Best practices for creating a construction scope of work

Best practices for creating a construction scope of work

Matt Crawford
By Matt Crawford
Sep 14, 2020
7 min read

Before starting a job, most contractors discuss pricing and present the client with a contract. This process also typically includes a scope of work (SOW).

A scope of work for construction can help set client expectations, keep a project on track and prevent misunderstandings. Without one, you could end up over- or underestimating the costs, missing deadlines and having a generally chaotic project.

But how do you write a rock-solid scope of work? Here’s a closer look at the elements it should include, best practices and our recommendations for implementation.

Construction scope of work definition

A scope of work is a document that outlines exactly what you’re providing for your clients. It is also known as a statement of work. Many contractors include a scope of work as a section of their contract, while others treat it as a separate document.

Either way, this document outlines the rights and obligations of you, your client and any subcontractors you use. It brings everyone together on the same page before you begin a project.

A scope of work can also help you protect your profit margin by forcing you to consider the details of a project before you start work. You can better estimate labor costs and other expenses, and it helps you align with your team and any subcontractors you hire.

How to write a scope of work for a construction project

Depending on the kind of work you do, the size of your projects and your preferences, a scoop of work can vary in appearance. But to create an effective document, we recommend you include the five elements on this construction scope of work checklist:

Project overview

Also known as a job summary or project description, this first section includes a list of goals that the work must meet to be considered finished. The goal might be to renovate a number of apartment units or build a brand new home. The overview may also include notes like, “Contractor will create a professionally finished project and leave behind a clean, debris-free property.”

Project deliverables

This section outlines the tangible items to be completed and should include enough detail to guide your team and any subcontractors through the project. The deliverables listed here should be measurable. Instead of saying “update bathroom,” it might say “Replace the sink with dual his and hers sinks, retile the shower and replace existing commode with a low-flush toilet.”

Project scope

This precise breakdown of tasks and techniques explains how you’ll get the job done. It will reveal which subcontractors are responsible for what work and the specifications. It might specify that the electrician will wire the home with 20-AMP circuits instead of 15-AMP circuits. Or it might insist that the plumber use all copper pipes instead of PVC. This section should also include places for each subcontractor to sign off on their pieces of the project.

Schedule summary

This section provides a list of project milestones with dates of completion. With it, your subcontractors can plan their individual schedules, and your client can understand when to expect visible progress. The schedule summary for building a new home might include dates for the following milestones:

  • Structure frame completed
  • Plumbing and wiring run
  • Roof completed
  • Interior completed
  • Clean-up finished

Project management

This section includes the administrative details of a project, such as how the client should pay you, how you’ll handle change orders and what to do in the event of a dispute. Lastly, this section will include space for you, your client and any subcontractors to sign and approve the entire scope of work.

Tips for creating a rock-solid SOW

The fate of your general contracting business could depend on how well each project’s scope of work outlines the job. But simply including the above elements might not be enough to create a rock-solid scope of work.

Every scope of work will be unique. Yours could be short and simple or long and complex, depending on the size of the project. Many contractors use a construction scope of work template that they fine-tune for each new project. No matter your approach, here are a few best practices to keep in mind.

Get visual

The scope of work can help your client envision their project coming to life. It tells them what to expect from your team and when to expect it. So don’t be afraid to include visual aids if it helps explain a complex idea or show what the end product might look like. Consider including the following:

  • Photos
  • Graphs
  • Drawings
  • Plans
  • Models

Use clear, simple language

Your clients may not know what a floating floor is or the difference between a joist and a jamb. Don’t expect them to. Instead, clearly define any necessary industry terms to avoid miscommunication. Try to use wording that allows for only one interpretation.

Set reasonable expectations

It’s tempting to overpromise in a scope of work to secure a contract with an on-the-fence client, but resist the urge. Instead, establish realistic expectations regarding time, materials and costs to avoid potential disputes if you can’t deliver.

Implementing your construction scope of work

Once you complete the scope of work, use it to manage your project by taking these steps:

  1. Get signatures: Have your client and any subcontractors sign your scope of work to ensure everyone agrees to it.
  2. Monitor the project: As work progresses, keep checking it against the timeline and techniques in your scope of work to ensure you're on track.
  3. Tackle changes: If your client asks for deliverables or materials not specified in the scope of work, you can create a change order to add them to the scope—for an additional cost, of course.
  4. Check your work: Before presenting the final product to your client, run through your scope of work to ensure you've met all requirements and deliverables.

Creating an effective scope of work may take time and some back-and-forth with clients and subcontractors. But it’s worth a bit of extra planning to avoid misunderstandings and disputes after the project starts. After all, a smooth project that results in a happy client can keep your profits from the job intact and earn you more business in the future.

How Next Insurance supports construction business

Next Insurance makes it easy to quickly explore construction insurance needs, purchase coverage and get a certificate of insurance within minutes so your business is protected while executing on your scope of work. 

Use our online services to get a quote from a smartphone or computer. With flexible payment options and no fees for cancellation, you can quickly get the coverage you need for your construction business so you can get back to work with peace of mind. 

Get your Next Insurance instant quote online today.

Best practices for creating a construction scope of work


matt crawford
About the author

Matt Crawford leads NEXT's content team. He's a small business insurance specialist and has worked with business owners throughout his career as a community journalist and content marketer.

You can find him at one of his many favorite local restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area when he's not at work.

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