Don't Do It Yourself

Understanding Scope of Work and Why You Need It

Scope of work (SOW) is the difference between your project failing and meeting your goals.

Without a clear SOW, it’s possible and likely that there might be a misunderstanding between you and your client. They thought they were getting something that they weren’t because your scope of work didn’t outline properly what they were getting.

In this post, we will take a look at what scope of work is, how to go about creating one, and some tools that you can use to draft a well-defined scope of work.

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What is scope of work?

Scope of work defined

You can think of SOW as the promise you’re making to your client. The idea is for it to be as detailed and clear as possible so that there are no miscommunications with your clients. It’s about laying the groundwork for how the project will be completed and all the specific elements of the project.

Who needs a scope of work?

Really, anyone working on a project for a client will need a scope of work. Whether you’re commissioned to create an art piece or build a condo, there needs to be a clear SOW so that the client gets exactly what they are expecting.

  • Construction companies
  • Web developers and graphic designers
  • Freelance writers
  • Plumbers
  • Decorating companies
  • Wedding contractors
  • Marketing agencies
  • Independent contractors
  • Event planners
  • Appliance Repair companies
  • Subcontractors

Why scope of work is important

Why Scope of Work is Important?

The number one reason for a clear SOW is so that both you and the client are satisfied with where the project goes. Without a clear SOW, the client might come to expect something that you had no intention of providing for either cost reasons or it just wasn’t in the plan.

Without a clear SOW, it can lead to a project going awry, and an unhappy client. This can then turn into lost short-term and long-term revenue opportunities.

Having a clear scope of work is also vital to protecting yourself legally should there be a dispute about services as well. Unclear scope of work can lead to legal troubles and lawsuits.

How to write a good scope of work

How to Write a Good Scope of Work

Having an SOW is critical, but it is even more vital that it is well written. It is a legal document meant to protect you and keep a healthy relationship with your client. The idea is that it’s clear and has only one way to be interpreted.

Elements of a scope of work

In order to really understand how to write an effective scope of work, you’ll need to be familiar with the different elements and the purpose they serve.


Like all great pieces of writing, you will need an introduction that provides an overview of the project and what can be expected. This prepares the client for exactly what to expect from the rest of the scope of work.


Depending on the industry, what is being delivered will vary. For example, a web developer would be delivering a website whereas a construction company will be delivering a structure.

This is key for both the client and the contractor. This part of the SOW will outline exactly what each party expects to receive at the completion of the project. The client expects their product and you expect to be compensated for the work. It’s vital that this is outlined clearly so that neither side feels cheated at the end.

Task List

This component would outline everything that needs to be done. It is also a good idea to add explanations so that the client understands why you are doing certain steps. For example, a plumber might explain why a certain pipe will have to be left running for a window of time. This helps give the client a bit of peace of mind in understanding what the contractor is doing and why.

The task list can also help determine the estimated cost. It will also give the client a better idea of everything that is involved. This is helpful for justifying your estimates.

Timeline and Milestones

This section is for when you will submit deliverables throughout the project. It will also cover when you will get paid. The timeline is what keeps the project moving forward. The customer can expect to receive deliverables and understand when they should see progress based on specific dates and times. This is not the place to be ambitious. It’s better to deliver the product early rather than late. Build in a buffer room for any unforeseen circumstances and setbacks.

An SOW can also include a provision for a readjusted timeline after a first phase. This allows for more flexibility in determining the next steps. Sometimes the second phase timeline will be determined by how the first phase worked out.

Outlining specific milestones helps keep the customer satisfied. From a client’s perspective, waiting for the final deliverable is maddening. Knowing when to expect certain elements of the project help ease the anticipation of waiting. It also shows that everything is moving on track and that the client doesn’t need to worry.

An example might be a wedding photographer. Outlining when the clients can expect to see at least a portion of their wedding photos helps with the anticipation of waiting. Without a clear SOW, it is likely that the clients would grow anxious and could impact the way they view you and your product.

For construction, it’s even more vital to outline when stages of the project will be complete. The client will want to know when the foundation will be set and when the structure will begin going up. Outlining these expectations for the client will keep a healthy relationship.

Some key elements of your timeline:

  • How long the project will take.
  • A clear start date.
  • Clear dates for each milestone if possible.
  • Regular reports updating progress.
  • If specific dates are too hard to estimate, then approximate deadlines can be used.
  • Project close-out date.

Expectations and Cost

These expectations should outline both what the client and contractor expect. Expectations need to be clear and explained so that there is no chance of a misunderstanding.

Cost is the biggest thing that you’ll want to be clear about. The last thing you want to do is spring unexpected costs on your client. This is a good way to lose a repeat customer and referrals. If there is a chance for additional costs, those should be included.

The timeline should include when payments would be made, for example with milestones or one sum, but that should be reiterated with costs. Depending on the industry, the cost might have already been detailed in a proposal or contract, thus it is less necessary here.

Your SOW can include:

  • The predicted cost of materials and resources.
  • The cost of labor.
  • Potential added costs.
  • When and how payments should be made.
  • Cost of changes or adjustment requests by the client (an estimate).

Methods and Location

This will depend heavily on the industry.

Most construction work will be done onsite, whereas digital work will likely be completed online. A wedding photographer would outline where the photos will be taken. A manufacturing company might build the deliverable offsite and then bring it to a determined location. It’s important to outline where the work will take place and how it will be moved to the customer.

Methods for completion will tie into the task list, but it should be outlined clearly how you will go about completing the project.

Using Clear Language

There is no room for ambiguity in the scope of work. It needs to be clear. You could even consider it being a boring read. Flowery language might sound nice, but it leads to different interpretations. Rather than saying things like “There will be beautifully designed crown moldings,” the SOW should remain clear and neutral with statements such as, “Crown moldings designed from the client’s choice of model three will be delivered.”

This isn’t the stage where you’re trying to “sell” anything to a customer, so using pretty language is unnecessary. You want specific and clear language that will protect you against any form of legal trouble. This means remaining objective and neutral in the wording of the document. It is a legal document, not a sales pitch.

Also, be sure not to over-do it. Your SOW shouldn’t be overwhelming for the client who will have to go through and understand all of it. Clear and concise language is the goal here.

Software for producing scope of work

When writing a scope of work, you could easily use Microsoft Word or Google Docs. But using software designed to help you create a SOW can ensure you’re hitting all the necessary elements.

Scope of work is only one facet of a quality proposal. I'd highly recommend using proposal software because many of them include scope of work templates for various industries. This can streamline the proposal development process, saving you time and increasing your profit margin.