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How to Write a Statement of Work

It's a tricky task that's essential to project success, and it's easier said than done.

By Mary K. Pratt
May 22, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Statement of work. As straightforward as it sounds, getting one right is no easy task. But nothing is more fundamental to the success of a project. If the statement of work is too vague, too broad or too generic, it can leave room for various interpretations, which can lead to trouble down the road. That's true for an internal project, and it's doubly true when there are vendors involved.

"The failure to properly execute a statement of work is often the reason parties end up in a dispute," says David M. Greenberg, an attorney in the technology, media and telecommunications practice group at Greenberg Traurig LLP 's New York office.

To get your project right the first time, follow these guidelines for writing an effective statement of work, or SOW, as it's affectionately called.

Understand what a SOW is.

A SOW defines the scope of work required and the time in which it's to be performed. It's "the cornerstone to an agreement," says Nick Scafidi, IT procurement manager at energy supplier National Grid USA in Westboro, Mass. "It sets expectations, deliverables, what's acceptable, the price, the pricing schedule. Without that, it's like saying to a contractor, 'Build me a house,' [without] telling him when, what kind or how big."

Know what to include.

Bruce Russell, who signed off on numerous SOWs when he was chief operating officer at a software development company, says a good one includes these things:

  • Major deliverables and when they're expected.
  • The tasks that support the deliverables, as well as which side -- the hiring company or the service provider -- will perform those tasks.
  • The project's governance process, along with how often governing committees will meet.
  • What resources are required for the project, what facilities will be used and whose equipment will be needed, as well as testing requirements.
  • Who will pay which costs and when.

"The statement of work pulls together all the elements at the beginning," says Russell, now an executive professor at Northeastern University's College of Business in Boston. "And the more precise you can make it, the more quantitative, the better."

Define success.

A statement of work should clarify for all parties what constitutes success or failure, says Melise R. Blakeslee, an attorney in the intellectual property, media and technology transactions group at McDermott Will & Emery LLP in Washington.

"You have to adequately describe what the work is and the criteria for how you both [will] agree" that something is successfully completed, says Ruth Anne Guerrero, standards manager at Project Management Institute Inc. in Newtown Square, Pa., and a former IT project manager.

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