Can one document make or break a project engagement? Seriously…we do lots of planning and lots of prep work, but no two projects are the same and some projects have certain documents and some don’t. What makes one document that much more important than another?
For one thing, requirements are extremely important. I always say they are the lifeblood of any project. How do you build a solution without requirements? But roll back a little farther. What gets you to those requirements? What helps to even kick the project off right in the first place? How do you know what the project is about? Word of mouth? See how far that will get you.
I consider the project statement of work – or SOW – to be probably the most critical early document the project manager can have in his possession. A good statement of work can tell the project manager so much. In fact, on most of my projects I find myself going back to the SOW as a point of reference first whenever questions come up about deliverables, assumptions, or even requirements. Because if it isn’t in the statement of work, then it didn’t exist when we first started to put the project together. It’s like the birth of the project…if it’s done right, then it is where it all started for the project. The statement of work gives you everything you need to start building your project from – if it exists and it’s done right.
Which brings me to my next question. How big or small does a project need to be to warrant an SOW? Is there a dollar amount below which an SOW is overkill? Or is there a minimum project duration below which a SOW would be an extravagance? An unnecessary luxury? My answer here is a definite no.
If a project is handed to you and there’s nothing but some notes on a paper, my recommendation is to stop, refuse to move forward, and request a formal statement of work. If one cannot be produced, then I highly recommend building tasks into the front end of the schedule to incorporate sitting down with the project sponsor and creating at least a minimal statement of work document. What you’ll gain from this type of planning up front in the project is invaluable.
I look to the statement of work to provide me – at a minimum – with the following when I’m kicking off an engagement:
- General statement of the project purpose or need
- Description of the major project deliverables
- Definition of the project milestones
- Estimation of the project effort
- Estimation of the project timeline
- Estimation of the project budget (this actually may be specific as it may be set in stone from Sales)
- High-level description of the project team roles and responsibilities for both sides
- Assumptions for the project
If these things are included in a statement of work document, then the project manager should have enough to get started on planning the project, putting together a draft schedule, and requesting resources for the project effort.
There is no question about it – more definition will come out of a formal kickoff session with the customer or project sponsor. No SOW gives you everything you could possibly need on the project. But it is the starting document to get to the point of detailed project requirements and helps you set expectations early on and make sure everyone is on the same page when the real project planning and design starts to take shape.