Defining Scope Of Work For Software Development

What is a Scope of Work Document?

If you're hiring someone to do a project for your business (like creating an app or redesigning your website, to name a few examples), then you'll need to put together a scope of work document. A scope of work document is an agreement between you and a contractor (or vendor or agency) that details exactly what the project is and what the contractor is expected to deliver.

Why is it Necessary?

A scope of work document is an agreement between both parties concerning what will be done on the project. The more detailed it is, the less risk there is of potential miscommunication between parties concerning any aspect of the project, such as what is supposed to be done, the price of service, the expected completion date, and a timeline of project milestones to  be met. It should also outline the success criteria. A well-written scope of work document will be beneficial for negotiating the actual contract, finding a contractor that is capable of meeting your expectations, and helping prevent miscommunication.

Basic Components

A scope of work document doesn't necessarily have to be in-depth, but the more detailed it is, the better off you'll be. The basic elements to address within your scope of work document are listed here:

The Creative Brief

The creative brief of your scope of work document should establish the objectives of your project and connect them with creative strategies. This section should clearly align expectations on both sides and build team consensus by outlining the expected outcome. This makes plain the criteria for success and defines goals that are both clear and measurable.

Project Tasks

Once you've written up a creative brief, outline the project tasks. These tasks should go over the setup of the project, what it is you're building, the launch of the project, and tasks that need to be done following the launch of the project.

Project Setup

If you're building or redesigning a website or app, the project setup should address all of the following:

  • The planning stages of building your site or app
  • The proper distribution of all relevant project information to the team
  • The setup of the server, host, and DNS
  • Setting up a code repository for your project
  • Planning the SEO (search engine optimization) of your project
  • Coming up with the concept design (if you're working on a project that requires this, such as a theme-based website project).

Information Architecture

Information architecture defines the general functionality of the site or app as well as all its pages, sections, and subsections. This includes everything from page-by-page goals to structure planning to navigation. The information architecture section of your creative brief works as a blueprint defining what the contractor is responsible for and how much it will cost. This, in turn, helps to establish expectations between you (and your stakeholders) and your contractor. The more detail you include in this section, the better. Without this section, there will be a greater risk of miscommunication and mismanaged expectations.

Launching the Project

Launching your project is never as simple as it might seem. Launching a new website or app can be very challenging. There are a lot of tasks that need to be done to ensure a smooth launch, including setting up DNS, planning your email management, training administrators, pushing files, informing users, and identifying and addressing any bugs in your software. These tasks take time and you'll need to plan for them to ensure that your launch date isn't delayed.

Post-Launch Tasks

Launching your website or app isn't the end of the process--it's just the beginning. Make sure you can keep clients happy and ensure long-term success post-launch. Depending on who you're working with, you may want to add a testing and validation process, an approval process, a sign off process, an SLA (service level agreement), and more to your project tasks. If you plan on working with an agency to redesign your site, you may also want them to be in charge of maintaining your marketing efforts, such as SEO and content marketing, following the launch of your site. These are all things to consider when outlining your post-launch tasks.

Project Management

Project management refers to the primary functions of your project's administration, meaning the budget and costs, scheduling, milestones, and legalities of your project.

Budget and Costs

This should include an overview of your overall budget as well as a detailed outline of the costs of the project. Include detailed payment issuance terms, such as whether payments will be made when milestones are met or following the completion of a deliverable or simply on an hourly basis. With such terms, you won't be expected to pay for any unfinished work --if there are any delays in the project, you won't have to pay until the deliverable is completed or the milestone is met. Time and material engagements are the most common type of engagement for most firms.

There are two other types of payment models for software development-related projects. These include fixed bid and retainer. Fixed bid models remain constant and require that the contractor or agency use their resources to stay within costs and profit margins. In such a model, you won't have to worry about how the money is being used because the contractor will be responsible for meeting all deliverable deadlines or project milestones. One word of caution with fixed bid projects is that it takes a great deal of time and effort to define all of the deliverables.  Software development firms will likely have to increase their fixed bids to accommodate for the unknowns and risks. And any work that was not in the original scope will require a change order with new deliverables and associated costs. With a retainer model, you will pay for the personnel along with all other resources related to the project and will continue making payments on a regular basis to retain these resources until the project is finished.

Generally on all projects, you will also want to allocate a portion of your budget towards change control. Changes can affect the scope of your project, which in turn can affect your budget. To ensure that you don't go over budget and that your project isn't delayed, you'll want to create an estimated planned budget for predicted requests for change.


The project schedule should be clearly outlined. Only including a launch date can result in all kinds of issues, such as a final project that is without certain features or that doesn't function the way it's supposed to, or that is delayed past the launch date. To prevent this from happening, you need to not only include the expected duration of the project and launch date, but also set time restrictions on specifically named deliverables and tasks.

Clearly Defined Key Milestones

To ensure that your project is on the right track over the course of its development, establishing key milestones is essential. Milestones are dates by which certain tasks are completed. By meeting these milestones, you can be confident that the contractor or agency you're working with will have your project finished on time.  The Agile methodology is now the most common way to develop software in short 1-3 week “sprints” to ensure that a defined set of work is being completed on schedule.

Specific Contract Terms, Legal Requirements

Finally, your project management document should include all of the legalities involved in the project, including these contract terms and legal requirements:

  • Whether anyone will need security clearance to access certain software or hardware
  • Whether there are hardware or software restrictions or requirements (such as system downtime and maintenance)
  • Whether there are travel requirements (and who will be responsible for the costs of travel)
  • Any exclusions or assumptions that weren't covered (such as details about which party will own the code in software development projects).

Points to Remember in Creating the Scope of Work Document

Here are a few additional tips that will help you in creating a comprehensive scope of work document:

  1. Take notes first - Before you begin to write your scope of work document, list all of your requirements, including wants and needs. You'll likely need to do some research and to speak with your team to determine exactly what you want from your website redesign or app development.
  2. Write it ahead of time - Begin writing it before you begin interviewing contractors or agencies. This way, you can use it when obtaining different bids and they will know exactly what kind of project they're signing onto should you agree to work together. Writing the scope of work as your project is still in its early stages of development can help you define and develop the actual project itself.
  3. Clearly Define Success and Failure - Don't make the mistake of assuming the contractor knows exactly what a successful project looks like in its finished form. The lack of specific language in your scope of work document can be used to justify a poorly done job. For example, if you've hired someone to build a website, you probably expect it to be of high quality. If they launch your site by the deadline but the pages load incredibly slowly and the functionality of the features you wanted is poor, then this shouldn't be defined as a success.
  4. Describe functionalities and processes succinctly - Be as succinct as possible when describing the functionalities you want and the processes you want to implement to ensure that your contractor is on the same page.
  5. Don't assume anything - State all assumptions you might have about the project and the contractor clearly. Not doing so will increase the risk of miscommunication, which can cause all kinds of problems over the course of the project.
  6. Set SMART objectives - When setting your objectives, use the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) approach.
  7. Set realistic timelines - Unrealistic timelines will often result in an unrealistic budget. Not only will it be difficult for your contractor to meet unrealistic timelines, but your project will certainly be delayed and go over budget. If they do meet these deadlines, there's a good chance that quality will have been compromised in order to meet them.
  8. Include warranty terms and maintenance agreement - The quality of the project needs to be sustained once launched. To make sure your website or app is a continued success based on the quality of the work that was done developing it, include warranty terms, service levels, and a maintenance agreement.
  9. Use Straightforward Language - Skip the complicated acronyms and the industry jargon. While such terms may be obvious for anyone within your industry, that doesn't mean a software developer understands them. Using such terms can result in confusion and misunderstandings.

Challenges Faced in Creating

Writing up a scope of work document isn't easy. It's not just a brief overview of your proposed project. Some of the challenges you're likely to face when drafting a scope of work document are below:

  • Scope of work documents are complicated - Because of the fact that they cover every aspect of a project, scope of work documents are by nature complex. It requires careful attention to detail to write as well as a thorough understanding of the project's requirements and the work that needs to be done to ensure that an efficient contract can be created.
  • There are potential risks involved - There are potential consequences to writing a poor scope of work document. These consequences can include violations of agreement, potential harm to your organization's reputation, financial implications, penalties, and even legal risks.
  • It needs to be written by someone with expertise - Because of the risks involved, it's important that whoever writes it has in-depth knowledge of the project's processes, operations, and financial requirements. If you’re confident in the firm you’re going to use, consider using one of their Business Analysts or Project Managers to help create the Scope of work.  They will help ensure the necessary information gets into the document.
  • It can take time to draft - Considering everything that a good scope of work document covers and addresses, it can take a while to write. Be sure that you take the time you need to write it well.



If you need to have a website built or redesigned or you're looking to develop an app that benefits your business, work with a high-quality software developer; however, to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that you ensure the success of your project, it's vital that you put together a comprehensive scope of work document.

Still having difficulties tailor-fitting the Scope of Work for your project? Talk with an expert today!

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