The SOW and the PMBOK

The following may be of no interest if there is not much project management formality in your organization … but the Project Management Institute (PMI) codifies the project management discipline in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowlege, or PMBOK Guide.

As always, the semantics used in practice somewhat conflict with those in process frameworks like that put forth by PMI. Accordingly, I initially disliked the term SOW as an artifact unto itself, but it was so common in practice I eventually gave in.

In the original and second editions of the PMBOK guides (1987 and 1996), the term “statement of work” or “SOW” was used in describing project procurement management. They defined the SOW as a “narrative description of products or services to be supplied under contract”. Beginning with the third edition, the term was broadened possibly to reflect its use (misuse) in practice; SOW was defined as “A narrative description of products, services, or results to be supplied.” Beginning in this edition, SOW was explicitly identified as an input to the project charter, which of course is a document that formally authorizes a project or a project phase.

The Fourth Edition of the Guide to the PMBOK also references “statement of work” when it describes the developing of the project charter.

The statement of work (SOW) is a narrative description of products and services to be delivered by the project. For internal projects, the project initiator or sponsor provides the statement of work based on business needs, product or service requirements. For external projects, the statement of work can be received from the customer as part of a bid document, for example, request for proposal, request for information, request for bid, or as part of a contract. The SOW references:

  • Business need. An organization’s business need may be based on a market demand, technological advance, legal requirement, or government regulation.
  • Product scope description. This documents the characteristics of the product that the project will be undertaken to create. The description should also document the relationship between the products or services begin created and the business need that the project will address.
  • Strategic plan. The strategic plan documents the organization’s strategic goals. Therefore, all projects should be aligned with the strategic plan.

The SOW artifact described in this essay obviously is broader in scope; it encompasses portions of PMI’s “project management plan” and other plans referred to in the PMBOK Guide. These activities that are listed in the “Planning Process Group” are all input to the SOW.

  • Collecting requirements
  • Defining scope
  • Creating a WBS
  • Defining activities
  • Sequencing
  • Estimating resources and duration
  • Developing a schedule
  • Estimating costs
  • Determining budget
  • Identify risk and responses

In general, we should not get too concerned about nomenclature and taxonomy, but rather ensure that the processes described in the PMBOK guide are addressed and included.

<<— Back to top
–>> A SOW by any other name?
–>> What physically is the SOW?
–>> What does the Project Management Institute say about the SOW?
–>> What are the components of a SOW?