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Scope of Work in Construction: What It Is and How to Write It

A “scope of work” (SOW) describes project activities and sets expectations for all contracting parties. Learn how to develop it, what elements to include, and how to manage it.

In the realm of construction, the term “scope of work” (or SOW) refers to a specific type of document that informs clients, contractors, and subcontractors of their responsibilities regarding a particular project. This ensures that everyone is aware of objectives, expected outcomes, and the details of individual tasks.

Let’s delve into the importance and definition of “scope of work” in construction, examining how this practice can contribute to project success.

What is the “Scope of Work” in Construction?

In the engineering and construction sectors, there is a plethora of documentation accompanying projects, often necessitating the implementation of specific AECO project document management tools. Among the documents typically produced is the so-called scope of work (SOW).
This document intricately and precisely defines what needs to be done within a construction project and establishes the expectations, tasks, and responsibilities of all involved parties, from the client to contractors and subcontractors. A well-defined scope of work helps avoid misunderstandings, conflicts, and delays in construction projects.

Specifically, a scope of work:

  • Outlines which activities are included in the construction project;
  • Describes the project objectives, milestones, and outcomes;
  • Defines the responsibilities of the project team, as well as the terms, conditions, and requirements.

In other words, the scope of work should have a detailed breakdown of all specific activities necessary to successfully complete the project. With a precisely defined scope of work, the contractor and construction team understand their clients’ expectations and can devise a plan to best execute the project.

Characteristics of the "scope of work" in construction

Characteristics of the “scope of work” in construction

How to Write a Scope of Work for a Construction Project?

To write a good scope of work, it’s essential to analyze and understand the project and its specific activities in detail. While there are no universally valid methods for writing this document, a process can be identified to guide its drafting. The process involves the following steps:

  1. Define project objectives: Before writing a scope of work, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the project and define the objectives intended to be achieved through the execution of the listed activities;
  2. Use a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): The first step when writing a scope of work is to identify all project activities. This is done using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), also known as an analytical project structure. This project management tool allows projects and work to be divided into individual activities, facilitating better planning and scheduling;
  3. Determine project deliverables: Project deliverables serve to provide a clear idea of what one is working towards. Having well-defined deliverables keeps contractors and clients informed about project progress;
  4. Create a timeline: Once project objectives, outcomes, and activities are identified, an accurate project timeline can be defined. This timeline allows both contractors and clients to monitor activity progress and identify any delays;
  5. Assign responsibilities to team members: Once the project activities are clear, it’s possible to identify the various roles within the work team. This serves to create a stable and well-organized workflow where each individual knows their task and to whom they should turn for clarifications on tasks outside their expertise;
  6. Establish communication procedures: Communication and transparency between the project team and stakeholders are crucial for work success. Therefore, the scope of work document should include a section analyzing terms and methods of communication.

What are the 5 Elements a Scope of Work Should Include?

After analyzing the process to follow for drafting a good scope of work, let’s see which elements it’s useful for this document to contain to be clear and efficient:

  • Project overview: A brief summary summarizing the project and the objectives desired to be achieved;
  • Project outcomes: In this section, a detailed description of the expected results will be included, providing relevant information to help contractors clearly understand what is required of them;
  • Project planning: The planning will include a timeline of imminent deadlines, meetings, and other important dates and a list of tasks and responsibilities for each team member;
  • Project management and payment details: In order to avoid unpleasant inconveniences and misunderstandings, it’s useful to include in the scope of work document a brief statement containing payment details, payment deadlines, contract specifications, legal requirements, and change orders;
  • Signatures of contracting parties: In this brief section, the contracting parties declare that they are aware of their responsibilities and agree to meet deadlines within the specified terms.

What are Examples of a Scope of Work in the Construction Industry?

Every scope of work is a unique and specific document tailored for the individual project. But for which construction projects and activities is it useful to draft a scope of work (SOW)? Let’s see the two most common examples:

  • Subcontracts: A subcontract covers only a part of the entire project, so the corresponding SOW will not coincide with the general one but will have to be drawn up separately and specifically;
  • Public works: For these types of projects, the scope of work will follow the same steps and include the same elements described so far, starting with the definition of terms so that all contracting parties involved in the project are aware of the objectives, expected outcomes, and details of individual activities.
Scope of work - examples in construction

Scope of work – examples in construction

What Tips to Follow for Drafting a Good Scope of Work?

Writing a scope of work isn’t overly complicated but requires attention, knowledge of the project and its phases, and analysis of times, roles, and responsibilities. Indeed, having a detailed and precise scope of work as a reference will help reduce disputes, changes during construction, delays, and unforeseen expenses.
Here are some tips for drafting a good scope of work:

  • Set realistic goals and expectations: Project goals should be ambitious yet realistic. Therefore, they should be formulated broadly enough to be easily referenced but specific enough to provide the necessary information for performance. It will then be useful to enrich the description of project goals with information on times and materials expected for each activity, so that contractors and subcontractors know what they need and how long to perform their tasks;
  • Include graphical information: Photos, renderings, charts, or drawings are excellent supports for communication and transparency. Providing photorealistic renderings or detailed technical drawings thanks to BIM software that allows graphic sheets to be automatically updated whenever a change is made to the project can reduce misunderstandings and provide a point of comparison with the actual progress of the project;
  • Ensure contractors and subcontractors sign their copy of the document: This is an underestimated but incredibly simple way to prevent disputes. Each subcontractor signs their copy of the scope document to confirm they have received, read, and understood their obligations. The signature must be affixed not only at the beginning but also at each delivery or milestone reached.

Effective management, archiving, and sharing of documents, contracts, and graphic sheets are crucial for the success of construction projects. To ensure everything runs smoothly and seamlessly, we recommend using an AECO documentation management software since in this way you can:

  1. Simplify document storage and access: The software allows for rapid archiving and access to all project documents. There’s no need to search through piles of paper documents or messy local digital files anymore. With a dedicated AECO cloud, all documents are intuitively organized, making it simple and fast to retrieve necessary information;
  2. Improve collaboration and sharing: The software enables efficient sharing of documents among all team members. Architects, engineers, designers, and contractors can access relevant documents in real-time from anywhere, improving communication and reducing downtime. The scope of work can be shared and discussed, via specific communication tools, more effectively, ensuring a common understanding among all involved parties;
  3. Ensure version control and document traceability: In the lifecycle of a construction project, documents may undergo changes and modifications. The software offers complete version control, ensuring that every change is tracked and documented. This is particularly important for the scope of work, as any change can have a significant impact on the overall project. The ability to see who made the changes and when, along with the ability to revert to previous versions, provides greater control over document quality;
  4. Gain more flexibility: With cloud-based document access, AECO professionals can work more flexibly from any internet-connected device. This is particularly useful when on-site or in off-site meetings.

This technology thus improves productivity, collaboration, security, and flexibility, contributing to the success of construction projects in an increasingly digitalized and dynamic world. Experience these and many other benefits by activating your free trial month now!