How to Write a Statement of Work
It doesn’t matter whether you are in the tech realm or another industry, a statement of work, commonly referred to as an SOW, is a powerful project document. The project-based agreement details what the vendor or supplier will deliver to the client. We've outlined how to write a Statement of Work in detail below.
If you're looking to improve your skills as a technical writer, our Technical Writing Foundations course teaches not only how to write an SOW but all common technical documents and includes instructor feedback.
What is a Statement of Work (SOW)?
The statement of work (SOW) represents a promise. The formal document's brevity is part of the reason that clients are so inclined to study it with such precision. An SOW is short and readable. It is not chock full of legalese, but it is a binding agreement.
An SOW accomplishes the following in terms of a project:
- Sets expectations
- Establishes agreed-upon guidelines
- Outlines the entire project scope
- Summarizes what is included in the cost
- Highlights other important points, such as the period of time for completion
It's not the same thing as a scope of work; a scope of work is a section of the SOW that details what is included and what this project will NOT include.
The document is also legally binding, so it's important to have your legal team review it.
Here are the must-follow steps on how to write a Statement of Work (a general SOW) that protects the doer(s) of the job at hand and its project stakeholders.
Step #1: Determine your type of SOW
The three common types of SOWs include:
- Level of Work SOW: This more general SOW maps out the hours of work and resources required for the project. It's appropriate for contractors or short-term projects.
- Design SOW: The design/detail SOW breaks down all project goals and tasks involved with the project. This type is often used by design services and constructions.
- Performance-based SOW: This document breaks down the performance objectives that are expected in a project. It doesn't detail how the project work will be accomplished.
Step #2: Think of your audience
Who are you writing this SOW for? Why are you writing it? Answer these questions before you ever begin drafting.
You'll need to research or have conversations with connected parties of the project to determine their needs. Here are potential readers of an SOW and why you might be writing the doc:
- Financial startup requesting website bids
- A government agency with a request for proposals (RFPs)
- Company opens up bidding on building construction projects
An important note here when considering your audience: you want to highlight how you will elevate your client’s organization or department, but do not oversell. You always want to be careful of “scope creep.”
If you have been in the business for a while, you know this all-too-common occurrence. Vendors fall victim to the expectation that additional features or functions are to be included in the project when these have not been authorized. Any requirements not documented in the SOW are deemed beyond the agreed-upon scope. Protect yourself and your company by carefully understanding their needs and what you can reasonably provide.
Step #3: Plan out the sections of the SOW and write
Don't start writing yet. Instead, plan out the content of your SOW.
Although you should customize based on your reader, here are the basic sections of a Statement of Work:
- Background/introduction: The introduction to the SOW should be a brief statement. It should, in the most basic of terms, explain the goal of the project.
- Project objectives: Present project objectives or your purpose statement. Why is the project happening?
- Project scope: Outline what the project outcome will be. Explain, at a high-level, what processes will be included. Wait to include detailed tasks until the next section.
- Tasks and deliverables: This is a list of the detailed activities and deliverables that are expected to be completed by the contractor or vendor. Include the actual tasks.
- Resources and testing: List the materials (e.g., software) needed to make the project successful. Also include the project manager and project teams required by your company and the client's (and the level of effort).
- Project timeline: Provide a deadline for each project deliverable and project milestones. Be realistic and detailed about the project lifecycle. Include specs like quantity, quality, and time. And don’t forget to include contingencies in your plan.
- Payment terms: Detail how you will be compensated and when. It may be based on milestones achieved, hours worked, or a set schedule. Make sure there is no room for misinterpretation of project costs and project budget.
- Special technical requirements: This section is for miscellaneous information or project requirements not included in the rest of the SOW, such as travel requirements or industry-specific standards.
- Acceptance criteria/signatures: Detail how the client will accept project deliverables. Schedule review times for the work delivered. Include a section where the appropriate parties can sign the SOW.
Once you have all these details planned, write out your statement of work.
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Step #4: Edit the document
Before sending your SOW to the client, thoroughly edit the content. Here are different elements to review:
- Be thorough but be brief. Think of the reader's needs.
- Write in short, concise sentences.
- Avoid jargon. Use easy-to-understand terms or clarify what certain words mean if you think the reader might not understand.
- Include visuals and charts if they will help illustrate a concept.
- Steer clear of vague wording that could lead to scope creep, such as "etc."
Also, use a grammar check like Grammarly to avoid missing any major grammar or punctuation errors. Mistakes can impact perceived professionalism.
Step #5: Don’t proceed until you receive a signature
As you would be advised in any Contracts 101 class, do not begin the project kickoff until you get the written signature from stakeholders. For enterprise companies, this may take some time. But you should only begin launch upon getting a formal agreement.
Note: A project charter (a short non-legal project overview) is typically completed and submitted after a statement of work.
Construction Statement of Work Example
Need some inspiration as you're writing your project plan? Here is an SOW document by PennDOT in response to an RFQ:
Notice the use of headings, bullets, and white space. This formatting makes it easy for the reader to absorb the information.
Hint: You can also use the above example as an SOW template.
Final words on how to write a Statement of Work
The key takeaway here is to be inclusive in your SOW document. Engage the help and support of all stakeholders. When all parties step up, it is really just a basic project plan chock full of project requirements, measurements, and contingency plans to help ensure an effective statement of work and a successful project.
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