state it in clear language. A good Scope of Work lays the foundation for a successful project. It creates the tools to properly plan and manage a client project, which, in the long run, means lasting client relationships. We hope that you feel better prepared to manage your client projects after reading this guide.

    One of the most essential skills for any solopreneur to have is the ability to negotiate business deals. The way in which independent contractors negotiate can make or break their business. If handled correctly, negotiations can solidify relationships with clients, strengthen connections with vendors, and help you to grow your business.

    Scope of Work Template

    1. Project overview. Write a brief, high-level overview of the project.
    2. Scope overview. Describe the overall scope of work.
    3. Objectives. What are the client’s specific objectives for the project? What specific objectives will the SOW achieve consistent with those objectives? Clearly define the results or outcomes that the client wants to achieve.
    4. Activities/Tasks. The specific activities and tasks need to be specified into precise and actionable steps.
    5. Deliverables. What are the results or outputs to be accomplished at defined time periods and/or at the end of the project? An architecture consultant hired on a building project may be required to deliver blueprints at the end of month one and a model to scale at the end of month three. Specify the work product and method of delivery.
    6. Inclusions/Exclusions. The SOW should outline the essential work included as part of the project. If it is not specified is it outside of the scope. As discussed earlier, you can also add a negative scope of work. This is a smart idea for services that may often be assumed to automatically follow-on. For example, if you are hired to install software, and training is not included, you may want to note that training is not included as the scope of the project.
    7. Schedule/Timeline. Define the time period of the project. When will the project start? When will it be completed? Are there deliverable milestones?
    8. Payment. Specify the project budget and timing of payments. Will you receive an initial payment to start the project and subsequent payments at fixed time periods? Are payments tied to specific deliverables?
    9. Performance Measurement. What metrics will be used to measure performance? Be clear on what will be measured and what will determine success by the client’s standards.
    10. Reporting and Communication. Specify how and how often progress will be reported. Will you do a weekly written report or hold a monthly meeting? Does the client have special reporting requirements, i.e. using a specific form or entering information into a database?

    Want some extra help? Use our template! We at MBO Partners created a sample version that you can download. Use it as an aid to create your first SOW or as a review tool for your existing scope document.


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