An Accurate Project Scope of Work

by | Aug 18, 2022 | Design-Build, Facilities

A project scope of work, often referred to as “SOW” is an essential aspect of any design and construction project.  It defines what is expected as an outcome of the project and is an essential first step in any project.  Anyone who has ever planned a home renovation or remodeling project is likely very aware of the impact of a poorly planned scope of work.  Will the kitchen remodel include new appliances or not?  Must the kitchen remain operational during the work or not?  Is the intention to keep the same color electrical devices and cover plates after the backsplash is replaced? Etc. etc.  

All of these and dozens of other similar considerations affect the scope of work for any design and construction project.  Two things are absolutely guaranteed, however.  Without an accurate and thorough scope of work it is virtually impossible to achieve a hoped-for budget or a required schedule.  Schedule and budget are inextricably tied to the scope of work. Missed items of scope lead to schedule delays and increased costs due to resulting change orders.   

WHEN should a scope of work be created?  

It should be one of the first things a project owner defines.  Even before setting a budget.  The reason is because it is so essential for defining what goal the project is attempting to achieve.  All design and construction consultants must clearly understand the project goal to be able to accurately propose their services to help achieve the goal.  The objective should be for all consultants to meet the project expectations without “surprises” which means that an owner concludes the project with no unmet schedule or budget expectations.  

WHY should a clear scope of work be created?

  • To define existing conditions
  • To help the General Contractor (and owner) set the overall project budget early
  • To help create a realistic schedule (which affects the budget)
  • Assess materials availability for the expected level of quality of materials to be included (affects both schedule and budget)
  • Confirm staff and labor availability to achieve the schedule
  • Avoid the “while we are at it…” rationale that is common reason for scope creep
  • Engage input from all project stakeholders as early as possible to avoid the “nobody asked me” type of changes
  • Clarify what will be defined as capital improvements vs. maintenance and repair improvements (and budgets)
  • Clarify expectations for phasing and sequencing of work.  Will the facility remain open for business during construction or not?  What are the available workdays and hours?  Can work be performed year-round?

All these considerations affect the schedule and budget.

So HOW is a Scope of Work determined?

Stakeholder involvement is critical.  All those who will use the facility or maintain it must be consulted very early in the process to ensure nothing is missed that is essential to its ultimate purpose and function.  Surveys and user group meetings are common approaches.  Both before a design team is selected and after the entire design team is on board. 

A facility conditions assessment is a very valuable tool to accurately capture in detail what currently exists architecturally, structurally, and mechanically.  Without knowing the starting point, it is very difficult to plan a path to the destination.  It is a rare owner who possesses sufficient “as built” information in either paper or electronic form to allow a design team to immediately commence work designing a building renovation or addition.  Additional information is almost always necessary.  Investing in a comprehensive and accurate existing conditions assessment pays for itself multiple times over by reducing or eliminating changes and delays that result from designers and contractors responding to unforeseen circumstances that could have been easily avoided with good existing conditions information. 

Once all the necessary data has been gathered, a scope of work can be written.  The form of the scope of work is not as important as the content.  The scope could be a narrative supported by some graphics, a bulleted list of features and considerations, or a matrix that defines all that is ideally envisioned to be a part of the project with items of scope prioritized to help the project team adjust the scope later as necessary to remain within budget.   

Wise owners are disciplined enough to take the time to think through the scope of their project early and often and communicate that scope to all professionals engaged as part of their project team.  The reward for doing so is a greater chance of establishing and adhering to a realistic budget and planning and achieving a desired schedule…both of which are essential for any successful capital project. 

Steve Kuhn is the founder of ShareBuilt, a nonprofit organization, that directly connects those in need of new/renovated facilities to AEC organizations with resources to meet those needs and professionals called to serve their communities.

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