Define your duties with a scope of work

A successful project starts with a clear and detailed scope of work. Read about how to create a scope of work that clarifies the duties and responsibilities of everyone involved.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

A scope of work is a description of the work you will do on a project for a client or employer. It lays out what will be done, who will do it, when it will be done, and how it will be evaluated. The scope of work provides the guidance for the entire project, so it's a good idea to be sure it's clear and specific, so that everyone understands what the project entails.

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Why a scope of work is important

A scope of work is important because it spells out exactly what's going to happen with a project. Your duties as a worker are completely explained and the project itself is thoroughly defined. It helps eliminate confusion and nails down specifics.

Imagine that you're contracting with a client to do a marketing campaign for their new brand of cereal. If you both agree you will work on this campaign, you and the client could have very different expectations for what you will do and when you will do it. For example, you may intend just to create an ad campaign, while the client may be assuming you'll also do social media management and box design. This is why a scope of work is so important: It outlines the work that will be included in the project and determines who is going to do it and when it must be done.

Scope of work vs. statement of work

While they sound similar, a scope of work and a statement of work are two different things:

  • A statement of work is a general statement that describes a project and highlights its objectives and deliverables.
  • A scope of work is more specific and gets into the nitty-gritty of the work that's going to be done, the steps that will be taken, the timeline involved, and the evaluation criteria that will be used for the project.

What to include in a scope of work

A scope of work should set specific expectations and be very detailed. The clearer you can be, the better it will serve you, because it will help eliminate confusion and gray areas. Project creep is a huge problem many project managers face, so you want to take the time to think the scope of work through completely and anticipate possible project creep and address it. Include the following:

  • People and places. Specify who is doing the work and if there are several people, agencies, or divisions involved, state who is doing what. Also explain where the work will be done; for example, offsite at your freelance agency or onsite if you are an employee.
  • Deliverables. This section describes exactly what you will be creating and supplying for the project. There are probably many elements that you will deliver; for the cereal marketing example, this could include a new box design, TV ads, print campaigns, coupons, and more. Be sure to specifically list every deliverable the project will include.
  • Reports. You will create reports throughout the project, so explain exactly when you will supply them and what they will contain. Be very clear about how detailed they will be and the types of information they will include.
  • Timeline. The timeline is a crucial part of the project, so you will want to set it out very clearly, from start to finish. The timeline should indicate when each deliverable is due. It can be helpful to present an actual linear timeline for the client, stakeholders, or employers to see.
  • Milestones. Because projects include so many elements and working parts, it's important to name and describe the milestones or major sections of the project. By breaking the project down into phases, you make the project easier to understand, manage, and work through.
  • Authorizations and approvals. Your scope of work should list when authorizations or approvals are needed from the client or stakeholder, as well as an expected turnaround time for them. Too many projects get thrown off schedule with holdups in getting approvals at various stages. You also want to discuss the standards that will be used for evaluating the project after it is completed.

A scope of work can be done as a letter, proposal, or contract. You can write a scope of work yourself as part of a freelance contract, or as a document you produce as an employee. If you are writing an entire contract, you may want to consult with an attorney Creating a clear scope of work can help make a project run smoothly and help ensure a satisfied client.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

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