Composing a Scope of Work

Composing a scope of work document is a fine art, ensuring that all the relevant stakeholder information has been captured to ensure the project delivers on the requirements. The scope of work or statement of work (SOW) as it is commonly known. Is an agreement on the work to be performed on the project.

It includes the timeline the project will follow, as well as important and critical milestones and different types of reports that are needed and specifically who those reports go to. To achieve this it is best to use an established template, and most templates include these things: the glossary, a glossary of terms defining what the terms are that will be referenced in the SOW. Also, the problem statement, some more detail about the problem and what is being solved. It also includes the goals, objectives and deliverables that are being produced. It also includes any kind of administration information about the project as well as the timeline.

Remember to be specific, especially when clarifying or defining terms so that everyone has a clear and common understanding of what the terms are. It must be specific when defining who does what and by when, this avoids some of the traps which could be confusing, like who’s doing what and when, or what things mean, or miscommunications which ultimately can lead to some disputes.

Including visuals is a good aide but not necessary, it paints the picture of what it will look like in the end once the Scope of Work, or this project, is implemented. It will stipulate what the people will be able to do at the end of this project once implemented. A picture is worth a thousand words. This ensures there is no misinterpretations, so visuals help avoid that.

The last step is obtaining sign-offs, ensuring that the authorized approvers sign off on the scope of work document, which is mandatory. They should also sign off at critical milestones and deliverables, again, avoiding any traps. Having a clear and concise SOW avoids selective amnesia during tense times of the project and avoids disputes and costly rework.

The scope of work document includes:

  • Deliverables: This is what the project is delivering. Whether it’s a product or a service, it’s the reason the project is being executed for the customer, stakeholder or sponsor. Whatever that deliverable is, and it can be some sort of document or report, software, product, build, possibly a combination of these, it needs to have each item clearly identified here. 
  • Timeline: The timeline is a road leading from the start of a project to its end. It’s a section of the document that delineates the major phases across the schedule of the project’s duration. It should also mark the points in the project when deliverables are ready. Scoping out the overall plan of any project is essential. This is best presented visually, like a rolled-up Gantt chart plan, so the stakeholders can see the high level timeline.
  • Milestones: Projects can be very long and complex, which is why they’re laid out over a timeline and broken down into more manageable parts called tasks. Larger phases of the project are marked by what is called a milestone. It’s a way to help monitor the progress of the project to make sure it’s adhering to planned schedule. Define key milestones in the Scope of Work document, including project kick-offs, meetings, hand offs, etc.
  • Reports: These will be generated throughout the project, delivered to the team or customer, stakeholder or sponsor. They’re a formal record of the progress of a project, but they’re also a means of communication beyond whether the project’s on schedule or not. Do not underestimate the effect of proper governance has on a project, it portrays transparency which is essential. Depending on how they are customized, there’s a wealth of data that can serve a number of different audiences. Define how the project will be reported and when the stakeholders can be expecting them and from whom.

Before composing the Scope of Work, think about the following;

Be Specific: explain the terms used clearly

Use Visuals: a picture is worth a thousand words

Get Sign-offs: make sure everyone who needs to authorise the work, signs the document.

It’s not that difficult, but it needs to be thorough, this avoids having to play catch-up with paperwork during the heat of the project.

The Scope of Work is essential to the project plan, and is often included as part of the overall project plan, but it can be time consuming to write. Remember to use a free scope and project planning template to help save time.

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