Outlining Scope of Work Planning Process

9th March, 2017

In today’s competitive business environment, it is imperative for every organization to have the capability of drafting its own contracts. The concept of drafting contracts using previous agreements becomes more and more difficult due to the rapid changes of requirements and unprecedented business needs. One of the most challenging parts of drafting a new contract is writing the scope of work. The scope of work is the heart of the contract and it reflects the company’s objectives, requirements and needs from the contractor. A clearly written scope of work will significantly reduce problems and misunderstandings with the contractor.

Although drafting the scope of work is essential for any contract or project, it can be very challenging and confusing. Many questions are usually asked when a new project is assigned or a new contract is awarded such as:

  • Who is supposed to write the scope of work? The project manager, the contract manager, the end user, the customer or the sponsor?
  • Is there any process that can be used to help writing the scope of work?
  • What are the best practices for drafting the scope of work?

These are just examples of the many questions people involved in this process ask. The confusion stems from the fact that there is no unique answer to any of these questions. It all depends on many factors such as organizational culture, industry practices, organizational structure and nature of the business or project. While we find, in the IT industry for instance, that the end user would usually be responsible for providing the scope of work, it would be an engineering consulting firm that has that main responsibility in the construction industry.

It is no secret that many stakeholders try to avoid drafting the scope of work. This can be due to many reasons, including the fact that most people might find writing generally difficult, or due to the lack of guidelines on how to write a “good” scope of work. When it comes to drafting a scope of work, the following questions start roaming around the writer’s head:

  • How can I identify and define the objective of the contract or project? Why has it been initiated in the first place?
  • What project elements should be considered within the scope of this contract or project? Where does the responsibility of the relevant stakeholders start? Where does it end? And what does it comprise?
  • How can I estimate the budget and size of this project?
  • How can I ensure I am not leaving anything important out of the scope?

Needless to say, if a similar project had been carried out previously, its scope of work could be used as a starting point. Although you would still need to tweak it to make sure all the requirements were being reflected correctly, the amount of work needed to drafting would be significantly reduced. But what if the work requested was new to us? What if the previously written scope of work was poor or vague? Or even what if the project is not fully understood?

What follows is a six point structured methodology that can help in drafting a solid and comprehensive scope of work regardless of your industry or of your position in the organization.

1. Identify the need or problem:

Every project/contract is initiated either to satisfy a specific need or to solve a specific problem. Technological advances, profit opportunities or gaining a competitive edge are examples of the needs or problems that could be addressed. Identifying the need or problem correctly is the starting point of any contract or project. It is very important to take a step back, free your mind and identify this need or problem accurately. In some situations, the need or problem is not easy to define. In those cases the person in charge may need to use the help of the team or conduct interviews with others involved in this project. At this point, we should not worry about the writing itself, rather we need to be creative and receptive to all ideas. Remember, writing will come later.

2. Define the need or problem:

Once the need or problem has been identified, it needs to be stated clearly. Asking the right questions will lead to the right answers. For example, a firm that deals with the public is currently renting a space. Its public space is connected to its noisy back office making the whole facility very noisy and causing the work to be easily disrupted. Also, it has outgrown its current facility. In this case, defining the problem can be tricky. Is the problem a lack of space or too much noise? Do they need to expand or relocate? Is renting this facility part of the problem?

3. Explore alternatives and narrow your choices:

Frame an objective that restates the need or problem in terms of your expectations and then draw up a list of provisional approaches that fulfill this objective. Narrow the list down to 2 to 3 ideas by removing impractical ideas, grouping similar or related approaches together, then filtering again until you end-up with one favorite approach.

4. Use Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) or Product Breakdown Structure (PBS):

WBS and PBS are deliverable oriented groupings of project elements that organize and define the total scope of a project. Using these hierarchy decompositions of the project can help you significantly in determining all the elements of the scope of work including, when needed, alternative plans related to risk mitigation and contingency plans (as per point 6 below).

5. Estimate the budget and size up the project:

By estimating how much labor, materials and other resources will be required to accomplish each task in the WBS or PBS, we can determine the project’s or the contract’s overall cost estimate. By comparing the calculated cost estimates to the budget, we can determine if our budget is too low or too high and we will therefore know whether the scope needs to be adjusted to be realistic.

6. Conduct risk management assessment:

This last step is important to ensure we are not leaving anything fall between the cracks. By conducting a proper risk assessment of the project, we can identify possible risks and prepare appropriate response plans. These plans, whether they are contingencies or mitigation plans, can be included in the scope of work.

In conclusion, drafting a scope of work can be challenging. Professionals who are involved in this process need to have guidelines to make it easier and effective. Using the 6 points of our structured methodology will reduce the mistakes and ensure that the scope is comprehensive, especially when the project is new, not fully understood or not well defined.

About the Author
Alaa R. Elbaz


Mr. Alaa Elbaz is a partner with Meirc Training & Consulting. He holds a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Kuwait University, a master of science in mechanical and industrial engineering from the University of Jordan, and a master of business administration, with concentration in management information systems, from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

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