What Is a Statement of Work? Definition & Examples


No matter what industry you’re in, the one constant throughout the project life cycle of a project is paperwork. There is always plenty of paperwork to create, have approved, file and finally archive. All of those project management documents are important, but the Statement of Work (SOW) is easily one of the most important because it’s made at the outset of a project and outlines everything that needs to go into your project.

Using effective project planning tools and a thorough and well-written statement of work (SOW) will set you up to successfully lead a project over the finish line on schedule and within budget.

What Is a Statement of Work (SOW) in Project Management?

The statement of work (SOW) is a legally binding document that captures and defines all the work management aspects of your project. You’ll note the activities, deliverables and timetable for the project. It’s an extremely detailed work contract that defines the terms and conditions agreed upon between parties and lays the groundwork for the project plan.

The statement of work (SOW) is one of the first documents you’ll create to lay out the entire landscape of the project before you plan and execute. Because of the great amount of detail required, the prospect of writing one can be daunting. Therefore, let’s break it down into more digestible parts. Your statement of work will be much more detailed than your job estimate, which is a simpler document that outlines the work that will be performed and the costs associated with it.

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Statement Of Work Template

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What Is the Purpose of a Statement of Work (SOW)?

As noted, the statement of work is a detailed overview of the project scope. It’s also a way to share the project requirements, acceptance criteria and payment terms with those who are working on the project, whether they are collaborating or are contracted to work on the project. This includes stakeholders like vendors and contractors who are bidding to work on the project.

It’s also helpful to project managers, as it provides a structure on which the project plan can be built on. The statement of work will also help to avoid conflicts in the project. With detail and clarity, the SOW helps keep everyone that’s involved in the project on the same page and works to leave confusion to a minimum.

When building your schedule, it helps to use project management software. It can be immensely helpful for organizing your tasks and resources, as it’s critical to make an accurate schedule at this stage in the project.

Project management software can also help you to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) to zoom into your project scope and identify your project’s activities, deliverables and milestones.

Statement of Work Examples

An SOW can be broken down into categories. There are three main types, which can be basically defined as follows.

  • Design/DetailWhen you’re writing this SOW what you’re doing is conveying to the supplier how you want the work done. What are the buyer requirements that will control the supplier’s process? You can use a requirements gathering template to make sure you gather them all. These project requirements can run the gamut from quality acceptance criteria and payment terms to the measurement of materials. In this SOW, it’s the buyer who is being held responsible for the performance as he’s the one directing the project course.
  • Level of Effort/Time and Materials/Unit Rate: This is an almost universal version and it can apply to most projects. What it defines is the level of effort as well as the materials and cost per unit. It tends to find use in short-term contracts.
  • Performance Based: This is the preferred SOW of project managers as it focuses on the purpose of the project, the resources and the quality level expected of the deliverables. It does not, however, explain how the work is supposed to get done. This allows a great deal of autonomy on how to get to an outcome without requiring a specific process.

Whatever type of SOW document you choose, you’ll want to use project management software to streamline the process. ProjectManager can organize all information you’re gathering in our list view. But our tool does more than just make a fancy to-do list like other apps. Our real-time software tracks your progress and the list shows the percentage complete for each task. You can assign work to your team, set priority, add customized tags and much more. See for yourself by taking our free 30-day trial today.

How to Write a Project Statement of Work (SOW)

A statement of work is a legally binding agreement between a client and a vendor that describes the terms and conditions for the execution of a project’s scope of work. There’s a lot of information to describe in the SOW. You can create this on your own if you want, but using project management tools to make sure nothing is left out will prove helpful. You only have one chance to create your SOW document, and you want it done right.

Here’s an overview of the steps you’ll need to follow to write your statement of work:

  1. Create a brief introduction for your project.
  2. Define the purpose of your project.
  3. Define your project scope.
  4. Create a work breakdown structure to identify your project tasks, milestones and deliverables.
  5. Create a project schedule for your tasks, milestones and deliverables
  6. Define project requirements and acceptance criteria
  7. Define payment terms and conditions.

We’ll explore each of the SOW components involved in this process in the section below.

In terms of writing the statement of work, you’ll want to be specific. You want to clarify the terms used to make them universally understood. Also, clearly define who is going to do what and by what time those tasks must be completed. Doing this avoids confusion later in the project when you can’t afford any miscommunications or disputes.

Besides writing clearly, you should include visuals in the SOW. This will help focus the lens on the various aspects of the project. Including visuals, be they charts, graphs or other illustrations to help you clarify the project, will make the SOW more digestible.

After all the work you’ve done to detail the specifics of the project, you don’t want to neglect the final, crucial step — getting the work signed off. You can’t proceed if you don’t have the authority to do so. Or, more accurately, you can, but it might cost you the success of the project. Therefore, make sure that those in authority have signed off on the statement of work.

What should be included in a Statement of Work (SOW)?

There are as many parts in a statement of work as there are in a project, so it’s advisable to use a project management information system to help you manage all its components. If you start by focusing on the parts, you can work yourself up to the whole. For a full understanding of a SOW, first, note the major aspects of the project it addresses.

1. Introduction

Begin with explaining what work is being done and general information about the project. Also, who is involved in the project? State these parties. This will lead to a standing offer, which cements prices for products or services purchased for the project, and a more formal contract that goes into greater detail.

2. Purpose Statement

Start with the big question: why are you initiating this project? What is the purpose of the project? Create a purpose statement to lead off this section and provide a thorough answer to these questions, such as what are the project objectives, deliverables and return on investment.

3. Scope of Work

What work needs to be done in the project? Note it in the scope of work, including what hardware and software will be necessary. What is the process you’ll use to complete the work defined in your project scope? This includes outcomes, time involved and even general steps it’ll take to achieve that. You’ll need to create a project scope statement to capture all the information about your project scope.

4. Where Will the Work Be Done?

The team you employ will have to work somewhere. The project might be site-specific, at a central facility or some, if not all team members could work remotely. Either way, here is where you want to detail that and where the equipment and software used will be located.

5. Tasks

Take those general steps outlined in the scope of work and break them down into more detailed tasks. Be specific and don’t leave out any action that is required to produce deliverables and accomplish the project objectives. If you want to, break the tasks down into milestones or phases. A work breakdown structure template can help.

6. Milestones

Define the amount of time that is scheduled to complete the project, from the start date to the proposed finish date. Detail the billable hours per week and month, and whatever else relates to the scheduling of the project. Again, specificity counts. For example, if there’s a maximum amount of billable hours for vendors and/or contracts, note it here.

Use project management software to monitor your progress and make sure you’re meeting your milestones. ProjectManager has a real-time dashboard that is built into the tool, unlike other software that makes you build your own. We not only have a dashboard embedded but do all the calculations and display the metrics in easy-to-read charts and graphs. Keep up with more than milestones but also project variance, costs and more.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

7. Deliverables

What are the project deliverables? List them and explain what is due and when it is due. Describe them in detail, such as quantity, size, color and whatever might be relevant.

8. Schedule

Include a detailed list of when the project deliverables need to get done, beginning with which vendor will be selected to achieve this goal, the kickoff, what the period of performance is, the review stage, development, implementation, testing, close of the project, etc.

9. Standards and Testing

If there are any industry acceptance criteria or quality standards that need to be adhered to, list those here. Also, if there will be testing of the product, list who will be involved in this acceptance testing process, what equipment is needed and other resources.

10. Define Project Success

Note what the sponsor and/or project stakeholders expect as successful project completion.

11. Project Requirements

List any other equipment that is needed to complete the project and if there is a necessary degree or certification required of team members. Also, note if there will be travel or other project requirements not already covered.

12. Payment Terms

If the project budget has been created, then you can list the payments related to the project, and how they will be delivered, up front, over time or after completion. For example, you can pay after the completion of a milestone or on a fixed schedule, whichever is more financially feasible.

13. Other

There will be other parts of the project that are not suited to the above categories, and this is the place where you can add them so that everything is covered. For example, are there security issues, restrictions around hardware or software, travel pay, post-project support, etc?

14. Closure

This will determine how the deliverables will be accepted, and who will deliver, review and sign off on the deliverables. Also, it deals with the final admin duties, making sure everything is signed and closed and archived.

Statement of Work Template

When you’re writing a statement of work, it can help to use a statement of work template because of all the various aspects of the project that it must capture. Most templates will include things such as a glossary of terms defining what you’re referencing in the SoW. There will be a place for you to write the statement of purpose, as well as administrative information.

If you like our statement of work template, you can try our free project management templates to manage your projects.

SOW Related Documents

An SOW is one of many project management documents that you’ll need to manage your projects. Here are some that are closely related to a statement of work.

Master Service Agreement

A master service agreement is a contract that defines the terms that will govern future transactions and agreements between two parties. The master service agreement includes basic terms and conditions that can be waived in future legal agreements.

You can use a master service agreement to start a relationship with a client or vendor, and then use an SOW for each project.

Project Charter

A project charter provides an overview of your project. It includes things like the project objectives, stakeholders, goals, project scope, among others. It’s a very helpful document to help you write your SOW.

Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure it’s a project management tool that allows project managers to break down the project scope into tasks, deliverables, milestones and project phases. It’s a visual representation of all the work needed for a project.

Request For Proposal

A request for proposal (RFP) is used to seek out vendors and contractors that can supply a project with products and services. The RFP provides a project overview to give the bidding parties a clear description of what is needed from them. Once the client chooses a vendor, the next step is to give them a statement of work with more detailed information about the scope of work.

ProjectManager Can Improve Your Statement of Work

ProjectManager has a suite of project management tools that can help you put together a statement of work that accurately depicts the forthcoming project. For starters, you can use our Gantt to start listing out all of the tasks you can think of for the project.

The online Gantt has the basics of a visual timeline, the ability to link dependencies to avoid bottlenecks and set milestones. Assign costs to tasks and see your planned costs for the project or specific phases. But you can use the sheet view to only see the grid, filter the critical path to know what tasks can be skipped if necessary and set the baseline once your schedule and budget are done. That means you’ll be able to track in real time whether you’re staying on track and under budget. ProjectManager has the tools you want and delivers more functionality than the competition. Try it for free with our 30-day trial.

Gantt chart project view with visual timeline

As you can see, using our Gantt chart software can go a long way to making an accurate statement of work for your project. Accuracy means a lot to stakeholders when it comes time to deliver on the work that you scoped out.

The statement of work is a foundational document of any project. Once created and approved, you’ll have to create a plan and implement it. That’s where ProjectManager comes in. Our cloud-based project management software provides real-time data to help you manage and track your statement of work. Take it for a test spin and see how it can help you with this 30-day free trial.

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