A contract creates a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties. For a contract to exist, there must be an offer from one party, acceptance of that offer from the other party, and valid consideration for the exchange, usually the payment of money in return for the provision of a good or service. Although contracts are drafted to clarify the parties’ duties and obligations under the written, legally binding agreement, they do not always spell out the manner in which those responsibilities will be undertaken.
As a result, a statement of work is usually used to describe the way in which a project will unfold. Project management often arises from the creation of a contract, and it is the statement of work that helps guide this facet of the contracting cycle. Given that the statement of work will serve as an outline for the overall exchange, it must be as clear and concise as the contract itself. Here are some tips on how to write a strong statement of work:
Establish a Concrete Timeline
Although a contract may have a clear starting and ending point, the things that must happen in between in order for the contract to be fulfilled are not always as clearly elucidated. For this reason, it is wise for the two parties to come up with a concrete timeline and include it within the statement of work. Projects often span several months, and chunks of work may need to be completed in several, distinct segments. It is important for the timeline to be as specific as possible, as vague references such as finishing something within several weeks will not suffice. There should be very specific deadlines marked on a calendar indicating when a certain deliverable is expected or a certain aspect of the project will be completed. In addition, there should be a review period built into this timeline during which time the other party can examine the work that has been done to verify that there is satisfactory progress.
Creating benchmarks to evaluate progress is also important, and this will align closely with the timeline that is established. However, the benchmarks should serve as clear guideposts for the scope and quality of the work that is to be completed. For example, if a vendor or service provider is supposed to furnish a particular document by a certain time, such as end-user requirements or licensing agreements, the extent of completion and the time by which it is expected should be explicit. If it is not clear when or how thoroughly each part of the project must be done, it is more likely that the first iteration will be more along the lines of a rough draft, leading to some time-wasting back and forth between the two parties as they nail down the final version.
Another way to avoid delays and ensure that time is not wasted is by connecting the expected benchmarks to incentives, such as bonus payments for finishing early. Some firms may choose to withhold payment until a certain portion of the project has been completed. Clearly, there is an implicit expectation that each side will fulfill its obligations as stipulated. Nevertheless, this does not mean that there should not be incentives to encourage faster, higher quality work, and the statement of work allows the parties to offer this without making it a confusing part of the contract.