How to Write a Scope of Work (with Examples)

In business, a scope of work (SOW) document ensures that projects are completed as they were initially intended. A scope of work helps strengthen collaborativeness by enhancing communication and reducing assumptions that can send a project off course.

The Meetingnotes Team
Last update:
February 20, 2024

In business, a scope of work (SOW) document ensures that projects are completed as they were initially intended. A scope of work helps strengthen collaborativeness by enhancing communication and reducing assumptions that can send a project off course. Seeing that the scope of work is an essential document, every project manager should prioritize its formulation.

A clear and comprehensive SOW indicates the kind of work to be undertaken, the business's approach to completing these objectives, and the expected results. If used appropriately, the SOW document should put you and your team in a position to understand a project's required budget beforehand, which can set you up for success in the long run.

The scope of work document integrates many aspects – from the project schedule to the precise details and expected results. Essentially, an SOW should help you define your intentions and safeguard your activities from scope creep. It should be viewed as a map that reminds you of the direction you should follow over time.

In this guide, we shall explain everything you need to know about a scope of work. Let's jump right into it.


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What is a Scope of Work?

Let's start with a simple definition of a scope of work.

An SOW can be defined as a document that issues detailed information regarding a project's groundwork. The SOW can also serve as a written contract between you and other stakeholders pertinent to a project, such as service providers, agents, or subcontractors.

This agreement should explain how each task should be completed, the payment details, the deliverables, and the required outcomes. For project managers, the SOW helps communicate project expectations clearly and concisely. You should use the document to explain to stakeholders what they can or cannot do.

As earlier stated, the SOW can help you avoid scope creep.

So, what is scope creep, and how can the scope of work document help you avoid it?

Simply put, scope creep refers to the nature of unauthorized features and functions to expand your project beyond your expectations. Let's say your team is building an android app with specific functionalities for a client. Your main focus can be on user experience, storyboarding, prototyping, wireframing, and development as the project deliverables. With these five deliverables, you have already envisioned your mobile app and how it will hit the market.

In the middle of the project, the client demands more deliverables be added to the project, taking you off course. This scenario is a common occurrence in project management and is an example of scope creep.

Other instances of scope creep can occur due to inaccurate scope definition, ineffective project management, poor communication, and stakeholders presenting unrealistic project outcomes. Although scope creep can massively affect project success, the good news is that this can be avoided by framing a scope of work.

Another important issue to note is that a scope of work differs from a statement of work in project management. The scope of work is essentially a subcategory of the statement of work. While the scope of work indicates the kind of work to be undertaken, the business's approach to completing these objectives, and the expected results, the statement of work serves more as an operating agreement.

The statement of work is usually drafted at the beginning of a project. When a project manager wants to enter agreements with external contractors or agencies, they can use statement of work documents as part of the RFPs (requests for proposal). A statement of work can also help enforce agreements between two internal departments.

In the case of collaboration between a company's departments, the statement of work can be formulated by holding periodic leadership team meetings.

Why Do You Need a Scope of Work?

After explaining what a scope of work document is, the next step entails elucidating why you would need one in the first place. Scope of work documents are valuable aspects of project management, and the following are some benefits of integrating these tools into your projects.

  • SOWs enhance communication. Effective communication is valuable to any business. At the end of the day, good communication ensures that projects carry on smoothly and efficiently. When all team members can communicate the intended goals and objectives, they become better placed to comprehend what is expected of them. Before a project manager creates a scope of work document, they get to cooperate with other stakeholders, which enhances communication.
  • SOWs protect your budget. In all honesty, no one is happy when a project's budget balloons unexpectedly. The scope of work is a valuable way of ensuring that your project remains within the stipulated budget because the project expectations are communicated clearly and concisely.
  • ‍The SOW is the go-to document when there are misunderstandings. It is no secret that complications can affect even the biggest and most important projects. In this regard, an SOW can act as a written record of what was agreed upon. You can always go back to your SOW when miscommunications and mix-ups arise.
  • Finally, SOWs can curb time wastage. Every project manager wants to finish their projects on time, and scope of work documents can help you realize this objective. When you know each deliverable, and what is expected of team members, you become better placed to keep them on track. Therefore, an SOW can ensure that each project detail is addressed within the intended time frame.

Let us now look at the people tasked with writing the scope of work.

Who Should Provide the Scope of Work?

In any business, the project manager and the customer should create the scope of work document. Both parties have overlapping interests because one provides a service while the other contracts a product or a service.

Although the scope of work document is a collaborative effort between multiple stakeholders, the project manager and client should always have the final say regarding the activities to be undertaken. Therefore, work should not begin until the two parties come to an agreement.

Scope of work documents are widely used today. Examples of organizations where SOWs are used are software design, construction, and hospitality companies. Therefore, you can expect that you will need to draft an SOW regardless of the industry you operate in.

As long as you have the required resources and positive relationships with stakeholders, you can start writing your scope of work document to ensure that your efforts count for something in the long run.


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What is Included in a Scope of Work?

Now that you are aware of the scope of work document and why you need it for your project, let's look at what it should look like.

SOWs should be detailed documents for ease of understanding. The people you collaborate with for your project should easily understand the information contained therein to use the scope of work document as a point of reference throughout the project. An SOW should contain 8 sections: the introduction, project overview and objectives, scope of work, task list, project schedule, project deliverables, adoption plan, and the criteria for success.

These sections are discussed below in detail.


The first section of the scope of work is the introduction. The introduction should include the project's specifics, such as the type of work to be done and the stakeholders involved. Alternative issues that should be covered in the introduction are whether the SOW will be used to create other agreements later. Examples of these are contracts and standing orders.

Project Overview and Objectives

The second section should cover the motivation behind the said project.

This section lists down all the project's objectives by going into detail. However, the information contained in this section must cover only what is necessary to maintain objectivity.

Scope of Work

The scope of work explains the activities that should be undertaken for the project to be complete. Again, it is important to list the details at the surface level to ensure that attention is not pulled from other sections of the scope of work document. Issues covered in the scope of work should be listed in sections (such as those contained in a simple workflow tool).

Task List

The task list section covers the task management techniques that will be used in your project. Task management is vital because it helps break down the specific steps that will be undertaken by all the team members.

You should understand that tasks should not be viewed as project deliverables. Tasks are specific actions that will guide you towards project completion. Therefore, tasks can be classified into phases. Back to the mobile app development instance used earlier in this guide, there should be specific tasks listed under each of the user experience, storyboarding, prototyping, wireframing, and development project stages. This logic should be applied to any project.

You can learn more about how to prioritize tasks here.

Project Schedule

The project schedule should show the project timeline. However, this step should cover more than the project commencement and completion dates. Project managers should use the project schedule section to outline when each task is undertaken.

The key areas that you can focus on in the project schedule section are the timelines for each task or phase, the location where each task should be performeed, and the required resources that will aid each step's success.

Covering all these areas ensures that each task and phase is completely defined, meaning that there are minimal misunderstandings.

Project Deliverables

The project deliverables are your expectations as a project manager. These deliverables should be the specific conclusions drawn from your project before you begin. For example, you can list deliverables like:

  • The development of a new staircase.
  • The creation of a mobile e-commerce application.
  • Redesigned website user interface.

You can also combine this section with the project schedule section to ensure ease of reference if issues emerge.

Adoption Plan

The seventh step entails the specifics about how each deliverable will be realized. For example, you can explain how a new mobile application will be rolled out in the market or how a new staircase will be unveiled to the general public.

The aim is to create a rough idea of how the project manager will help enhance the adoption of the project outcomes.

Criteria for Success

Finally, the criteria for success section should explain how the project manager will gauge the project's success. As a project manager, you should elucidate how you will measure the project deliverables. Another issue to note here is how the project outcomes will be scrutinized and signed off.

Before deciding on what to list in this section, you should consult the other stakeholders to ensure that expectations are reviewed and agreed upon. The beginning of a project without first aligning each stakeholder's needs with the others' can trigger scope creep. In the long run, the lack of clarity can cause time and cost overruns detrimental to project survival.

Once you have worked on this final step, you can start working on your project.

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Tips for Creating More Effective SOWs

Although following all the sections listed above when creating a scope of work document, unexpected challenges can still occur. The following are some tips that you can use to enhance the effectiveness of your SOW.

  • Use Visualizations: When working on your SOW, ensure that you prioritize visuals over unnecessary text. Visual examples enable the other stakeholders to understand issues much quicker.
  • Explicit Details: Ensure that you go down to specifics. If you fail to cover all the issues, the SOW cannot be used as a point of reference at a later date, endangering project completion.
  • Success definitions: another thing is to ensure that you cover all the factors that will ensure project success. You should define these expectations in ways that all stakeholders can understand easily.
  • Define the key terminology: Other definitions that should be made are the project jargon. Again, you should not assume that all stakeholders understand what you're trying to communicate. Any business terminology and acronyms should be defined.
  • Criteria for reviews: lastly, do not forget that the scope of work document is an actual plan. Therefore, allow periodic reviews of the project specifics to ensure that all ideas are feasible and that the project does not go off course. Reviews are successful when high-functioning teams are involved throughout the project lifecycle.


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