Statement of Work (SOW)

Team reviewing an sow

What is a statement of work?

A statement of work (SOW) details project requirements, timelines, and essential components, so everyone involved in a project understands the full scope of the agreement. Every project manager and team member should understand the SOW thoroughly before beginning a project

SOWs protect both the client and the agency producing the work. These contracts are legally binding documents that detail the amount of money a client will pay in exchange for a certain amount of work.

Purposes and benefits of a statement of work.

Having a well-formed statement of work before a project starts can be extremely beneficial to a project manager and the overall project team. You should view your SOW as a guidebook—it provides the framework for a project and may even detail the essential steps, key milestones, and timelines to complete a project.

Here are some key benefits of having a clearly defined SOW:

  • Detailed deliverables: Even if your project has a final product, the client might need deliverables along the way. For instance, if your team is building a new microsite for a client, you might be expected to produce deliverables, such as wireframes, pages of content, and designed mockups before finalizing the web build. Outlining the deliverables your team will provide can make it easier to estimate this work upfront, define your expectations to the client, and give you small milestones to hit along the way.

  • Clear schedules: Many SOWs also contain project timelines. While some might have a rough timeline (with caveats explaining how and why this timeline might shift), others might have a detailed overview of what to expect each week or month. This timeline can make it easier for project teams to know what is coming next, while clients know what to expect.

  • Defined payment structure: Another section that SOWs often cover is payment terms, including the total cost of the project or agreement as well as invoicing schedules. These payments could be timed or tied to specific deliverables.

  • Prevent scope creep: Without a well-planned SOW, it’s easy for the initial project scope to get out of hand, leading to additional work with no guarantee of extra investment from your client.

  • Exemptions: Of course, even the most flawlessly executed plan can veer off course. Protections in your SOW can shelter your team if client approvals take longer than expected or a project becomes more complicated than initially scoped, among other issues. 

Components of a statement of work.

Since SOWs can be complicated, it’s important to understand the basic components of this type of document. Please note that SOWs can vary in length, structure, and level of detail.

Most SOWs will contain some combination of the below components:

  • Introduction: This section generally covers the work agreed to and the names of the two parties involved.

  • Objective or purpose: This next section states the goal of the work. For instance, if the client wants your team to create an ad campaign, the SOW will explain the ultimate objective (to drive more web traffic, increase sales, etc.).

  • Project scope: This part of the SOW describes the work that will be completed throughout the project timeline. It might also outline the processes, tools, and reporting mechanisms that your team will use along the way.

  • Tasks, milestones, and deliverables: Not all SOWs contain tasks and milestones, but just about every SOW contains deliverables. This section details what components will be due and when to expect them across the project life cycle. It could also include the key phases of the project (milestones) and specific work (tasks) that must be completed to achieve the deliverables.

  • Timeline: This section will explain the project’s schedule, including a projected completion date. It may include key dates for deliverables and the client review.

  • Client requirements: This part of the SOW will explain any work needed from the client (and when). For instance, if you’re launching a new website for a client, you might task them with handling hosting and domain registration before your web building phase.

  • Payment details: This section will explain overall project costs, usually itemizing different deliverables. It may also include an invoicing schedule.

  • Closing information: Here, both parties will sign and date the SOW.

SOWs may include additional components, such as glossaries of terms, samples of previous work, and a section detailing what would define the project as successful.

How to write a statement of work.

Now that you understand what a statement of work is and its key components, you might be curious about how to write one. It’s important to be careful and thorough when crafting a SOW—you want to ensure you include all relevant information to make sure a project stays in scope and completes on time.

Here are a few quick tips to help you create your own SOW:

  • Define industry terms

  • Remove ambiguous language

  • Add imagery and graphic elements 

  • Clearly define payment terms

  • Create a realistic timeline

  • Note any client requirements

  • Specify project management and reporting tools

  • Review the SOW with team members

Define industry terms.

Jargon can be confusing to clients and could inadvertently suggest that they’re receiving something different from what your team imagines. Clear up any confusion quickly by defining key terms in a glossary.

Remove ambiguous language.

Ambiguous language can lead to massive scope creep, costing project teams more time and money. Avoid ambiguous language such as “revisions, as needed” or “numerous concepts” since this can lead clients to believe they will receive an unlimited number of revisions or designs. Instead, specify a number so you can request a change order if the client exceeds this limit.

Add imagery and graphic elements.

Keep your SOW visually interesting by including imagery and graphic elements like charts and graphs, which can be particularly helpful when laying out timelines. 

Clearly define payment terms.

It’s important to be as clear and granular as possible in this section. Explain when you will invoice the client, the amount of the invoice, and when payment is due.

Create a realistic timeline.

Figuring out a timeline can be tricky, but Workfront has the tools you need to plan your tasks and figure out a realistic schedule. It’s important to account for the time that the client will spend during this process, too. If heavy approval and feedback are required, be sure to build that into your schedule. You can use Workfront’s Scenario Planner to create gantt charts and reactive timelines.

Note any client requirements.

Be sure to specify any work that the client will need to complete during the project. For instance, if you are building a website but require the client to pay for hosting and a web domain, specify those two requests as a client requirement. You can even set a deadline for these tasks, so you are protected if the client exceeds this date.

Specify project management and reporting tools.

Let the client know in your SOW what project management tools and systems, such as Workfront, you will use to track progress and measure success. If you are using software that you can share with the client, specify if they will receive access to this tool in your SOW.

Review SOW with team members.

Lastly, it’s important to make sure other team members review your SOW to ensure it contains all of the required information.

Plan, manage, and fulfill your statement of work.

A clear and thorough SOW will set a project up for success, while a poorly written one can doom a project from the start. To ensure all of your bases are covered, work as a team to assemble and review your SOW before beginning any work. There’s no better project protection than having a well-crafted SOW on your side.

See Workfront in action

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  • Connect strategy to delivery
  • Iteratively plan and prioritize work
  • Collaborate across teams and divisions to get work done
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  • Measure and report on progress
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