Creating a Work Scope Document (SOW)

By Ron Scruggs

A good work scope puts you in control of the project and procurement process.

This is an overview of the items to be included in any work scope document (sometimes called an SOW or statement of work).  Note that before selection of a vendor, you should complete negotiations. Negotiation after selection reduces your negotiation leverage. Make sure you specify the results you are after and have the contract terms defined. If you have a need that is not defined in the contract documents, then it is not in the deal. Avoid side letters and verbal promises.

After you have the SOW team and consensus, the first step is determining whether the SOW is to be for results (the vendor is responsible) or resources (we are responsible).  For results SOWs, the language should state that the vendor is responsible for achieving the “following results”. You do not tell the vendor how to achieve the results or who to use.  For resources SOWs, you will be defining the steps, people and you determine their performance (when to be on the job, the type of engineer and other details).

If you are creating results work scope documents, call them statement of results (SOR) or another appropriate name not associated with time and expense resource documents.

Red-flag language to avoid in results SORs is unclear, ambiguous wording such as:

  • Joint efforts (This avoids vendor responsibility for results)
  • Customer will assist…” (This avoids vendor results)
  • Qualified technicians…” (How are they qualified?)
  • Best practices…?” (According to whom?)
  • Reasonable…?” (be precise in results SORs, reasonableness can vary)

Avoid the vendor totaling creating the SOW or SOR. If a customer fails to specify requirements, then the vendor has a license to propose anything, or to tailor its presentations to identify only the requirements that it can meet. The sales effort then subtly shifts to convincing you that the vendor’s strengths are your requirements.

The basic work scope must answer these six questions:

  1. What is the work to be performed?
  2.  How is it managed?
  3.  What are the benefits to our company?
  4.  Are there special requirements?
  5.  What are we supplying?
  6.  When is it finished?

What is the work to be performed? 

  1. Explain the background, where you are now and where you want to be.
  2. State the results you want to be achieved by the vendor.
  3. State the deliverables the vendor is to provide
  4. Define the schedule for the results, deliverables and acceptance.
  5. Define the service levels that you want and the measurements.

How is it managed?  How are you going to oversee the project?

  1. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly. Red-flag reporting
  2. Achievement to date, achievements planned
  3. Identification of problems to date (use a rolling estoppel process)
  4. On-site meetings, progress meetings, acceptance process meetings, etc.
  5. Project managers with authority to make decisions for the results.
  6. Milestone reviews
  7. Payment for performance.

What are the benefits to our company?

  1. When the results are achieved, what benefits do we expect?
  2. Vendor needs to know the benefits of results for full understanding.
  3. These were likely expressed to get internal buy-in of project.

What are some special requirements?

  1. Technical requirements (specifications)
  2. Government and legal requirements
  3. Contract requirements (SLAs if not specified elsewhere)
  4. Location of work and access requirements

What are we supplying?

  1. Define the customer-supplied items (data, hardware, etc.)
  2. Specify the dates
  3. Note that vendor has to report on issues with our items
  4. Any item not specified as contractor supplied, is vendor responsibility

When is the project completed?

  1. Define the acceptance criteria.
  2. Define who is responsible for acceptance.
  3. Define what happens for failure to meet acceptance.
  4. Is there initial acceptance and an operational acceptance?
  5. Are all deliverables completed and accepted?
  6. Use of an acceptance form to signify customer acceptance.


  • A good RFP and SOR puts you in control of the procurement process
  • Address “results” or “resources”
  • Answer the six basic questions
  • The right team is essential (sometimes it is only the buyer and PM)
  • There is no substitute for preparation
  • Negotiate before you select.
  • Use a clear and concise writing style; simplify wherever possible
  • Avoid ‘reasonable’, ‘best practices’, ‘joint efforts’ and other ambiguous language
  • Spell check and proofread all correspondence to potential vendors
  • Always include your form contract in your RFP and work scope document
  • Never underestimate the power of competition – it yields the best deal
  • If it is not in the contract (or Work Scope Document), it is not in the deal.