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How to create a scope of work document

To successfully manage a project, a number of different elements need to come together. You need clear communication, properly defined objectives, and established milestones. A scope of work (SOW) document can be instrumental in pulling everything together, outlining the steps to completion, the expectations on the team delivering the work, and the timeline so all stakeholders are on the same page. 

Getting a scope of work document right takes time, and there may be times where you have to adapt it to the project. Nonetheless, this guide will help you get an understanding of what a scope of work document is, and the essential elements you have to include.

What is a scope of work document?

A scope of work document is a vital document in project management that defines everything related to the project: the work to be performed, deliverables, expectations and timelines, including any key milestones. A scope of work document, when done right, will act as a roadmap for the project, helping to guide the team through the work and helping stakeholders to understand what’s being worked on at any given time. 

What to include in a scope of work document?

A scope of work document should, at the very least, include the following: an outline of the project, project deliverables, the project timeline, project milestones, the budget, the reporting expectations, and work acceptance criteria. 

Project outline

This is the overview of the project, containing the top-line information that serves as the context for anybody who is picking the document up for the first time. You include the basic information in this section, such as the name of the project and what it’s looking to achieve. You should also include the scope of the project, and both client and contractor information. 

Project deliverables

In this section you should create a detailed list of tangible outputs that the project is due to deliver. This might be a set of creatives, a new website build, or prototypes for a new project. Whatever it is, you need to ensure that it’s listed clearly, in a manner that can’t be misinterpreted. Have clear descriptions of each deliverable, including any mandated formats, alongside the acceptable criteria. 

Project timeline and milestones

Again, this section should be as detailed as possible so your team and external stakeholders are all aware of when to expect different elements of the project to complete. Be realistic with your timelines, and ensure that both parties are happy with them. The milestones also need to be agreed between both parties as they may have certain triggers attached to them. For example, if your fee is linked to specific KPIs, these will need to be listed in the SOW document in addition to the contract. 


This is where you specify everything to do with the money side of the project. Firstly, is this a fixed price project, or a time and material project? In either instance you’ll want to be able to provide a detailed breakdown of the estimated costs associated with the project. If you’re able to link expenses to specific deliverables, or periods in the project timeline, it’s helpful to do so. You might want to break the cost down by its category, for example development time, server hosting costs, software licences, etc. If any of the costs are estimates, or you’ve made particular assumptions, this needs to be clearly stated, and it’s a good idea to also highlight it to the client just in case the project exceeds budget predictions. Likewise, if any aspect of the project cost has been excluded from the budget, you should also outline it here.

Reporting expectations

Projects can be made or broken on the communication between client and company; if you aren’t all on the same page, expectations may be misaligned. Therefore, it’s best practice to detail exactly who the project lead is and what the process is for communication between company, client, and stakeholders. This extends beyond ‘send an email if you have a question’, incorporating key points like the frequency of progress updates, what format those reports are delivered in, and the scheduling of any key meetings.

Work acceptance criteria

How do you know when the work is finished and ready for sign off? What is your process for client acceptance? How many rounds of major and minor amendments are included, and what’s the definition of each? How should the finished work actually be delivered to the client? These are all big questions, and your answers need to be covered in the SOW. 

Agree in advance with your client how you’ll make these decisions, and the end of the project can be a reason for celebration, not consternation. 

What are the benefits of creating a scope of work document?

The benefits of creating a scope of work document are numerous, and far outweigh the time and effort investment of putting them together. 

Expectation alignment 

Having a scope of work document ensures that everyone involved in the project – from clients and stakeholders to the team actually delivering the project – all understand what they’re working towards, and what the deliverables are. 

Improved project management

Taking the time to write out the scope of work document will help clarify an approach, and give you the opportunity to plan resource allocation and progress tracking. It also presents an opportunity to identify any last minute snags that might disrupt the project. 

Increased efficiency 

With your scope of work document serving as a roadmap for the project, you’re able to refer back to it to ensure everything is on track, focused on the core objectives, and not falling subject to scope creep. 

Reduced risk

Your scope of work document should be agreed between yourself and the client, which means everybody is on the same page in terms of deliverables and milestones. This will reduce the risk of disputes and disagreements around what was expected.

Projects can start quicker  

Contracts will often go through a legal team to ensure that what each party is signing up to is acceptable. While this is a necessary process, it can also be a long and convoluted one. By having a scope of work document that is clear and concise, the legal team can work through the actions and deliverables quicker, which in turn means projects can commence quicker and with less disruption. 

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