Scope of work vs. statement of work: What’s the difference?

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Summary

While both scope of work and statement of work are often abbreviated as SoW, they’re not the same thing. A scope of work is a subset of the statement of work document that describes how the project goals will be achieved. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between these two documents and what you should include in each.

Sometimes you need external help on a project because your resource needs exceed your internal capacities. When hiring outside contractors, agencies, or vendors, a scope of work or statement of work can help ensure a successful project, effective communication, and timely delivery.

But what exactly is the difference between a scope of work and a statement of work and what goes into these documents? In this article, we’ll explain how to tell these two documents apart and why they’re valuable project management tools. 

Note this is not intended to be legal advice, and you should consult with your own internal legal team to determine the approach that works best for your situation.

Scope of work vs. statement of work

Scope of work vs. statement of work

While both scope of work and statement of work are often abbreviated as SoW, they’re not the same thing. 

A scope of work is a tool to define and share important business considerations and project goals. Depending on your project’s needs, you may just need a standalone scope of work. If your team is working with an external client or agency, you may then decide to create a statement of work. This external-facing document is a comprehensive outline of the project’s deliverables, requirements, goals, schedule, and costs,  and provides your project team and stakeholders with a detailed narrative of what needs to be done to successfully complete the project. 

Let’s take a more in-depth look at both documents, starting with the scope of work.

What is a scope of work?

A scope of work is a guide to help your team understand what a project does and doesn’t cover. The scope of work typically discusses project needs and explains how a project’s goals will be met. This document will usually outline the work you’re going to perform during the project and includes details on the deliverables, timeline, milestones, and reports. 

A scope of work can stand alone if your project doesn’t require a statement of work. Work with your internal legal team to decide if you need to expand your scope of work into a statement of work.

When can a scope of work be helpful?

A scope of work is the foundation of a well-planned project and can help it run smoothly. This document can help your team and project stakeholders agree on project requirements and identify potential risks that could prevent a successful and timely completion. 

For example, while drafting the scope of work, your team may notice that the scheduled delivery of a task conflicts with an ongoing separate task. You can then make changes to the timeline and adjust the scope of work accordingly.

A scope of work can help align your team on project deliverables to help hit deadlines, avoid backlogs, or added expenses.

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What is a statement of work (SoW)?

A statement of work document is a working agreement between two parties that’s helpful for aligning on project objectives. A SoW builds on your scope of work. This document is typically drafted at the start of a project and can define everything from the project objectives to detailed tasks, project cost and schedule, and more. 

They’re most often used for external projects and act as a contract between your organization and the client, buyer, agency, or contractor you hired. For example, you may need to draw up a statement of work when collaborating with an external design agency for a project or when working with a contractor on a large-scale building project. 

Some of the most complex statements of work documents are written for government contracts and are typically part of the RFP (request for proposal) or RFQ (request for quotation).

You can also use a statement of work for internal projects when two different departments collaborate. 

The following parties generally receive a SoW:

  • Project manager or lead

  • Contractors and collaborators

  • Everyone involved in the contract

Check with your internal legal team to decide if or when a project can benefit from a statement of work.

When can a statement of work be helpful?

A well-written SoW combined with an effective project management tool can set you up for a successful project. This document helps your team and the party you hired manage and document expectations. It’s a narrative description of the project that can help avoid disputes and misunderstandings.

At the end of the project, the results will be reflected back on this document to verify that the final performance has met the SoW. Depending on your contract and your legal team’s advice, this can have additional impact, like whether your organization will be paid in full, receive bonuses, or suffer penalties.

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How to write a scope of work

A good scope of work helps you identify important business considerations and share your project objectives and details with project stakeholders.

How to write a scope of work

Many people keep the following in mind when approaching a scope of work:

  • Be specific. Use precise and clear language so everyone is on the same page about the project requirements and expected outcomes. Listing measurable deliverables, milestones, and tasks may help you avoid confusion later on.

  • Use visuals. Visuals like a work breakdown structure make information easier and quicker to digest for everyone involved. They also allow you and your team to detect risks like bottlenecks that can put the successful and timely completion of your project on the line.

  • Collaborate with stakeholders. We’ve already mentioned that you should seek advice from your legal team during this process. For this specific task, collaborating with stakeholders can save you time in the long run. This way, you can nip future misunderstandings in the bud by getting everyone involved from the start.

No two scope management plans look the same. What you should include and how in-depth this section should be will look very different for every industry and project. When in doubt, check with your internal legal team for guidance.

The following sections generally make up a scope of work:

Deliverables

This section in the scope of work covers the product or service the project is going to deliver. This is where a work breakdown structure will come in handy.

Timeline

Include a timeline or Gantt chart that precisely describes the major phases of your project. This section serves as the visual project roadmap leading your team and everyone involved in the project from start to finish. 

Milestones

Similar to a scope of work, milestones help you break up your project in more digestible chunks. Write down all the milestones for your project to make monitoring progress and sticking to your timeline an easier task.

Company goals and objectives template

Reporting

A scope of work typically also includes any reports that you’ll be generating throughout the project. Whether it’s a status report to the client, a progress report you’re inquiring about from the vendor, or a financial report to analyze the difference between budgets and performance, include details about all of these documents, who will create them, and when they’re scheduled to be delivered.

These reports will be a means of communication throughout the project and provide all parties involved with the data and information they need to stay updated on the performance of the project.

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Some scope of work documents may include a glossary of terms, an overview of acronyms and abbreviations, or other sections further describing details associated with the successful completion of the project.

How to write a statement of work

You can leverage your scope of work into a statement of work for better accountability with external partners. A thorough, detailed, and accurate statement of work can align teams on all project details. 

If a statement of work is unclear, it can lead to confusion between the two involved parties. That’s why it’s key to have all the tasks and details clearly outlined. 

Below are some strategies to consider when preparing a statement of work:

  1. Break the project up into phases. One long list of tasks can easily look overwhelming. By breaking the project up into individual phases, you can take some of the pressure off your team and the stakeholders.

  2. Write in short and clear sentences. Writing in short and clear sentences will minimize room for misinterpretation. If you’re planning to use acronyms or abbreviations, include a glossary so everyone understands what they stand for.

  3. Explain the purpose of the project. The project objectives and project purpose help stakeholders understand why this project matters.

  4. Define the goal of the project and how to reach it. A clearly defined goal will help you stay on track. This will also help you avoid potential misinterpretations of the final goal and the steps towards achieving it.

  5. Define project milestones and success together. Including the stakeholders and your team in the writing process can create a foundation for a smooth and successful collaboration.

  6. Set clear, simple, and measurable boundaries. Clearly defining boundaries, like the project scope, goals, and key phases, can help you avoid disputes down the line. Include quantifiable boundaries so there is no room for misinterpretation.

  7. Always run your SoW by your legal team. This ensures that everything mentioned above was executed well and thoroughly. A third party, like your internal legal team, can uncover potentially risky sections and help you and your team revise accordingly.

  8. Educate your team and check in regularly. Once the statement of work is finished and signed off, make sure your team and all stakeholders are educated on the details and stay up to date throughout the process. This allows you to monitor whether or not everyone is adhering to the agreed-upon details.

Your statement of work can cover the legal side of things but a project management tool will allow you to keep track of processes and performances throughout the project. Once the statement of work is completed, transfer all important information, tasks, and deadlines into your project plan to connect and collaborate with your team and stakeholders in real time.

What makes up a SoW?

A statement of work generally consists of 13 sections. Each section covers a specific aspect of the project and addresses the stakeholders involved. Depending on your industry and the scope of your project, the statement of work can have more or fewer sections. 

Consult with your internal legal team when drafting a statement of work to align with the standards and special requirements of your industry, organization, client, contractor, or other stakeholders.

What's in a statement of work?

For example, a statement of work might include the following sections:

1. Introduction  

At the beginning of a statement of work, there’s generally a brief introduction so anyone reading the document knows what the project is about and who’s involved. 

Read: 5 steps to writing a clear project brief

2. Project purpose

The second section defines the reason for the project. This section is typically an outline of the project objectives and the purpose of the project to give the reader a better understanding of why this project matters. 

3. Scope of work  

The scope of work is likely going to be the most detailed section in the statement of work. This section covers how you plan to accomplish the project goals. 

Read: The quick guide to defining project scope—in 8 steps

4. Location of work  

In the fourth section, you will typically define the location of the project. For example, will the project be set in a remote environment or do you need to meet on site so your team members can complete the project? 

5. Detailed tasks  

Then, the SoW will break the project scope down into smaller tasks that need to be completed. This section includes information to help all involved parties understand the specific steps they need to take to successfully complete the project. Depending on the scope of work, this section may include a work breakdown structure (WBS) to visualize the individual tasks and make this section easier to digest for the reader.

6. Milestones  

In addition to including task details, the statement of work may include a section to define any measurable project milestones. This section can help further break down the project into more manageable chunks and also give all parties involved the chance to reach their goals on time.

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7. Deliverables  

This section lists all expected deliverables, including their due dates. Typically, this section will include specific, quantifiable deliverables that don’t leave any room for misinterpretation.

8. Schedule  

Here, the schedule may include the due dates of the deliverables, the amount of time that will be spent on each task, and any billable hours. This section typically also includes relevant timelines, including the start and end date for every task.

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9. Standards and testing  

Any industry-specific standards that apply to the project will be explained and listed here. The SoW will refer to all testing stages that are required to complete the project successfully. Each testing stage should include information about who is involved in the project, the required resources and equipment, and at what stage the testing will take place.

10. Success definition  

This section includes information that clearly defines what the stakeholders deem a successful project. Typically, project stakeholders are involved with crafting this section in order to ensure that all parties agree on what the goal is for the project. 

Read: How to use critical success factors (CSFs) to support your strategic plan

11. Requirements  

At this point, the statement of work may list any special or specific project and work requirements. This can include equipment that’s needed for the projects, certifications that your team has to acquire, or security clearances that contractors have to pass. 

12. Payments 

This section can include any costs associated with the project. Anything from outside expenses that accrue throughout the project stages to the cost of labor are typically listed here. 

The payment schedule and how the payments will be made can also be explained in this section. You can state whether you’re planning to pay up front, after each milestone, or after the successful delivery. Generally speaking, payment terms are either set up by schedule or by milestone of deliverable. Coordinate with your legal and finance teams to decide what’s best for your specific situation.

13. Other  

Anything relevant to the project that hasn’t been listed yet should be included in this section. This will vary based on industry, but it can include travel pay or requirements, security concerns, software or hardware restrictions, and post-project support and testing.

Check with your internal legal team so they can help you cover everything that’s relevant to the project in this section.

Use a scope of work to avoid scope creep

Whether you’re using a statement of work or a scope of work to define your project goals, these documents will be crucial in keeping your team and any stakeholders involved accountable for their work and performance. 

Adhere to your scope of work document as best as you can to avoid scope creep. This will ensure that your project is delivered on time and meets your expectations. 

Aligning your scope of work with project management software will keep your team on track and help you reach your goals. 

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This article contains suggestions and considerations to help your team learn more about SoWs and scopes of work. This is not intended to be legal advice. Consult your internal legal team to determine the approach that works best for your situation.

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