Working with clients isn’t easy. One of the main reasons for a deteriorating client relationship is when there are disagreements around what services the client is supposed to receive. You need a tool that clearly states what services you are going to perform for them. That tool is called a scope of work.
Have you ever found yourself doing extra unpaid work for a client or being accused of not giving them enough work for what they agreed to?
That tends to happen, especially in digital professions like web design and development.
Clients may think it’s easy for you to add in extra work and expect you to do so with little notice or without compensation. Other times they’re confused about what was included within a specific service. Occasionally, you will get a client that’s just trying to work you over for as much free work as possible.
To prevent these client issues, you need a scope of work. In this article, we’ll explain what a scope of work is, why you need to have one, and how to create one.
What is a Scope of Work?
A scope of work is an agreement on the work that will be done within a project. It details what will be done, when it will be done, and how.
The scope of work defines the boundaries and limitations of service.
Scope of Work vs Statement of Work
Scope of work is often confused with the statement of work, especially since they both have the same acronym – SoW. But these terms aren’t synonymous.
A scope of work outlines the services performed, along with the individual tasks that will be completed to achieve the project’s objective.
A statement of work is a broader, more comprehensive project outline and project management document. It contains everything related to the work that will be done. The statement of work can include things like subcontractor information or travel requirements. These documents are usually shared with more stakeholders than a scope of work is.
Why is a Scope of Work Important?
A scope of work concisely communicates to clients what they will receive from you and how you work. Those two things are critical.
The scope of work can be used to educate clients on your internal process. It’s the best way to make sure you’re on the same page. And it can save you plenty of time and headaches.
Want to prevent clients from constantly asking you how much you’ve gotten done and when they can expect a deliverable? Write a detailed scope of work.
It also prevents scope creep and post-service complaints by demonstrating that they’ve agreed to a clearly defined set of services and tasks. If you want to, you can include a way for them to add additional services.
You can create a stripped-down version that simply details a few services and tasks. Or you can create a more expansive one that shares approval deadlines.
Do I need a Scope of Work?
Yes. If you are providing services to a client, you must have documentation that defines exactly what services you are giving them, the extent and limitations of those services, and how you will be delivering them. This information isn’t covered within proposals or contracts.
A scope of work should be done for every service – even if it’s a repeat service for a long-term client. It isn’t reasonable to expect a client to know or remember all the details of your process. This will keep things professional and back you up should something go wrong.
Working without a scope of work is setting yourself up for failure.
What Should a Scope of Work Include?
The scope of work can be customized to fit your services, project, and clients. It has to at least detail what services you are providing, when you are providing them, how you are providing them, and what the client will receive.
We’ve compiled a list of twenty elements that can go into a scope of work. Not all of them are appropriate for every project. You can choose which ones to include and what to leave out.
Remember, it’s all about communicating the project details that will help make your client-designer relationship easier, more efficient, more productive, and less risky.
The following elements can be considered essential:
- Scope of work
- Change Protocol
- Approval Terms
- Service Description
- Progress Reporting
The following can be included based on your needs:
- Problem statement
- Out-of-scope list
- Task list
- Work location
- Project administration
- Payment terms
- Budget or Resource allocation
1. Project Overview or Background
The project overview summarizes the project. It has to include the project’s basic details: who is the client, who is the service provider, and what services are being rendered.
Most overviews also give background information with context around the work being done. This might include reasons why you were selected as a service provider and how the client came to that decision. It can also include an estimated timeline.
2. Project Objective
The project objective describes the results and outcomes that your services aim to achieve.
This is a general, big-picture, surface-level description. It shouldn’t include a detailed list of deliverables or get technical.
Think “landing page with shopping cart” vs “wireframing, on-page SEO, cart integration,” etc.
3. Problem Statement
The problem statement describes the problem, issue, or need this service is addressing. It’s a brief section that outlines the reason for the project.
This section can be considered optional. It won’t work for all projects but should be included if you feel it fits.
For example, a web designer working on a site refresh might want to include a problem statement describing the website’s high bounce rate or inaccessibility to people with disabilities.
You should consider including a glossary when working with individuals that may be unfamiliar with the language used to describe your services.
List and define anything that an outsider might not know.
This can include acronyms, terms, and jargon used within your line of work and industry. It should also include any service terms, conditions, and requirements.
If included, the glossary should be placed near the beginning of the document. It should at least be placed before any terms that have to be defined.
5. Scope of Work
The scope of work section lists the specific services the client will be given.
This section is similar to but different than a list of deliverables or tasks. It lists the distinct services and sub-services you are providing them.
For example, a web designer providing graphic design services might include wireframing, 3 logo designs, background images, and typography.
If there are different service levels, this section should include the extent of that work.
6. Out-of-Scope List
An out-of-scope section lists work that will not be performed during this service. It’s a great way to prevent scope creep – whether that’s unintentional or a client trying to work one over on you.
This section lists additional services that clients are most likely to ask for throughout the project or ones that are critical to the project’s success – but won’t be completed by you.
Any service provider working on a project that is somehow dependent on outside people or factors has to include an out-of-scope activities section. It protects you from being held responsible for things that are out of your control. This section also helps to definitively eliminate expectations of free work or bonus services.
Clients often ask web designers for more features, upgrades, changes, or other extras here and there. Sometimes that happens because they haven’t thought of it beforehand, forgot to include things, or were under the impression that it would be included Think of anything complimentary, closely related, or broader than what you’re providing.
Many clients choose to add more services into the agreement once they see them listed in an out-of-scope section. So, consider this a great way to upsell.
7. Change Protocol
Clients are going to want changes. You need to be prepared for that with a set protocol for handling changes with clients and an in-project process.
Pre-educating clients on how changes can and should be made helps keep projects running smoothly. It brings more structure into your working process, demonstrates professionalism, and adds a sense of formality to your client relationship.
It shows clients that you take your work seriously and have clear expectations for their behavior during the project.
Clients respect people who set clear boundaries. They should understand that you don’t operate on an “anything goes” basis.
A change protocol or process section outlines what will happen if a client wants changes made. It should include at least the following things:
- What changes are included within the scope of the agreement
- How clients should go about making those changes
- What happens if they fail to make changes within the set terms
- How to handle changes that fall outside the agreed-upon services
- Pricing and payment terms for extra changes
Include whatever it takes to make handling changes easier for you. Service providers usually prefer to restrict changes to only a set number and within a limited timeframe.
This section prevents frivolous change requests, ensures that changes aren’t chaotic, and clamps down on scope creep.
8. Description of Services
The service description section describes the services you will perform. Think of this in terms of types and categories, not tasks.
For example, web services for an e-commerce website might be SEO research, WordPress website development, theme customization, mobile optimization, and marketing plug-in integration.
You can use the service description section as an opportunity to reinforce your value.
9. Task List and Details
This section includes all the tasks needed to complete each service, along with their deadlines. It’s the most granular list of what you’re doing for the client.
Task sections can start to get fairly long, especially when providing web services or other work where a single service can include a long list of tasks. So, keep this section neat and logically organized.
If multiple people are involved in it or will need to refer to it, this section should be detailed enough to be used as a reference.
A resource section should be included if the client will need to provide you with resources, information, or anything else to complete the services.
This should be a list of what you need for them, deadlines for providing each resource, and your preferred method for receiving it.
11. Work Location or Place of Performance
This section tells where the work will be performed. For many service providers, this means a virtual or remote work location.
However, it can be a hybrid if you have any in-person meetings with the client.
This section lists each distinct end product the client will receive as part of the services rendered. You can choose to include your method of providing them.
Here are two examples:
- A logo designer’s deliverables might be 5 logo versions provided in SVG and JPG formats over Google Drive
- A web design project deliverables might be a competitor analysis, 2 website versions for A/B testing, creative assets, and style guidelines
This section is essential. Your clients have to know exactly what they’ll receive at the end of the project.
13. Project or Work Administration
An administration section details your management of the project in relation to the client’s or other stakeholders’ participation.
This should include things like virtual meetings, phone conversations, videoconferencing, stakeholder discussions, etc.
For example, if you want to have a weekly meeting to discuss the progress, put it in this section.
A milestones section is appropriate for almost every scope of work. This lists out significant points throughout the project.
It can correlate to different project management stages and/or mark conclusive achievements.
15. Schedule or Work Timeline
The scope of work will always include a schedule. It should list the project’s start and end date (or estimated end date) along with the dates for any milestones.
You can also choose to provide the client with a project phase timeline. This is a great way to help them keep track of where things are.
The typical schedule will have:
- Project’s beginning date
- Project’s estimated end date
- Project’s final termination date
- Work’s beginning and end date
- Milestone dates
- Deliverable due dates
- Approximate dates for key phases
Make sure to differentiate between dates that are firm and dates that are estimated. The project’s start date is often the only one that can be definitively pinned down.
When it comes to milestones and project phases, you may want to provide a date range or final deadline rather than a single date.
Make sure the client understands when you are giving them a firm deadline versus an estimated timeline.
16. Progress Reporting
This section of the scope of work describes how you will share status reports and updates with the client.
Tell them what kind of information they’ll get, when they will get it, what format it will be in, and how that will be delivered.
It’s best to provide progress reports in a way that can be verified later on.
17. Testing and Checkpoints
The scope of work should include a testing or checkpoint section if those are a critical part of the services you’re performing.
It should have:
- What work will be tested
- What kind of tests will be performed
- The extent of those tests
- When the tests will be performed
This lets the clients know what your standards are and prevents them from making complaints or allegations of sub-par service, after the fact.
These should be included in your schedule or timeline.
18. Acceptance and Approval Terms
Your scope of work should always include set expectations for the client’s approval and acceptance of your work.
It should tell the clients what will need to be approved, how they should make those approvals, and how much time they have to do so. A client’s failure to meet these conditions will be taken as acceptance of the work.
Clients should be approving the work along the way. Include staged approvals for every significant phase, deliverable, milestone, and the project’s final closure.
19. Payment Terms
A scope of work can include payment terms and due dates. These terms should be covered in other documents, like the contract and proposal.
However, reiterating them in the scope of work reiterates the fact that work is conditional on these being met.
20. Project Budget or Resources Allocation
A scope of work for substantial projects can include a section detailing the budgetary allocation.
A scope of work should make your working relationship easier while offering legal protection against complaints and disagreements.
Focus on the basics at first, then add in anything that will help get you and your client on the same page.
Here are a few final tips:
- Write clearly and simply
- Be detailed and granular
- Go step-by-step, thinking of everything done from preparation to close
- Break work down into its services, sub-services, tasks, and sub-tasks
- Set clear benchmarks, success criteria, and stages
- Have the scope of work reviewed by someone else or let it rest and double-check it
Watch the Webinar: How to Create a Comprehensive Scope of Work
This post is based on the webinar “How to Create a Comprehensive Scope of Work” from iThemes Training. Find out more about creating a scope or statement of work that makes your business more efficient and productive.
Each week, the team at iThemes team publishes new WordPress tutorials and resources, including the Weekly WordPress Vulnerability Report. Since 2008, iThemes has been dedicated to helping you build, maintain, and secure WordPress sites for yourself or for clients. Our mission? Make People’s Lives Awesome.