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10 top tips for how to create a statement of work: an introduction

This Ten Top Tips series will explore how to create a statement of work or scope of work document, often also referred to as a SoW. It’s the third in our trio of project management foundations, and they go hand-in-hand with our previous series – creating timing plans and creating estimates.

The truth is, it’s tempting to not bother with a statement of work (SoW), and people can get a little over excited about a more agile approach to documentation – after all, who likes paperwork? As little as possible and only where really necessary sounds great doesn’t it! But does that mean we shouldn’t produce SoW’s? No.

Define the project

SoW’s provide the extra layer of detail that cost estimates and project plans can’t provide to describe exactly what needs to be done. The SoW provides high-level overarching project information and defines detailed deliverables, standards, criteria and requirements for each phase.

It’s where you put the meat on the bones of the project, and as you do, you get an opportunity to flesh out the details of what you’re going to deliver in your project. But it’s really a good thing. In creating a SoW you’ll probably end up adjusting your estimate and your timeline as you remember things that you should have added but forgot to.

This level of detail provides reassurance to the client as to what will be delivered and ensures that there really is a shared understanding on what the project will deliver and achieve. For those of you that always wanted to be a lawyer, this is as close as we get! For both the agency and the client the SoW becomes the bible in determining what’s ‘in scope’ and what’s ‘out of scope’.  They matter because ultimately they serve as the reference point for determining what’s being paid for, and what’s not. If you’re able to get your SoW right, it’ll save you a world of pain later on in a project.

Strike a balance

The really challenging question for project managers when writing the statement of work is deciding how much detail should the SoW contain – too little detail and the client might they’re not getting what they paid for – too much detail in the SOW, and not only will it take you a long time to write and get approved but you can find it difficult to pivot the project when necessary as you’ve defined away any flexibility. So you need to strike the balance of making sure the SoW get signed off quickly while still ensuring that you’re raising the questions and covering off potential problem areas.

10 top tips for creating statements of work

The following 10 top tips blog series have been written as a guide for developing and creating statements of work and scope of work documents. We’ll look at the following 10 top tips for approaching creating statements of work:

  1. Break it up
  2. Break it down
  3. Paint it black & white
  4. Put it into context
  5. Be specific
  6. Make assumptions
  7. Make it simple
  8. Check it
  9. Share it
  10. Stick to it

What do you think?

What do you think we’re missing? In the next ten posts we’ll delve into the details of these tips but what else should PM’s be thinking about when developing a statement of work? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any tips too – why not share them using the comments below?

Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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