The Statement of Work…

January 22, 2010Jake DiMare

Today I would like to start taking a closer look at the part of a proposal I call the Statement of Work or SOW. The purpose of an SOW is to establish the three most important things in a project manager’s life:

  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Budget

I also like to use the SOW to set the client’s expectations in some other key areas. These include:

  • Key milestones
  • Communication plan
  • Exclusions
  • Assumptions
  • Miscellaneous Parameters

So, what’s the scope, and how do we define it? Well, the scope actually has two components. The scope of the final product and the scope of the overall effort required to create the final product. Let’s say someone asks you to build them a deck. In this example the scope of the product would include items such as:

  • 10′ x 20′ deck
  • Teak decking
  • Cedar ballister and railing on three sides
  • One stair case into the yard
  • Connected to the back door of the house

What you are doing here is describing the final product, so there are no disagreements about what is being built once you start. The scope of effort provided is similar but describes the work covered in your proposal. Examples include:

  • 1 Carpenter
  • 1 Laborer
  • Estimated 6 weeks
  • Siding removal to tie the deck to the house
  • Re-siding around the deck
  • Re-painting the new siding

The point of the SOW is to properly set expectations so all the stakeholders can agree upon what’s going to happen. This protects both the client and the vendor from the possibility of disagreements that can negatively effect their relationship and the project as a whole.
Imagine the contractor starts digging footings for the deck and discovers a boulder 6 inches below the surface of the client’s yard and it’s the size of a small car. Neither the contractor nor the client knew the rock was there, the inspector won’t allow you to tie into it so the footings can’t be poured and it’s going to cost as much as the deck to remove it. Yikes! What now? Well, If the contractor was careful to spell out the scope in their SOW there is really very little opportunity for this to turn into an argument. It’s clearly spelled out what services the contractor is hired to provide and boulder removal is not on the list.
On the contrary, if the project was started with no scope defined then this situation could get easily ugly. Why shouldn’t the client expect you to remove the rock? They asked you to build a deck, they don’t know what’s involved with building decks so why shouldn’t they expect that if a rock appears that you will handle it? Honestly, this is a perfectly reasonable assumption on their behalf.
A quick note: This is part of a topic for another day, but when something like this does arise you should find away to work with the client. Obviously you don’t want to lose the project altogether.
The next components to consider are milestones and the time line, which I will often combine. In this way it is possible to help the client understand what progress they can expect to see and when they will see it. Going back to our deck example, a time line with milestones might look something like this:

  1. Project starts – April 1
  2. Footings complete – April 7
  3. Frame complete – April 15
  4. Decking complete – April 21
  5. Stairs and railings complete – May 1

Most of the time I am careful to point out schedules are estimated. In the world of web sites this isn’t because I don’t know what my team can do in a day…it’s because I have no control over how long the client will take to provide feedback. In the construction world inspectors, other vendors and materials are all easy ways to blow a schedule. Most of the time, these factors are outside the contractor’s ability to control. However, I also always take the time to talk about the importance of timing with the client. Questions like: “Are you going on vacation in the middle of the project?”, “Do you need the deck completed for a specific event?” or “Will you be open to extending the time line in the interest of improved quality” allow the client to take part in the planning process and give you valuable information you are going to need in order to be successful.
One last thought on timing…although I say schedules are estimated, this is not an excuse for myself or my team to lag. At the end of the day prompt service and completing the project on schedule is in everyone’s best interests. Many, many budgets have been killed by a project that runs longer than planned. I could write pages of content on the importance of strict adherence to schedules.
So, in concluding this brief examination of scope and time line, the key take away is communication. Often times at the beginning of a project our clients don’t know what to expect. In some cases this might be the first and/or only time in their life they spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home addition or a web application. Try to imagine yourself in their shoes. Spending a pile of money on something you don’t necessarily understand can be very scary. In order to make everyone more comfortable and save yourself headaches down the road, spend plenty of time  defining and communicating the scope, milestones and time line. In fact, over-communicate. If you can find three ways to reconfirm every detail it might be enough to avoid a costly miscommunication.
Speaking of costs…Monday we’ll dive into budget.

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