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Understanding scope of work in construction

Illustration on a photo of contractors building a scaffolding | Scope of work | Knowify

What is a scope of work for construction?

A Construction Scope of work document is a contractual agreement used to define the work a subcontractor is to perform. It should make clear to all parties involved what a contractor is being paid to complete, when they will complete it, and any specific methods and techniques to be used. On a high level the SOW should allocate responsibilities and set clear expectations.

A scope of work will provide:

  • Work required including objectives and deliverables
  • Who is taking on the responsibility and risk
  • Schedule and timelines
  • Additional requirements and project details such as admin and management processes

A well crafted SOW is critical for avoiding project delays and miscommunications. By providing a detailed scope, all parties will have a foundational document that will cut any ambiguity from the project.

What should a scope of work for a construction project include?

When it comes to how to write a scope of work for construction, the specific contents will vary. Factors such as job related requirements, local laws and regulations, and the template used will all have an impact. There is no single method for creating a SOW, and they often require changes or alterations in the form of a change order.

With that in mind, an effective SOW will include the following sections:

  1. Project overview
  2. Detailed scope including technical details
  3. Timelines & milestones
  4. Management and admin specifics
  5. Attachments & visuals

How to write a scope of work in construction

Detailed scope

The detailed scope will serve as the core of the SOW. Here the milestones and deliverables need to be defined in extreme detail. Enough information should be included so that there is no misunderstanding regarding what is being done, who is doing it, and when it will be completed. A detailed scope will also include technical details. Including methods, techniques, and any extra information that is of importance to the project.

If, for example, a contractor is preparing to install a new drainage line, what is the depth of excavation? What are the specific requirements or testing? Who handles removing asphalt? Who is responsible for traffic management?

Accounting for these questions and scenarios, using as much detail as possible, is essential to avoid costly disputes and delays.

Timelines and milestones

Project lifespan, timelines, scheduling, expected completion dates and deadlines should go with all tasks, deliverables, and objectives throughout the document. This serves as the glue of the document ensuring the project continues to move forward on schedule. Time management is of paramount importance and the delivery and completion dates should be clearly accessible and understood. Ensuring you have a good system for scheduling and tracking time spent on each portion of the job is essential to adhering to the sow. 

Admin details

Including detailed information on administrative work will further strengthen the document and help mitigate changes to the project. This might include details on the process and responsibility for change orders and issuing payments. All relevant legal requirements and information should be detailed in the section as well.

Attachments and visuals

The scope of work should reference all supporting documents and work needed to complete the project. This may include design drawings, technical specifications that may influence the design materials needed for the project, safety policies and procedures, and a clear schedule of the entire project.

SOW best practices


When it comes to developing an effective SOW for a construction project detail is the name of the game. Specificity will go a long way to appropriately allocate tasks, risk, obligations, and expectations. Terms and definitions must be defined with full transparency on timelines and deliverables to ensure all parties are on the same page. Adhering to an SOW means having an organized way to collect project-level data. 

Get signatures

An SOW is and should always serve as a contractual agreement. The SOW process is an important step for any project. It provides the opportunity for all parties involved to review and approve the project details before a proposal or any work ever begins. This is vital to ensure everyone is in agreement and ready to move forward. Gaining signatures is key to holding parties accountable, and settling disputes. Where an SOW is included in a proposal, you should consider a solution that allows you to share and sign off on proposals electronically, to save time on passing documents and collecting approval.

Set reasonable and honest expectations

When writing out an SOW, it’s key to provide a genuine and reasonable set of expectations for the project at hand. Developing honest and authentic estimates will go a long way in creating an accurate proposal. This benefits both parties and will save time and money in the long run. If extra opportunities or work is needed outside the original scope, change orders and administrative mechanisms are in place to redirect the project. 

Benefits of writing a good SOW

Establishes clear expectations 

An effective construction sow will ensure that all parties involved are on the same page when it comes to the project’s goals, objectives, and expectations. As with most scenarios in the construction industry, synergy among all parties is imperative for a successful project. A thorough scope of work will provide guidance and clarity on responsibilities helping reduce misunderstandings throughout a project.  

Defines project timelines

Not only knowing what tasks need to be done, but when, is pivotal for projects to successfully move forward. A comprehensive scope of work should detail more than just the overall project timeline; it should detail, delivery dates, prioritize tasks, and provide timelines for each phase of the project. 

Identifies potential risks

Drafting, reviewing, and negotiating SOW’s will provide an opportunity to identify and mitigate potential roadblocks. For instance, worksite conditions may pose risks due to geographical features or existing structures. These conditions should be discussed and planned for at length in the SOW. The goal is to identify and plan for problems before crews run into them on the job site. 

Ensures quality

The SOW itself is a powerful tool for setting high standards of quality for a job. Detailing every facet of a project, from timelines to deliverables to responsibilities, all naturally combine to improve project outcomes. For contractors looking for additional quality assurance, look to develop a quality control plan in your SOW along with a system for tracking and monitoring quality throughout the job. If something feels off, or if issues arise, always refer back to the SOW; it’s there to keep projects on course. 

Control costs

A scope of work will provide clarity on timelines, cost estimates, and detailed budget information. All of which provide the framework needed to keep projects under budget. Another benefit comes from breaking out all of the materials, labor, and additional resources needed to complete a project. Having this information ahead of time helps both owners and contractors plan for costs ahead of time, which is crucial for contractors to effectively manage cash flow. 


No construction SOW is complete without including local and state laws, codes, and regulations. It’s essential to include compliance information so contractors can properly protect themselves. Completing a project against regulations can result in costly fines or even legal ramifications. Never sign a scope of work that is omitting this information. Including additional information such as privacy acts, security considerations, and data rights can provide further protection if applicable.

How Knowify helps with creating better SOW? 

A comprehensive SOW will serve as a north star for even the most complex projects and will be a lifesaver when eventual disputes, delays, or disagreements arise. Clearly identifying and allocating risks, tasks, and job details and having all parties agree will help foster better relationships and is the only way to have a productive and successful project. 

Knowify delivers a better way to track projects, budget, schedule, and manage important documents through a central, organized, cloud-based system. See for yourself and sign up for a free 30-minute demo today!