Scope of Work in Construction

The scope of work might be the most important part of a construction agreement – even more important than the price. Without a defined scope of work, there’s no way to know what work must be done. That means it’s incredibly important to establish the scope when contracting to show what tasks must be done, and who’s responsible for those tasks.

What is a scope of work?

A Scope of Work

A scope of work, also called a statement of work, is a portion of the contract documents that describes the work to be performed on a construction project. A well-written scope of work sets the expectations for both parties, including the responsibilities, milestones, and technical details required to complete the job.

The scope might be a section of the contract or a separate document attached to the construction agreement. A good scope of work includes enough detail to ensure that everyone on the project can stay on the same page.

The scope of work might be the most foundational piece of a construction contract. It should clearly communicate the expectations of the contractor or sub. Without a clearly defined scope of work, the potential for defects, payment disputes, and project delays will soar.

Changing the scope

The scope of work outlines who is responsible for completing tasks, the project schedule, and establishes a baseline of rights and obligations. A scope of work isn’t set in stone, though — they are commonly modified via change orders and partial terminations.

Contractors are often asked to perform work that wasn’t included in the original contract. This may be the result of a scope of work that didn’t provide enough detail on the work to be performed, or it may be due to miscommunication with the construction manager. Regardless, scope creep can quickly lead to disputes. When contractors or subs are asked to do something outside the scope, it’s critical to request a change order in writing.

The foundation: A written contract

There are a lot of reasons why construction contracts should be made in writing. Without a written contract, it’s too easy for miscommunications and misaligned expectations.

Maybe the biggest issue with a verbal contract is that there’s no one point of reference for the scope of work. When a contract is put to writing, both sides have something to point to when there’s a disagreement or miscommunication.

A contract acts as a north star, especially when it clearly sets out the scope of work and the cost of that work. That way, there’s absolutely no question as to what work needs to be done, and what will be paid for it. Clear contract provisions are essential for minimizing confusion — and disputes. Plus, when the contract is in writing, it will be obvious how a change to that scope of work will be made (typically via change order).

6 items a scope of work should include

There’s no single way to set out the scope of work. Still, there are some general considerations that should be included.

1. Definitions

Clear wording and terminology go a long way to minimize the risks of disputes, claims, and litigation. The scope of work should use terms that everyone understands — including the terms used for each party to the agreement. The construction business is rife with industry jargon and abbreviations, be sure anyone reading the scope of work can actually understand it.

2. Project Overview

A short, concise statement summarizing the project description. The overview should list critical objectives that must be achieved in order to complete the project successfully.

3. Milestones & Deliverables

This section should detail all the expected project goals that need to be reached throughout the lifespan of the project. It will ideally include enough relevant information to provide contractors and subs a clear understanding of the project requirements.

4. Scope & Technical details

The project scope will give you essential details regarding the precise tasks and their technical aspects. Specific methods and techniques required for the completion of a contractors performance will be listed, along with the evaluation criteria.

5. Schedule & Timeline

Not a full detailed construction schedule, but rather a general list of tasks, and related tasks for the project and when they are expected to be completed. Contractors need to plan around their deadlines. To do so, they should be told the overall anticipated project timeline, delivery dates, and any relevant completion milestones.

6. Management & Administration

This section of the scope of work will define the administrative procedures on the project. How are change orders handled? When and how are payments going to be issued? These questions are ideally answered in this section, along with any other pertinent contract and legal requirements.

Elements of the Scope of Work: Project Overview, Project Deliverables, Project Scope, Schedule Summary, Project Management

Tips to write a successful scope of work

Writing a scope of work isn’t difficult, but it will require someone to sit down and think through each step in the project. The more detail a statement of work includes, the greater the chance of project success. At the end of the day, a good scope of work will help reduce change orders, prevent delays, and avoid payment disputes.

Set reasonable goals and expectations

Your project goals should be ambitious but realistic. Thus, when drafting a scope of work, these goals should be worded broadly enough to be easily referenced, yet specific enough to provide the information necessary for performance.

Your project’s objectives should state the time and materials expected for each task, so contractors and subs know what they need, and how much time they have to perform.

Include visual aides

Photos, graphs, or drawings are an excellent way to be sure that any ambiguous terms are clarified. Even with a definitions section, some words or phrases are still open to more than one interpretation. Providing plans or models (whether via sophisticated BIM software outputs or crude and simple sketches) can reduce any misunderstandings and give a point of comparison with the actual progress of the project.

Have contractors & subs sign off on their scope

This is an incredibly simple way to prevent disputes: Have each subcontractor sign off on a copy of the scope of work to confirm that they have received, read and understand their obligations. And not just at the start of the project, have them sign off every time a milestone or individual objective is reached.

Scope of work examples

Every SOW is unique and specific to the project being completed. Here are some real-world examples of a scope of work used in contracts for different types of construction projects.


This scope of work from a drywall subcontract is a section of the subcontract, so some of the standard elements of a SOW aren’t found in this list of items, like the schedule or specifications. Rather, they are spelled out in separate sections of the agreement.

Public works project

In this scope of work for a Colorado Department of Transportation project, note how the document starts by defining the terms used for each party to the agreement to ensure clarity and consistency throughout the document.

Communication & transparency

Proper communication and transparency will prevent construction payment disputes, and that starts with a crystal clear scope of work. When both parties understand what’s expected, everything else tends to fall into place. Plus, referring back to the scope of work keeps parties on task, which helps to complete the build on time and on budget.

If a dispute does arise, the scope of work will be an invaluable resource. Obligations and responsibilities that are expressly listed can help support or extinguish disagreements. Lastly, a well-formulated scope of work can provide a certain level of security. Contractors and subs are not only guaranteed they get paid what they expected but are also aware of what happens should they fail to achieve what’s expected of them.

Further Reading

Clearly Defining the Scope of Work | It's More Important Than You Think
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Clearly Defining the Scope of Work | It's More Important Than You Think
The scope of work might be the most important part of a construction agreement. A clearly defined scope establishes each party's rights, obligations, and expectations - and that understanding helps to avoid disputes.
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