The Project Statement of Work: Template for Shared Expectations

The project Statement of Work (SOW) is a project "process" deliverable, produced as part of the project definition process. Just as the name indicates, the SOW makes a "statement", declaring and detailing all that the project will entail (i.e. the work to be performed and results to be achieved).   It's an essential deliverable used to establish the type of "shared expectations" needed to ensure project success and acceptance.  Read on for more,

Much like any business contract, the documented SOW (sometimes referred to as the project charter), reflects the stakeholder "meeting of the minds" regarding the work to be done, why it matters and what will be achieved. As a high priority deliverable, the project "statement of work" (SOW) defines the project vision, work effort, expected results, boundaries (budget, timing, risks and related constraints) and stakeholder roles and responsibilities. Once the SOW is approved, it forms the foundational basis for the project to proceed.

Start with Standard SOW Practices

The project statement of work is produced at the start of the project, during the "definition phase" (as part of standardized fast track management practices). As with most other process and project deliverables, SOW production is greatly simplified when you have the benefit of a standardized planning roadmap.

While content specifics will vary by project, it takes consistent steps and strategies to prepare effective SOW deliverables in a timely fashion, covering production planning (timing, tasks, roles and responsibilities), deliverables production (document preparation using standardized templates) and stakeholder collaboration (to negotiate project terms, review and revise SOW deliverables and approve final results).

Step by Step to SOW Delivery

  1. Start off by planning the SOW production process (covering due dates, tasks, roles and responsibilities).
  2. Gather the information you need (incoming information) to draft required SOW contents.
  3. Organize the information and put it together using standardized templates.
  4. Put the SOW through a comprehensive review process to test and validate contents.
  5. Negotiate SOW terms as needed to finalize SOW content.
  6. Secure documented approvals to ensure stakeholder acceptance.
  7. Monitor and update SOW contents as the project unfolds to ensure ongoing continuity.
Note: SOW version control is essential to this process, recording and tracking changes as they occur. As such, a properly "maintained" SOW will create a complete "project work record", ready for objective evaluation as part of the project review and lessons learned process.

The key to a successful SOW begins with the quality of the "incoming information".  The approved project Business Case, produced as part of the project selection phase, provides the "starting point" for the Statement of Work. Presumably, the project has already been approved based on the preliminary specification of certain key variables including goals, objectives, purpose, value, scope, and related parameters. Starting with the approved business case, you can utilize standardized steps and practices to expand and refine initial definitions so that they become sufficiently actionable.

Standard Formats Simplify SOW Deliverables

Standardized "Statement of Work" templates provide the physical means of documenting this important project definition deliverable, translating requirements, conclusions and decisions into a tangible, "approvable" format. To meet required goals and objectives, an effective "template" for SOW production will account for the most appropriate combination of defining variables, including goals, objectives, scope, deliverables, roles, responsibilities, and all related criteria needed to craft a working project vision (something that can be achieved and approved).

The key to successful SOW production is to ensure that all the required elements are all stated in clear, actionable and measureable terms so that every project is properly defined. A well defined project is easier to execute, ready for completion in less time, and at a lower cost. Defined projects are less risky, and more readily adaptable to changing needs and circumstances. And, above all, when projects are fully defined, stakeholders tend to be fully informed, leading to more cooperative, reality-based project work environments. All this adds up to only one conclusion. Since the rewards are evident and the risks are minimal, it's best to ensure that every project includes an appropriately sized, documented and approved "Statement of Work".  

Every project, even the small ones, can and will benefit from a fully documented and approved Statement of Work. Why run the risk of false expectations and missed opportunities when a SOW can avoid all these pitfalls? Simple and straightforward SOW production begins with five easy questions, to determine content requirements and fill intended goals.

  • What information must be included ensure that all project participants are fully informed?
  • What information must be included in order to ensure that consensus can be reached?
  • What level of content detail is required to ensure informed acceptance?
  • How much time will be allocated to SOW preparation and processing?
  • Have similar projects been completed in the past, and if so, can previous SOW deliverables be used as a model for current SOW preparation?

Continue for more on this topic with our featured articles How to Perform the Project Stakeholder Analysis and Fundamentals of Project Definition.

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Featured Management Topic: Project Fast Tracking

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