Writing an Effective Scope of Work

Writing an Effective Scope of Work

Any time you’re working with a client or vendor on a project, you should have a contract in place that clarifies what each of you are going to do for the project. This helps to start a conversation about your roles and creates a record that you can look back on. The portion of the contract that lays out your roles is called the “scope of work”.

Contracts generally

A contract is an agreement between two or more parties in which the parties agree to do something. An agreement doesn’t have to be written down in a formal contract to be legally enforceable – agreements through conversations, text messages, email chains, etc., can all be considered legally enforceable contracts.

However, having a more traditional written agreement with the other party is always encouraged, especially when the relationship requires that the parties meet certain goals, timelines, or phases. These situations require a mutual understanding of the work to be done, and the contract should clearly define the work.

This is also important if a dispute happens over the contract terms. In a contract dispute, courts typically only look at what the contract actually says, and not what the parties to the contract intended. This is called the “objective theory of contracts”.

What is a scope of work?

A scope of work (also called a statement of work) is the section of a contract that lays out core responsibilities for you and the other party. It's the conversation you've been having with each other - the "I'll do this and you do that" part of the agreement.

The scope of work is often attached at the end of the contract so that it's easy to reference, but can also be included as a section of the main contract. Either way, as long as the scope of work is obviously a part of the contract, then that will work.

What is included in a scope of work?

A scope of work should cover the unique aspects of the work between you and the other party, as opposed to the "boilerplate" terms within the main contract (not to say those aren't important, because they definitely are).

A scope of work can include the term of the agreement, any timelines or milestone dates, the services or products to be delivered by those dates (also called "deliverables"), payments terms, the amount of time or revisions spent on a deliverable, any meetings or correspondence between the parties during the term of the agreement, and anything else the parties want to require of each other.

Be specific

The scope of work should be as clear as possible so that both parties understand what they need to do. This will avoid any confusion down the road, which is important because people tend to forget exactly what they agreed to.

You should try to draft your scope of work with other people in mind. Would someone unfamiliar with the agreement between the parties be able to read the scope of work and understand what each is supposed to do? That's what you're aiming for.

State minimums and maximums

Something I often see lacking in a scope of work are minimums and maximums. You should clarify "how much" for any deliverable. Will the client receive unlimited revisions until they're happy, no revisions, two revisions and then hourly payments after that, etc.? Will your contractor satisfy its requirement to post social media content each week by posting one post, posting two to three posts, posting at least five posts, etc.? This also works well for time based line items - "review and analyze SEO analytics (30 minutes to an hour each month)".

You can include examples

If you feel that any line item in the scope of work still isn't clear, you can add examples of how it's supposed to work. Just say "For example," and insert one or two scenarios that you think are appropriate or foreseeable. This can also help the other party feel more comfortable with the agreement.

The take away

A scope of work is normally not a complicated or difficult portion of a contract to write, but does require some thought and attention to detail. The effort you put into it before agreeing to the contract with the other party will pay off later on if either of you need to refer back to your obligations for any reason.


Notice: This post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice based on a review of individual circumstances. Please contact an attorney regarding your particular legal issues.