How to write a meaningful project's scope of work (or SoW)

November 03, 2022 / Time to read: 4 minutes
How to write a meaningful project's scope of work (or SoW)
Having a brilliant idea for a digital solution is only the halfway point. The rest is about communicating its purpose and components to your software development company. While it may seem easy, a lack of information at an early stage often leads to misunderstandings, inaccurate estimates, broken deadlines, and ultimately unfulfilled expectations or even failed projects. 

To avoid such a scenario, so you don’t fall into the 55% of shared service projects that face a significant risk of failure during their life cycle, create a detailed scope of work with which your development team can work. Let’s elaborate on what it is, why it matters, and how to develop a descriptive scope of work for your project.

Why is a project’s scope of work so important? 

A project’s scope of work (SoW) is a document where you describe what product or service you need, its purpose, context, all requirements and components, and the project timeline. Providing a potential vendor with a technically accurate, thought through, and descriptive project’s SoW drives the following advantages in terms of project development:

  • Precise estimates (from both financial and time perspectives)
  • Predictable outcomes
  • Optimized delivery time and costs 
  • Remove doubts and ambiguity during project development

Key elements of a project’s scope of work 

Key components of the project’s scope of work include: 

  • Background information: Describe who you are, what your core business is, who your target audience consists of, your tech background, and the solution or service you aim to receive.
  • Project goals & success metrics: Explain your objectives, the desired outcome, KPIs, business challenges, and end users. 
  • Key components and functionality: Think of it as a precise technical description where you lay out all the functionality and future solution components you wish to add. This allows you to find a vendor to satisfy your tech appetite and get precise project estimates during the initial stage.
  • Project timeline: Specify the delivery date to give the vendor an estimated timeframe.
  • Target audience/market: Highlight the end-users who benefit from your services/products and your stakeholder who influence that purchase.
  • Acceptance criteria 

What should you avoid in the SoW?

Here are four things you should avoid in an SoW.

  • Lack of precision: A project’s scope of work needs to be comprehensive and to the point where the main focus is on custom and complex functionality. Defining too many goals will make it lengthy and hard to understand for the vendor.
  • Confusing communication: Being too generic about your tech part and overall product, as well as a lack of information about user personas, are some examples of confusing communication that may result in ambiguity. Eventually, you may receive a solution that won’t deliver as expected. 
  • Miscalculating future expectations: You must add practical expectations in the SoW. Otherwise, you and the vendor are bound to suffer during the project cycle.
  • Being inflexible: Give your vendor a chance to make suggestions regarding your expected outcomes. The ability to be flexible and responsive potentially drives positive scope changes and new ideas.

Steps to writing a clear scope of work, with an example 

This section will guide you through the SoW writing process with an example: website development.

Add relevant context

The best way to begin your SoW is to add relevant context or background information about your business. Briefly describe your business, services to your customers, current challenges, the competitive landscape, and your unique selling proposition. For instance, let’s say you’re a travel agency that plans travel itineraries for customers and takes them on trips. Describe your process, your achievements, etc.

Define project objectives & success metrics

In this section, briefly explain what kind of solution you expect to get. Also, detail what you want to achieve from the website: to sell your services or product, spread the word about yourself, or invite customers to an event. In the case of a travel agency, you might want a website that attracts visitors, provides details about different incoming tours and helps them book their trips. 

Clarify your project timeline

Once you have defined what you want to achieve through this project, you need to outline the estimated timeframe in which you want deliverables. You should be clear about when you want to start the project and its deadline. The timeline may affect the estimates, so be flexible and ready to invest more if the project is urgent.

Highlight your target audience

While writing an SoW, outline your target audience. The supplier would need insights into relevant audience profiles to deliver the best work possible—for instance, the people you expect to see as website visitors. This can be done by defining persona profiles, including their age, region, gender, location parameters, pains, needs, preferences etc. It’s best to describe several persona profiles to ensure all potential users’ needs are addressed. This helps the vendor create a marketing strategy, design, and UX.

Connect project stakeholders to other resources

Outline all the stakeholders involved in the project development and at which stage. Specify decision-makers, reviews, approvers, SMEs, and others for a vendor to determine a precise time frame. Failure to provide accurate data about all stakeholders may result in future delays. What else you want to add to the SoW depends on you. However, it must strike a balance between what is and isn’t necessary. In the case of website development, there might be other things you want to add to the brief, including technical requirements, visual style, layout, etc.

Final words

A clear scope of work is vital for any project. You should be specific enough that the vendor knows your expectations while remaining flexible enough so they can achieve your goals. When designing SoW, focus on technical details from all key components to minor features. If you wish to add complex and even custom functionality, ensure you are descriptive enough. Such an approach allows you to easily explain to a vendor the expected deliverable and realize if they are professional enough to complete your task. Besides, it removes ambiguity during project development and allows for precise estimates and deadlines. 

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