Statement of Work – Defined

One very important aspect of successful project management is the creation of a Statement Of Work (SOW). Every project must have one, and if it is not done properly the project will most likely fail – or at the very least fall short of stakeholder’s expectations. So what exactly is a SOW? When is it created and by whom? Lets examine the concepts around a SOW and see if we can answer these questions sufficiently.

A SOW is a detailed description of the work to be done during the life of a project. Basically it answers the five questions of Who, What, Where, When and How. And, in terms of successful project implementation, failure to address these basic questions will very likely lead to failure of the project as a whole. The SOW identifies what the scope of the project is. Project scope is a detailed identification of exactly what will be accomplished. It also defines what will not be performed during the project – either explicitly or by omission. The more clear a project scope is, however, the more successful the project will be.

A SOW very clearly describes the purpose of the project; that purpose can be as simple as updating a software package or as intricate as building a multimillion dollar skyscraper. It should also identify what specific tasks will be accomplished during the life of the project. Milestones – significant events that show progress of a project – should also be identified. Its often useful to attach rewards to milestones that are completed on time, which should be clearly identified within the SOW. There should also be detailed information regarding who will be accomplishing the various tasks. Lastly, the SOW should identify the dates and times of all significant events that will occur during the project life cycle. This should include when the project is scheduled to kick-off and when successful completion is expected.

The project manager should be the individual creating the SOW, in partnership with all stakeholders. The stakeholders are the individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the project’s success. Its very important that prior to the kickoff of the project all stakeholders agree with the information in a SOW. That way there are no surprises later on down the road. By getting everyone to agree at the beginning of a project, you can also help to eliminate scope creep. Scope creep occurs when stakeholders ask for changes in the project plan that are outside of the parameters specified in a SOW. Its important to eliminate scope creep whenever possible, or the project could end up costing more and taking longer than expected.

The creation of an SOW can be a very onerous task, depending on the complexity of the project. Often the documentation is lengthy and includes a very high level of detail. By clearly defining everyone’s expectations however, the project can proceed unhindered by ambiguity. And in the end the project can be declared a success by everyone’s scale, which should be a project managers’ overall goal.

If you’re just starting out, check out the SOW template developed by the N.C. Department of Commerce Information Resource Management Division.

An alternative resource is Rbnda Robert’s articles, "Developing a Technical Statement of Work."