Statement of Work

How To Write a Statement of Work

The Statement of work is an important governance document created during the plan procurement process.  The statement of work can either be your best asset or the downfall of your project.  Think of it as a blueprint to a construction project, if a measurement is slightly off the error will be compounded as more work is completed.  Eventually, this will lead to extensive rework or project failure.  As overwhelming as this sounds, don’t panic if you follow some basic steps you will be able to create a solid statement of work for your project.

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What is a Statement of Work?

First of all, what is a statement of work?  A Statement of work is a contract which contains a clear and concise description of all the work and activities the vendor is required to complete.  This document provides an extra layer of context that cost estimates and plans usually don’t have.  Its main function is to direct work for a vendor, contractor or whoever is assigned the work.  Just keep in mind, if you are developing a Statement of Work for a large project, it would be impractical to break it down to the detail level but should still include the expected work needed to produce deliverables. It is critical in any circumstance to provide those performing the work with clearly worded requirements and expected outcomes.

Do I really need a statement of work?

iStock-1132287016As a project manager, it is always in your best interest to have something that allows you to say these magic words, “But this is what we agree to” when debating with a vendor over a deliverable.  If you chose to not create a statement of work your project runs the risk of failing and leading to arguments with the vendor. 

Writing a statement of work can seem like a daunting task but if you follow this approach and communicate your expectations you will receive what you need in your procurement or at least have something to fall back on if a vendor fails to deliver.

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Checklist for Writing Statements of Work

In order to write a successful statement of work which will accomplish what needs to be done while minimizing disputes and conflict with the other party, I recommend following this checklist.

  1. Communicate with stakeholders This is probably different than most recommendations for starting a statement of work, but in my experience, I have found that this can alleviate a lot of potential problems.  At this point, you have completed the make-or-buy decision. Anytime you come to the realization you need to procure something it is crucial all the decision-makers provide input and you as the project manager can manage their expectations and develop a SOW to satisfy their requirements.

    Failing to make this initial communication will most like result in several rewrites to the document.  Everyone will have their own concept of how the statement of work will be and having this upfront discussion will pull everyone’s desires and concerns together.  Having established the requirements of stakeholders you can move on to the next step. As with most things project management related communication is a key factor.

  2. Scope of Work: Simply put, it is a detailed description of the work, type of work it is, and the tools or methods to be used.
  3. Deliverables: In this area, you need to define what you want the vendor to provide you with as a deliverable. If it isn’t listed you won’t be receiving it and trying to add deliverables to the contract after the fact can cause delays and other problems.  This will also include the completion dates for the deliverables to be received.
  4. Milestones: Setting milestones will allow you to track the progress of the vendor by having documented achievements throughout the work period. These defined points in the project will keep the vendor aligned with the expectations in the statement of work.
  5. Period of performance & Location: This sounds basic, but having a defined start and finish date for the work to begin and end will establish a timeline for the project. To coincide with the dates of the project, the maximum billing rate, fixed price, or another method of payment or billing should be annotated.  Lastly, the location where the work will be done needs to be included.  For instance, a business with several satellite locations may require a vendor to travel, whereas some projects can be completed at the vendor’s worksite.  
  6. Work Duration: For example, if you are in the process of procuring a consulting firm to conduct a workforce planning exercise for your organization you want to make sure you set the duration for the work to be completed. If you fail to do this the vendor may feel they can either rush through the project or work on it at their leisure until completed.  It is important that you define this duration based on your expectations.
  7. Industry/Organizational Standards: These are standards that you impose on the project deliverables. These include any standards such as OSHA, ISO, HIPAA, Government, Organizational strategic plans, etc.
  1. Acceptance Criteria: This will include any conditions, quality standards, testing, or other means of acceptance to be documented. If your project was procuring a software application you would define the rules which cover the functional and non-functional behavior that you expect from the application.
  2. Specialized Requirements: Do you need someone who has a specific qualification (PMP, SPHR, CISSP)? Is there specialized equipment required (tools, software, hardware)? 

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO