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Statement of Work: A Roadmap to Success for Your Project

An old Buddhist parable dating back to about 500 BCE tells the story of three blind men who run into an elephant while they’re traveling. The first man feels the trunk and says, “Ah, an elephant must be like a snake. Let’s run away before it can attack us!” The second man feels the elephant’s leg and says, “No sir, an elephant is like a tree. Let’s chop it down and get it out of our way.” The third man feels the elephant’s ear and says, “You’re both wrong, an elephant is like a fan. Let’s take it with us to cool us during our journey.” In the parable, all three men are describing the same thing, but since each one has only experienced part of it, they don’t understand it at all.

This parable has been around for 2500 years for a reason. It’s a perfect illustration of what happens when people have a shared task but don’t communicate effectively.

People have changed a lot in the centuries since the parable was first recorded, but our human nature hasn’t changed at all. We still experience things differently from one another and we still don’t know what other people are thinking without communicating clearly. In our everyday interactions, this inaccurate communication is an inconvenience, but in the business world, this lack of shared context can be disastrous, especially when it comes to working on a large project.

When it comes to a large project, there is an idea of what the end result should be, but there are a million different ways of getting there. Worse than that, not everyone will have the same understanding of how a project should end up. So how do you get everyone on the same page?

You need to create a step between the vision and the execution of the project. You need a Statement of Work.

What is a Statement of Work?

A Statement of Work is a document that defines a project, outlining its purpose and scope so that everyone can have a clear definition of what needs to be done, how it should be completed, and when it should come together.

At its most basic, a Statement of Work is a roadmap for a project. Many documents are created during a project, but the Statement of Work is arguably the most important because it tells the project team where they’re going and why. It provides a common frame of reference for everyone who will be involved in your project. A Statement of Work is a reference document that can be used to clear up misunderstandings and re-calibrate the work as necessary.

When is a Statement of Work used?

A Statement of Work is most often used when an internal team needs to collaborate with an external team to complete a project. A Statement of Work is used when responding to a Request for Proposal, or RFP, or in creating a Master Services Agreement to specify objectives and deliverables. The Statement of Work outlines what’s to be done, and when it will be completed. The Statement of Work also creates an automatic record of goals and expectations.

What if our project team is strictly internal?

A Statement of Work is effective regardless of the makeup of your project team. Scope creep, miscommunication, loss of focus, budgeting priorities, and other issues are a problem for every project, whether it’s an internal or an external group. Having a Statement of Work provides a touchstone for everyone working on the project and lets everyone know what is expected of them.


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How do you develop a Statement of Work?

A Statement of Work is developed through communication with several people and going through some specific steps.

Meet with the client to define the deliverables

Every project is driven by decision-makers, regardless of whether you’re on an internal or an external team. Those decision-makers are your clients and they’re the ones who authorized the project.

They’re also the ones who will approve the

work once the project has been completed. Because of this, you’ll need to meet with the decision-makers to define the scope of the project and what the end result, the deliverable, will be. This will also be your best opportunity to set realistic expectations and goals.

Determine the needs of the end-users

More often than not, the people who will actually benefit from the project will not be the decision-makers. However, you will still need to determine the needs of the end user in order to have a successful project. Meet with key end users to determine how best to meet their needs, and if necessary, work to bridge the gap between their needs and the vision of the client. You should also take steps to minimize any disruptions to the normal course of business for the end users while you’re completing the project.

Define project requirements

Once you know what you’ll be working on, you’ll need to determine what you’ll need to successfully finish it. Will you need additional testers? Additional technology, either software or hardware? How much time and network resources will be required?

Prepare a budget and get approval

For any project, you’ll need to make sure you have adequate funds to complete the goal. There are many words of advice about how to develop a budget and gain approval, but there is one universal truth – it’s always better to complete the project under budget than go over. Keep this in mind whenever the topic comes up.


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What should a Statement of Work include?

The Statement of Work lays the groundwork for a project, and like every project, it will vary according to industry, business, and ultimate goal, but it should always have these elements.


The introduction to the Statement of Work provides the project name, the primary participants, and the end user. The goal of this section should be to describe the overall vision for the project.


The objective should describe why the project is necessary, what the project will accomplish and how the project will be completed. The objective should offer a broad overview of the project – it shouldn’t be mired in details.


In this section, you’ll provide information about what will be needed for successful completion of the project. This section needs to be detailed – if you don’t specify the requirements at the start of the project, you may not be able to get them once the project has been started.

Key participants

The key participants section should provide information about who will be involved in the project, such as the project manager, the subject matter experts, and anyone involved in quality assurance.

Milestones and timeline

In this section, you’ll provide information about what will be completed for the project and when certain milestones should be expected to be completed.

Project closure

The project closure section should spell out when the project will be completed, as well as how the project will be evaluated. In other words, what will need to happen for this project to be declared finished.

Beyond these elements, a Statement of Work should be clear and succinct while still using detailed, unambiguous language about project requirements, timelines, and goals. If you’re creating a Statement of Work for an internal project, you should write it before the project starts, or as soon as possible if work has already started.

When done right, a Statement of Work is a very powerful document. It can provide a common language for everyone who participates in a project. A well-written Statement of Work clearly and unambiguously lays out requirements and goals and keeps everyone moving in the same direction. The importance of that can’t be overstated.


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