The SoW (statement of work or scope of work) is one of the best and worst weapons in a project manager’s arsenal of tools. It’s the best because a statement of work (SoW) is so often the one piece of documentation that saves you from a world of trouble. And a statement of work can be the worst because it’s a lot of work to produce – and even just a tiny mistake can have massive repercussions.
In this statement of work guide, we’re going to help you create an effective SoW that will be your best weapon. We’ll provide you with a statement of work template and scope of work example so you’re set with everything you need to create your own statements of work.
In this article
What Is A Statement of Work? A SoW Definition
Let’s start with the basics: What is a SoW?
And why do we keep switching between these different terms—statement of work, scope of work, and SoW?
In project management, SoW is an acronym for Statement of Work. Alternatively, SoW (sometimes written SOW or sow) can also be used as an acronym for Scope of Work.
Put simply, a SoW, or statement of work is an agreement between a client and an agency, contractor, or service provider that defines what’s included within a project, and what’s not.
Why Is A Statement of Work Important?
SoW’s provide the extra layer of detail that cost estimates and project plans usually don’t include to describe exactly what’s being done and delivered—and what’s not.
It’s where you put the meat on the bones of the project, and as you do, you get an opportunity to flesh out the details of what you’re going to deliver in your project.
It’s a lot of work, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’ll help refine your approach. In creating a statement of work you’ll probably end up adjusting your estimate and your timeline as you remember things that you should have added but forgot to.
This level of detail provides reassurance to the client as to what will be delivered and ensures that there really is a shared understanding on what the project will deliver and achieve.
This is about as close as you’ll get as a project manager to being a lawyer! For both the agency and the client the statement of work becomes the bible in determining what’s “in scope” and what’s “out of scope”.
That matters because ultimately the statement of work serves as the reference point for determining what’s included within the project cost, and what’s not. If you’re able to get your statement of work right, it’ll save you a world of pain later in a project.
Do You Really Need to Use a Statement Of Work?
Please do. It’ll save you a world of pain later. Ultimately, a statement of work is about managing and documenting expectations. And as with any agreement, it’s always best if those making the agreement know exactly what they’re agreeing to.
I get it. It’s tempting to not bother with a statement of work; after all, who likes paperwork?
Particularly if you subscribe to an agile approach to documentation—as little as possible and only where really necessary—doesn’t that mean that the days of producing a statement of work are over?
Nice try, but no.
As a project manager, it’s in your best interest to have something that enables you to say, “But this is what we agreed” when you’re having a debate with a client over about whether your estimate for a banner ad campaign was also going to include a campaign landing page.
The failure to write (or properly write) a statement of work is all too often the reason clients and agencies end up in conflict. When there’s uncertainty or ambiguity it creates tension because it creates the potential for there to be a gap in understanding over what’s been agreed. The idea of a statement of work is not to catch a client out, but to state exactly what’s being done, how, when, and the cost.
Are Statements Of Work for Internal Projects Important?
Don’t discount the value of a statement of work for internal projects as well. While you won’t need client sign off, it’s worth having one for yourself and your team. It will set up expectations for your team and outline the tasks and deliverables they’ll need to complete. This doesn’t need to be a formal statement of work, like the one you might create for a client, but having some type of SoW in place is beneficial for the whole team.
What Is Project Scope?
Project scope describes what’s being done, and critically – how much of it. Project scope is the extent, range, breadth, reach, confines, dimension, reach, realm, gamut, spectrum, or spread of the work that’s to be done.
To illustrate why it’s important, take the example of a website build. Suppose you agree with a client that you’ll create a new website for $100k. That’s great, but what exactly will the client get for their $100k? Is it just a one-page site, or are there 100 pages? Who’s creating the content for the site? And who’s loading it? Who’s hosting it and who owns the code? The project scope defines all these questions and more so that there’s a shared understanding of a project.
Statement vs Scope
Let’s clear this up. What’s the difference between a statement of work and a scope of work?
Are they the same thing?
Pretty much—a statement of work usually refers to the document itself, whereas the scope of work is the extent of work that the document codifies and defines.
So the terms SoW, statement of work, and scope of work can be used interchangeably; they all describe the agreement of work to be done. Hereafter, for simplicity, we’re going to use the term statement of work.
Documents Related To The Statement Of Work
There are a few similar and related documents to SoWs that are often mistaken for SoWs, even though they serve different purposes.
Master Services Agreement (MSA) vs Statement of Work (SoW)
The answer to this depends on what previous legal contractual agreements you have in place with the client. It’s worth remembering that if this is the first project with a client, it’s likely that there needs to be an accompanying MSA (Master Services Agreement) in place which you’ll need to reference in your project statement of work.
The MSA is a contract between an agency and a client in which both parties agree to the terms that govern future transactions or future agreements, like the statement of work.
The idea of an MSA is to agree on some basic terms so that any future transactions can be agreed upon more quickly. The MSA provides a strong foundation for future projects, and defines as many generic terms as possible so that they do not need to be repeatedly renegotiated; you only need to negotiate details of the project.
An MSA will typically address high-level topics such as:
- General Services— The type of work you’re going to do for the client (strategy, service design, web design, content strategy, media buying, etc.)
- Payment Terms —How you’ll get paid, when you’ll get paid, the rate you’ll be paid at, what expenses are covered and which aren’t
- Audits—How the client can ask you to prove you’re doing your job, such as reviewing timesheet reports
- Confidentiality—What you can and can’t say about the work you’re doing, to whom, and the implications if you say something you shouldn’t
- Proprietary Rights—Who owns what when the job’s done (usually the sticking point is who owns the layered design files and code)
- Term and Termination—How long the agreement lasts, who can end the agreement, for what reasons, and what the implications or costs are
- Representations – Ensures you can do the work and that you’re not in conflict with other agreements
- Warranties—What you’ll fix if whatever you make is broken and your fault
- Indemnification—To guarantee against any loss which another might suffer
- Insurance—The types and amount of insurance coverage you have to carry out the work
- Project Management—What the roles for project managers on both sides will be
- Support/Deployment—What assistance you’ll provide the client with implementation, and what additional support you’ll provide moving forward.
So while an MSA is a governing document for the entire relationship, the SoW usually deals with the specifics of a single project. If you don’t have a Master Service Agreement in place, you’ll want to include the kind of details outlined above in your statement of work. Obviously, if you do have an MSA in place, you can leave these out of the statement of work.
Project Charter vs Statement of Work
A project charter is a document that is closely related to the statement of work but is the more big picture. Instead of going into detail about each task and deliverable, it covers project objectives and expected outcomes. Use this document for larger projects with more phases, where losing track of the scope of the work between phases is more likely. The project charter is intended for use at the beginning of projects, after the statement of work has been signed off on.
Request for Proposals vs Statement of Work
Requests for proposals (RFPs) are documents created by companies or organizations when they wish to find an agency, vendor, or contractor for a particular service. Different industries have slightly different ways of going about creating RFPs, but most will at the very minimum outline a scope of work, specific requirements for functionalities or technical requirements, and an outline of timeline or deadlines.
Agencies interested in completing the scope of work set out in the RFP respond to these with a proposal, usually outlining their approach to the work, their methodologies, and some examples of similar projects that they’ve completed. The statement of work then comes after the agency has been awarded the project, and contains more details and specifics for the project.
What Should A Statement Of Work Contain?
The statement of work is the project contract and sets and aligns expectations. It provides high-level overarching project information and defines detailed deliverables, standards, criteria, and requirements for each phase. The statement of work contains all the project details wrapped up in one document. If you’ve already created a project plan or timeline and a project estimate, then the statement of work is the icing on the cake—it’s got all the juicy detail and ties everything together.
It can contain all kinds of detail to help with that alignment including detail around:
- due dates
- defining what’s acceptable and what’s not
- invoicing schedule
In fact, you could put all kinds of things into a statement of work if you wanted—it’s just best to keep it as lean as possible.
While creating a statement of work might sound reasonably simple, getting it right is not. Here’s why:
- If the work statement is too vague, too broad, or too generic, it can leave room for multiple interpretations, which leads to trouble later in a project.
- If it’s too detailed, it can artificially constrain the project, so that you end up doing pretend work that’s not really needed, just because you said you would.
So what should a statement of work contain?
What are the bits of a statement of work that are important? What’s really a waste of time and redundant?
There’s no one way to produce a statement of work, but whether they’re five or fifty pages, they’re doing the same thing and setting the parameters of the project so everyone knows the boundaries of the project.
At a minimum, the SoW document should clearly detail:
- Overview—What the project is, the purpose of the project and why it’s happening, and what it will achieve
- Governance—Who has approval
- Work breakdown structure (WBS)—How the project will be completed, what approach will be taken, and the specific tasks and phases that will be completed
- Deliverables—What will be produced
- Period of performance—When the project will be delivered, along with a timeline and a list of milestones. Include the approximate amount of time for each milestone, as well as approximate start dates and end dates.
- Estimate—What it will cost, as well as a payment schedule
- Assumptions—What is and isn’t included
- Work requirements—Any other special requirements and specifics about how the project is to be completed, such as specific approaches or tools. For software development projects, including functional requirements.
Statement Of Work Example
A statement of work should contain; an overview, governance detail, the approach, phases and tasks, deliverables, timeline and milestones, estimate and payment schedule, and any assumptions. But if you’re looking for a statement of work example, you’re probably wondering how should you structure all this information so it doesn’t become totally overwhelming.
Sample Statement Of Work Breakdown For A Digital Project
For most projects, your statement of work should have two distinct parts. The first section outlines the over-arching project information (which you can often borrow from a previous project); the second section defines the detail of each phase of the project.
Here’s a sample statement of work breakdown:
- Project Summary
- Project Process
- Project Milestones
- Overall Project Governance
- Terms and Conditions
- General Assumptions
- Phase [n]: [Phase name]
- Phase Description
- Deliverables and Assumptions
- Milestones +Schedule
- Budget +Payment
- Appendix A: Deliverable Descriptions
More Statement Of Work Examples
Because SoW documents are such a massive undertaking, I’ve put together a complete sample statement of work that can help anyone who wants to get a jumpstart on their SoW in project management. The example statement of work and an SoW template for you to fill out are available in the DPM Membership. I’d love to have you in our growing community of 400+ active digital project managers!
How Detailed Should A Statement Of Work Be?
The challenging question for project managers when writing the statement of work is deciding how much detail to include.
If you’re too scant in the details, it leaves a lot open to interpretation so there’s flexibility to maneuver and pivot, but also opportunity for a client to try their luck in getting things included within the project scope that wasn’t included.
But include too much detail in the statement of work (SoW) and, you’ll find that you’re stuck with an inflexible process and deliverables that might not be adding to the overall value of the project. We rarely know exactly how a project is going to go at the beginning of a project, so overly-defining it not only takes a long time to write and get approved but you’ll find it makes it difficult to pivot the project when necessary as you’ve defined away any flexibility.
You need to strike the balance of making sure the statement of work gets signed off quickly while still ensuring that you’re raising the questions and covering off potential problem areas.
Of course, there are lots of other things that you could put into a scope of work, like definitions, project team, resource plans, supplier and client responsibilities, acceptance criteria, specific service levels, reports, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So how detailed do you need to go?
Well, if you think that there could be any doubt or disagreement about anything in your statement of work, you probably need to clarify if further. When projects go bad, the first place that the client will reference is the statement of work, so if it’s not detailed enough, add in the detail. You don’t want to bring up the statement of work, but when you do, it’s worth having done it properly.
When Is The Best Time To Start Making A SoW?
Producing a statement of work is a lot of work so you don’t want to create it prematurely when a client is still trying to decide if they want to do a project. But equally, you don’t want to start writing a statement of work (SoW) when the client has approved your estimate. If you do, you’ll hold up the project planning process and have forgotten lots of the detail.
In our guide on estimating projects we talk about three phases of estimation:
- SoW estimation
It’s a good idea to start making notes for your statement of work in the ballpark estimation phase. Then, begin the process of documenting as you’re creating the budget estimate so that by the time you’re creating the final statement of work estimate, you’ve got all the information you need to send the statement of work to the client quickly for sign off.
1. Break it up
Don’t scope what you don’t know. Rather than trying to create a statement of work for an entire project, split the project into phases, and develop separate statements of work for each phase as the project progresses.
2. Make a plan
Decide what you’re doing and how. Define the deliverables, and the process required to produce them so you can clearly articulate what’s in and what’s out of the project scope.
3. Put it into context
Explain why you’re doing it. Make the purpose of the process clear so even if the specifics of the plan evolve, the statement of work is clear on how you’ll know if the process was a success.
4. Be specific
Set the project’s boundaries. Minimize the risk of misinterpretation from your client by defining the extent of the work to do, and quantifying it wherever possible so they don’t expect more than they’re paying for.
5. Make assumptions
Lay the ground rules. Use project scope statements to explain mutual expectations and what has to hold true to properly execute the project, being clear about what’s included, and what’s not.
6. Make it simple
Be clear and concise. Make it as short as possible, avoid words with multiple interpretations, and ensure it’s easy to understand.
7. Share it
Make sure everyone knows. Keep it close, and know the statement of work yourself – making sure your client and team are clear on what’s in and what’s out by providing helpful reminders throughout the project.
Scope Of Work Template
There are countless scope of work templates that you’ll find online for projects, but many of them are confusing and more than we’ll ever need for digital projects. They can actually be pretty confusing as you find yourself trying to fill in the blanks of an enormous project scope document that you simply don’t need.
You need to strike a balance of being just detailed enough; developing a scope of work that’s quick to produce, robust yet flexible, without creating something that’s so behemoth that it takes you two weeks to produce.
So if you need a statement of work template, or you’re looking for a scope of work template, we’ve got just the thing! This detailed Statement of Work (SoW) template provides you with an instantly downloadable, fully detailed, statement of work ready to use.
Statement Of Work Template Overview
It comes with two distinct parts; the first section outlines over-arching project information; the second part defines the detail of each phase and can be extended throughout the course of a project as each phase ends.
It’s written so that you can easily write a statement of work for your digital project. It helps answer the questions; ‘what should I include in my statement of work?’, ‘how much detail do I need?’ and ‘where do I put all the project information?’
Statement Of Work Template Detail
Instead of wasting time cobbling together something yourself, we’ve done the hard work for you with a fully-detailed statement of work template that’s around 12 x pages long / 1000 words. Save yourself hours of work and instantly download the template (supplied as a .doc) for you to adapt as you need. The template is unbranded and uses generic MS Word styling to make it easy for you to brand with your own logo and edit content.
The statement of work template provides the following:
- Project Information
- Project Summary
- Project Process
- Project Budget
- Project Milestones
- Project Governance
- Terms and Conditions
- Phase Details
- Deliverable Descriptions
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Become a Member to get this template (and lots more). Membership is a supportive community with access to mentorship, networking, and ongoing resources to grow your career.
How To Use A Statement Of Work
So you’ve finally got your statement of work signed off on – now the real fun of keeping the project on track with the statement of work really begins. If you don’t stick to the statement of work there’s a high possibility you’re going to end up not quite delivering on the project goals or what the client needed as well as late and over budget too. So how do you stick to it and keep your SoW on track?
Whether you wrote the statement of work or you inherited it from one of your colleagues, you need to know it well – if you don’t, how can you be sure your team is doing the right thing? And it’s always embarrassing it the client brings up something that you’ve written in the statement of work that you’ve totally forgotten about.
Be sure to keep a copy of it on hand. You may even want to print it out and makes notes on it. Log it in your project management software to make sure all relevant team members can access it. Whatever you do, make sure that you can pull it up when you’re on a call or in a meeting because whenever it’s in question, everyone will look to you for answers.
Start by taking ownership for it and owning delivery of it. Print it out and have it on your desk so you can quickly refer to it. You need to be best buds with your statement of work. You’re the guardian of the project so if you’re not 100% confident on what’s being delivered, how is anyone else going to know? Get familiar enough with it so that you know the details without having to refer to it. That level ownership is going to inspire confidence in the team as well as the client and enable you to deliver to it.
Spread The Word
It’s not good enough for just you to know the SoW. As digital project managers we’re rarely the ones actually doing the work so our team needs to know it too. Even if they were involved in architecting the statement of work it’s bound to have changed and evolved so make sure they’re fully aware of what success looks like and understand the activities, deliverables, and assumptions. If you fail to communicate the details of the project properly with your team you can find them semi-innocently wandering off course. So circulate the SoW, print copies for them, stick it on the walls of your war room, make it visible, and ensure everyone’s familiar with it.
Get Everyone On Board
Don’t be too dogmatic. Chances are, the team that helped you create the SoW isn’t the team that’s now working on the project. So if your project team thinks that something doesn’t make sense or isn’t ultimately going to drive the success of the project, give them the opportunity to work together to refine the statement of work. If it’s good for the project then you should be able to make a case to the client. There’s never value in doing work simply because the statement of work dictates it – it should always create value for the project.
Don’t be afraid of bringing up the statement of work in your client meetings – in fact make it a conversation topic in your weekly status meeting. Discuss if the SoW is still valid, and whether things going to plan. If there are things that need to be adjusted, then adjust them and make sure everyone’s aware of the changes. Watch out though – remember all of that work you put into your plan? Don’t let it all go down the drain by succumbing to every new request or pivoting to every new idea.
Watch For Scope Creep
Firstly, what is scope creep? Scope creep is when the scope of a project begins to grow, seemingly sneakily. Typically, it’s when that feature starts off as one thing but somehow (cue clients asking/demanding), slowly evolves or morphs into a much bigger feature that costs more to deliver than was initially scoped.
Clients are always full of good ideas, and often have no idea of the implications of what they’re asking.
Classic scope creep examples are when a client asks for an additional round of creative amends that weren’t accounted for, or when a client asks for a ‘favour’ which wasn’t budgeted for, like an additional format for a banner campaign.
Watch out, too, for gold-plating; it’s when scope creep is our fault.
Someone on your team wants to do an awesome job and so starts over delivering and giving the client more than they paid for, which would be great, if it wasn’t for the fact that similarly to scope creep, it hasn’t been accounted for, so takes the project over budget.
But back to scope creep. How to avoid it?
The first step to avoid scope creep it is to make sure you’re identifying it – call it out for what it is as quickly as you can. To identify scope creep you need to know your project scope well enough so you know what’s in and what’s out of the statement of work.
Be wary when a client starts using phrases like these:
- Can we just..
- One little thing…
- Would you mind doing me a favour…
If they’re saying things like that, it means they know it’s not really included in the project scope and you need to remind them of it. Refer back to the statement of work and help them understand that what they’re asking for wasn’t included.
After identifying the scope creep, try chatting the situation through with the client and give them some options:
- Can you trade their request for a new feature by taking out something similarly sized?
- Does extending the timeline create any efficiencies?
- Can you include their new feature request in a new project?
Assuming it’s more work, you should issue a change request – basically, an update to the statement of work that details what you’re going to do with a description of the change, explain how you’re going to do it with the revised approach (explaining what you’re doing differently from the original project scope), as well as the budget and timeline implications.
Start How You Need To Finish
Finally, remember that projects that go off the rails often do so in the very early stages of the project when PM’s don’t want to rock the boat by raising issues when they should. The knock-on impact of being too flexible in the first few weeks of a project can be huge.
Not only does it leave you with catching up to do but it sets an expectation with the client that the scope of work is more flexible than it really is. That first version of your plan is your baseline and it outlines every step you need to take to get from the beginning to the end of your project. You don’t just make these things up!
Further Reading On Statements Of Work (SoW)
If you’re looking for even more information on writing statements of work, check out some of the other great articles we’ve found on creating a scope of work (SoW).
- Agreements = Expectations
- Scope Of Work Example: Guidelines To Prepare An Effective Contract
- Must-Have Items On A Scope Of Work (SoW)
- How To Define An Agency Scope Of Work To Deliver Increased Value
- Tips For Writing A Statement Of Work
- Tactical Tips For Creating A Successful Deliverables-Based SoW
- Writing A Statement Of Work
- 50 Tips For Your Statement Of Work (SoW)