How to Write an Effective Statement of Work
Much of what you need to know about a Statement of Work (SOW) is in its name. It’s extremely straightforward, which sets the tone for the entire document. And it’s highly specific, indicating the attention to detail required to write one.
Simply put, the SOW defines everything that needs to be done for a specific project. It’s typically used by project managers with the purpose of outlining the scope of work, and detailing all necessary requirements, deliverables, and estimated time periods.
SOWs are just one component of an entire contract. They complement other business documents such as Request for Proposals (RFPs) or Master Services Agreements (MSAs), as they provide an extra layer of detail that other forms don’t provide.
Together, these project management documents ensure that everyone is on the same page from the get-go, and help prevent any confusion or scope creep as the project moves forward.
While not an official contract itself, an SOW does lay the groundwork and serves as a handy reference guide for everyone involved. Read on to learn the basics of an SOW, how to write one well, and the essential sections that should be included.
How to Write a Statement of Work
While the intent of an SOW is to give an overall description of a project, the key to writing one is to keep it clear and precise. Remember, this is a document that’s supposed to break down all aspects of the work to be done, so it’s important that no detail is open to misinterpretation.
When defining the desired outcome of a project, rather than using general terms, state it with precise, concrete criteria. For example, instead of “Increase monthly sales,” use “Sales in the home department will increase by 10% by end of month.”
In addition, it may help to strengthen the document with some visuals. Visual effects such as Gantt charts, timelines, graphs, and tables are useful at breaking up long blocks of text, as well as communicating details in a more digestible format.
And should you need to use any industry-specific terms or jargon, make sure these are also well-defined either within the sentence or in an appendix. Unless you’re absolutely sure no other parties will read the document, it’s best to cover all bases.
In any case, the level of detail will assure the client that you and your project team have a thorough understanding of their requirements and are working towards mutually agreed-upon results.
Parts of a Statement of Work
Although the content will change from industry to industry, there are some basic sections that must be included in every good SOW. The following is a breakdown of the most important ones.
As with any means of communication, it’s best to begin with an introduction. Take a few paragraphs to explain what work will be done, who will be involved (contractors, specialists, agencies, etc.), and possibly even a price for the products or services offered in the proposal. Although no real details are included in the introduction, writing one presents the project in a more formal manner and starts you off on the right foot.
Project Objectives or Purpose
This is really what clients want to know before they read the rest of the document. Detail the reasons for initiating the project and any benefits it will create or goals it hopes to achieve. Lead this section with a strong statement of purpose, and then punctuate it with a list of compelling deliverables, desired objectives, and the expected return on investment.
Scope of Work
Thanks to sharing the same acronym as a Statement of Work, a Scope of Work is often confused with the entire document itself. And while both share a lot of overlapping information, the Statement of Work document usually provides a lot of other high-level information.
On the other hand, the Scope of Work section involves more detail. It breaks down the proposed work into action steps, as well as the party who will handle these steps, from beginning to end.
This may also be a good place to list all required equipment or tools since these fall within the project scope. Alternatively, you may include them in the Tasks and Requirements section below. The choice is ultimately up to you as the project manager to place them wherever they make more sense in the overall document flow.
Tasks and Requirements
Now is the time to take the steps you outlined in the Scope of Work and flesh them out into more detail. List all specific tasks and the corresponding requirements needed to complete them.
It may even be a good idea to provide a work breakdown structure by chunking the tasks into different phases. For a software development project, you can have a Research Phase, Design Phase, Build Phase, Test Phase, and Deploy Phase. When enumerating your list, it’s important to be as specific as possible.
Note that tasks are not the same as deliverables. Tasks are more action-based, whereas deliverables are the outcomes of those tasks. So while “designing a prototype” might be a task, “a total of three design studies” would be the deliverable of that task.
Deliverables are everything the client can expect to receive at the end of the project. Whether a concrete product, a series of designs, or a promised increase in sales, it’s important to qualify the exact metrics that will be used to determine whether it is a successful project or not. List the deliverables and acceptance criteria clearly and in detail (quantity, size, color, etc.), explaining what is due and when it’s due.
Whereas due dates and deadlines must be included, start dates are optional and depend on the type of work. For example, start dates may be important for a marketing launch or construction project, but not as essential for a software program or book launch, where the outcome matters more.
All the milestones within the project are what will comprise the entire proposed timeline, from the date of signing to the final turnover of deliverables. Milestones are important to include as they will affect the ultimate cost of the project.
There are three ways to present a project’s milestones: as specific predetermined dates, a period of performance (such as one month or one quarter), or as a specified end date. Select the schedule that’s most suitable for the project at hand, and then detail the billable hours for every segment (hour, week, month) of work. If there are any time constraints — for example, if a certain contractor only works weekdays — make sure to list them here as well.
Payment Terms and Schedule
This is likely to be one of the more important sections in the eyes of the client, as it outlines the payment for the work to be done. Include all the costs incurred in the project, including labor, third-party fees, food and travel expenses, and the like.
Choose from two ways to structure the payment schedule: by milestone or deliverable, meaning that payments are due as each milestone or deliverable is met (usually better for the client, as they don’t yet have to pay in case any phase is delayed), or by schedule, with payments made on predefined dates (which is better for the service provider or contractor, as they can better estimate their income).
If there are any special requirements or details of the project that don’t quite fit into the above sections, simply create an additional “Miscellaneous” section. These often include security clearances, third-party protocols, or post-work requirements such as support or testing.
Agreement Sign-Off and Signatures
Conclude the SOW by stating how the deliverables will be submitted and accepted. Who is designated to review and accept the deliverables? What determines the kind of work that is “acceptable” for the project completion? These are the final questions that need to be answered for a well-written SOW and ultimately, a well-executed project.
Getting to Work
Yes, creating an SOW does require a lot of time and work. But if done well, it can end up saving you even more time and work in the long run.
This is an essential business document that gets everyone in agreement at the onset of a project, and ensures that all parties are satisfied with the results upon completion. By sticking with the outline in this article, you’ll be able to come up with a Statement of Work that is thorough and satisfies your client’s needs.