Believe it or not, organizations waste approximately $97 million for every $1 billion invested due to poor project performance according to the Project Management Institute.

Yes, projects fail at a staggering rate…

But why?

One of the top five reasons for project failure is poor planning.

Most organizations, and their project managers, are forced to hit the ground running, and are in a rush to get projects moving.

As a result, they often skip the planning phase, which only leads to issues down the road—issues that end up being incredibly costly in terms of time and resources.

The point is that without proper planning upfront, projects are almost destined to fail. Although planning isn’t the most enjoyable phase of project management, it is by far the most important.

So, how can organizations and project managers properly plan and outline projects from the very beginning?

A scope of work.

Read on to learn more about what a scope of work is, why it’s important for the success of your project, and how to create one that helps you and your team complete your project.

What is a Scope of Work?

A scope of work is a key component of any project.

It spells out specific phases and details for a project, helping to tell the story of the work that you and your team are planning to do, a brief description on how you are planning to do it, summarizes a broad expression of the project’s—or client’s—goals and objectives and provides a snapshot of the project timeline.

A solid scope of work includes the following:

  1. Glossary of terms
  2. Problem statement
  3. Project goals
  4. Project objectives
  5. Key deliverables
  6. Project timeline

The scope of work is an important part of doing business for many construction contractors as well as those organizations that handle large-scale projects for other businesses.

However, small- to medium-sized businesses and projects should get into the habit of drafting and providing scopes of work for their projects, regardless of size, industry or scope.

Don’t Forget the Firewall!

Additionally, your scope of work should include outer project limits. This means that your scope of work should include what you and your team are planning to do, and also what you aren’t planning to do. This is also known as the project “firewall”.

Without a “firewall” in place, you run the risk for scope creep—every project manager’s nightmare.

What is the Difference Between a Scope of Work and a Statement of Work?

We mentioned a lot of scopes and statements… So, what is the difference between a Scope of Work and a Statement of Work?

Tiffany Wright from AZcentral offers us a definition:

Statement of Work – A statement of work, or SOW can be formal or informal. An SOW can provide a high-level summary of work, project timeline, performance criteria, deliverables

schedule, and any other necessary requirements. A SOW can also be informal, such as a purchase order (PO).

All in all, the goal of the statement of work is to provide key project information to a client—or supplier. This information should ultimately include a list requirements, specifications, and delivery schedule.

Scope of Work – The scope of work explains the work to be performed or carried out as part of an agreement. The scope of work also describes how the work will be executed with a list of specific tasks and activities and their respective deadlines included.

Although there is technically a difference between a statement of work and scope of work, some organizations and industries use the terms interchangeably.

Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Creating a Killer Scope of Work

Now that you have a better understanding of what a scope of work is, its role and purpose, and why it’s important, here are some tips, tools, and techniques for creating a killer scope of work.

1. Define Scope

Before you can create a scope of work, you must have a solid understanding of project goals, customer requirements, and customer expectations, in terms of cost, deadlines, and deliverables.

Collecting requirements ultimately becomes the foundation of the scope of work—and the project as a whole. This is because cost, schedule, quality and planning are all built under customer or project requirements. Therefore, without a solid understanding of what a project involves, or what a customer is looking for in terms of a functional product, you are inevitably setting your project up for failure…

In order to ensure that you fully understand project requirements, you may want to draft a document with some key questions that are pertinent to your organization and your project team in order to help you understand and define the scope of work.

2. Rely on Expert Judgment

Few project managers would claim that they are “experts” in the designated field or industry. For example, project managers typically aren’t coders or developers, engineers, technicians, or contractors. Therefore, it can be difficult to define a scope of work, and outline the tasks and activities necessary for a project if a project manager hasn’t done the work him or herself. This is where expert judgment comes in…

Expert judgment refers to a group of people or an individual person with key knowledge and expertise in a particular area, field or industry. This person or group can help you define scope, plan resources, and even estimate the costs associated with those resources.

3. Facilitated Workshops

If expert judgment works for your project and organization, great. However, as information becomes more intricate and complicated, it can be difficult to rely on an individual or even a group of people to help organizations and project managers to make decisions and define a scope of work.

One common technique used in project management is a facilitated workshop. Facilitated workshops bring multiple project stakeholders together to help define project —or product—requirements.

According to Project Management Knowledge, a facilitated workshop is a highly interactive, team-based meeting with clearly defined objectives that fosters trust, encourages open communication, and solves problems.

A well facilitated meeting can also lead to the discovery of other underlying issues that may not have been addressed initially.

4. Alternatives Generation

If expert judgment or facilitated workshops aren’t possible, then alternatives generation is another viable strategy for developing and defining scope. This strategy involves brainstorming and developing as many possible options to execute and perform work as possible.

This can also include a “make or buy” analysis, which helps a project manager or organization decide whether they want to keep the work in-house, or sub-contract the work, or a portion of the work to a supplier.

This analysis will involve looking at costs, resource availability and allocation, and timeline to determine the best path for the project.

5. Use a Scope of Work Template

Once you have gathered all the necessary information and requirements for your project, now it’s time to draft your scope of work. The best way to go about this is to use a template. Your organization might already use a scope of work template for your projects.

If your organization is relying on you to come up with a scope of work, then there are a number of free templates you can find online.

6. Use a Scope of Work Example

If you take the online research approach, be sure to find a scope of work that fits your project, field or industry. For example, a scope of work example for a software development product won’t be the same as one used for building a skyscraper.

All in all, the goal is to find and use a template that includes all the necessary information that you need to clearly define your own project.

I Finished My Scope of Work—Now What?

Once you have defined your project scope and completed a scope of work, now you should have it reviewed by the customer to ensure the project details, tasks, activities, project deliverables and timeline are all in line with a customer’s initial goals, objectives, and expectations.

Once the customer approves the scope of work, the next step is to begin breaking down the details in the scope of work into smaller tasks and activities, and assembling those to your team, resources, or supplier. But, this is an article for another day…

All in all, never underestimate the importance of a scope of work. The scope of work gives project managers the time they need to fully assess customer requirements, understand expectations, and determine what is involved in a project in order to carry it through to successful delivery.