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Understanding scope of work in construction

scope of work document

Disputes and communication breakdowns are all but guaranteed when working on a project. This is true whether you have decades of experience or have just opened up for business. Yet, these disagreements come at a cost. In 2021, disputes resulted in an estimated $73 billion in claims for construction companies worldwide.

This is why a Scope of Work, or SOW, is the most important thing to agree on with a client before beginning work on a new job. A strong and well crafted scope of work will serve as the blueprint of the project. Its purpose is to keep everyone on the same page and focused on delivering results.

What is a scope of work for construction?

Construction Job Site

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?

Construction Job Site

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

Project overview

A general scope or project overview should provide a brief summary of the project and includes the main objective and goals. In addition, this section will state any important background information or context that is of relevance to the project. There is no such thing as too much detail in an SOW. If it will provide clarity and is useful for all parties involved to know, mention it. This might include why the project is necessary or events that occurred leading up to the project. 

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 when it comes to 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

Project Blueprint

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

Hard Hat at a Job Site

Detail

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. 

Key takeaways

A conscientious, detailed SOW is essential for setting a project up for success. 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 unanimously agree in confidence will help foster better relationships and is the only way to have a productive and successful project. 

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