Proposal Development

Statement of Work (SOW)

The Statement of Work (SOW) is a document that enables the offeror to clearly understand the government’s needs for the work to be done in developing or producing the goods or services to be delivered by a contractor.  It defines (either directly or by reference to other documents) all work (non-specification) performance requirements for a contractor. It also facilitates the preparation of a proposal and aids the Government in conducting the source selection and contract administration after award.

Definition: The Statement of Work (SOW) defines (either directly or by reference to other documents) all (non-specification) performance requirements for contractor effort.  The SOW should specify in clear, understandable terms the work to be done in developing the goods or services to be provided by a contractor. (MIL-HDBK-245)

Whether the SOW is written by the government or the contractor (or some combination of both), it is a key element of a contract. After the contract award, requirements in the SOW (and associated specifications) constitute the standard and discipline for the contractor’s effort. It comprises the baseline against which progress and subsequent contractual changes are measured. Both the Government and the contractor look to the SOW as a key document defining the responsibilities of both parties.

Types of Statement of Work (SOW)

There are two types of statements of work that are used by the government and industry. These two types are:

  • Statement of Work (SOW): For system procurement and Research and Development (R&D) (MIL-HDBK-245)
  • Performance Work Statement (PWS): For the acquisition of professional services. (AFI 63-124)

What is a Performance Work Statement (PWS)

A Performance Work Statement (PWS) is an SOW for performance-based acquisitions that clearly describes the contractor’s expected performance objectives and standards.

Preparation of the Statement of Work (SOW)

Preparing an effective SOW requires an understanding of the goods or services needed to satisfy a particular requirement and an ability to define what is required in specific, performance-based, quantitative terms. The SOW should reference qualitative and quantitative design and performance requirements contained in specifications developed according to MIL-STD-961. [1]

 A Well-Written Statement of Work (SOW) has the following attributes: [1]

  • Specifies requirements clearly to permit the government and offeror to estimate the probable cost and the offeror to determine the levels of expertise, manpower, and other resources needed to accomplish the task.
  • States the specific duties of the contractor in such a way that the contractor knows what is required and can complete all tasks to the satisfaction of the contract administration office.
  • Written so specifically that there is no question of whether the contractor is obligated to perform specific tasks.
  • References only the absolute minimum applicable specifications and standards needed. Selectively invokes documents only to the extent required to satisfy the existing requirements.
  • Separates general information from the direction so that background information and suggested procedures are clearly distinguishable from contractor responsibilities.
  • Avoids directing how tasks are to be performed and states only what results are required.

8 Steps to Developing the Statement of Work (SOW) Content

There are as many parts in a Statement of Work that need to be developed, but first, focus on defining the key topics. Once you have the key topics defined the others will be a lot easier to develop.

  • Step 1: Write the Introduction: Explain what work needs to be accomplished and who is involved. This forms the baseline for the entire project and helps potential offers understand and set their prices and capabilities.
  • Step 2: Determine the Project Purpose: Answer the question of why we are doing this. To do this establish a purpose statement and answer the basic questions of what are the goals, deliverables, and objectives.
  • Step 3: Develop the Scope of Work: Determine the process that will be used to complete the work, including what hardware and software will be necessary. The scope should include time, results, and general steps for accomplishment. Keep the scope broad enough to give you the flexibility to make future revisions via the Changes clause.
  • Step 4: Determine Work Location: Choose all locations where project members might and will have to perform all tasks in the SOW.
  • Step 5: Develop the Tasks: Break the project down into more detailed tasks to include all the main deliverables, milestones, phases, and key tasks (Be specific) A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a good tool to use during this step.
  • Step 6: Determine the Milestones: Develop the project’s proposed start and finish date and all the major milestones in between. Use when products and tasks are scheduled to be completed.
  • Step 7: Determine the Deliverables: List each deliverable, show when it is due, and describe them in detail. Provide as much detail in this step.
  • Step 8: Develop the Schedule: Start with all the steps/tasks the project needs to accomplish, then create a realistic schedule around those steps.  The steps should include each major deliverable and when and in what order it needs to be done. Then, add all the management-related milestones, including kickoff, reviews, development, implementation, testing, and project closeout/acceptance.

Create the Statement of Work (SOW)

To create the actual Statement of Work, it is best to use an established template from your organization or from a legal entity. Since you already have the task and the content defined, it should be an easy step to plug in your content. A template also ensures you address all legal questions and don’t miss any content.

Template: Performance Work Statement

Template: Generic Performance Work Statement Template

Statement of Work (SOW) Notional Format:

  1. Scope: This section includes a brief statement of what the SOW should cover. The scope paragraph defines the breadth and limitations of the work to be done.
    1. Period of Performance
    2. Assumptions
    3. Deliverable
    4. Milestones
    5. Governance ( Approval Authority)
  2. Applicable Documents: Military handbooks, government instructions, service regulations, technical orders, and policy letters, as a type, are not written in language suitable for contract application.
  3. Requirements: Specific work tasks developed to satisfy program needs are essentially the contractor work requirements.
    1. General Requirements
    2. Technical Objectives and Goals
    3. Specific Requirements

Difference Between a Statement of Work (SOW) and a Performance Work Statement (PWS)

Knowing the differences between a Performance Work Statement (PWS) and a Statement of Work (SOW) is essential in the complex world of government procurement. These two papers significantly shape the expectations and results of contractual agreements between the government and contractors. To shed light on their distinctive qualities, let’s examine the main distinctions and importance of each.

Blog: Solving the Difference Between the SOW and PWS

Using a Work Breakdown Structure to Develop the Statement of Work (SOW)

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) should be used in developing the SOW. A WBS provides the framework for a disciplined approach to structuring and defining the total project or program. When preparing the SOW, a complete application of a WBS may not be necessary for all programs. However, the underlying philosophy and structured approach can and should be applied. The Contract Line Item Number (CLIN) and the SOW should be constructed to correlate with the WBS. Using a WBS during SOW development facilitates a logical arrangement of the SOW elements and provides a convenient checklist to trace all necessary program elements and ensure that they are addressed in the SOW. [1]

Statement of Work (SOW) Data Requirements

Each SOW will most likely have data requirements that the government and contractor need. Below is a list of key data topics that you should consider:

  • Deliverable data is governed by Data Item Descriptions (DIDs) in the Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL), which establish the format and content requirements
  • SOW taskings must not include the description and delivery requirements for data.
  • DoD 5010.12-M “Procedures for Acquisition and Management of Technical Data” governs contracting for data.
  • The SOW tasks the contractor to perform effort; deliverable data is the by-product.
  • Each deliverable data item must link to tasking in the SOW, which generates the effort that results in the delivery of data.
  • The SOW tasking paragraph resulting in data delivery must cite either the CDRL Sequence No. or the applicable DID, or both, at the end of the tasking paragraph.

AcqNotes Tutorial

Statement of Work (SOW) Checklist

  1.  Is the SOW consistent with all sections of the Request for Proposal (RFP)?
  2.  Is the SOW organized under the following major headings?
    1. SCOPE
  3. Is the “SCOPE” section free of everything that could be interpreted as:
    • Directions to the contractor to perform work tasks,
    • Specification of data requirements, and
    • Description of deliverable products?
  4. Do documents listed in Section 2 have the specific version listed, along with other publication facts such as document numbers and dates where applicable?
  5. Are all of the documents listed in section 2 actually cited?
  6. When documents are cited, are only the specific sections necessary to do the work cited?
  7. Is the document clear and complete enough for the contractor to estimate the probable cost and identify all resources needed to do the work?
  8. Is there no question as to whether the contractor has been told what specific tasks to perform?
  9. Are the binding requirements clearly distinguishable from the background information?
  10. Is the SOW free of “how to” requirements?
  11. Is the SOW free of statements that order or describe data items?
  12. Is the SOW free of references to Data Item Descriptions (DID)?
  13. Is the SOW free of proposal requirements and evaluation factors?
  14. Is the SOW free of business management matters that belong in the other contract sections, like requirements for time of performance?
  15. Is the SOW free of specifications and amendments to specifications for equipment, parts, materials or other goods?
  16. Is the SOW free of references to Government in-house management instructions?
  17. Is the SOW free of requirements that cite Government specifications or standards?
  18. Is the SOW free of requirements that cite handbooks, service regulations, technical orders, or any other Government document not specifically written according to DoD standards?
  19. Does the title page contain the title, preparation date, procurement request number or contract number, revision number, date, and identity of the preparing organization?
  20. If the document exceeds five pages, does it have a table of contents? If so, is the table correct?
  21. Does the SOW require the delivery of a product or result other than just periodic progress reports?
  22. Does each paragraph cover only one requirement?
  23. Does each paragraph and subparagraph have a title?
  24. Is the SOW free of pronouns with ambiguous antecedents?
  25. Is the terminology consistent throughout the entire package?
  26. Have you double-checked all of the “shall’s” and “will’s”? Are you sure there are no “any’s” and “or’s” that could be interpreted differently from what you might like?

Example of Statement of Work (SOW) Tasks

The following is a short list of SOW tasks for a software project. For a more detailed list, visit Example Statement of Work.

  • The contractor shall establish the Computer Software & Support (CS&S) architecture within the context of the overall system including a selection of processor types and architecture, and software architecture and major interfaces, in accordance with applicable Open Systems guidance. As applicable, the SOW should describe which architecture evaluation steps are the supplier‘s responsibilities and which are to be performed jointly by the acquirer and the system supplier.
  • The contractor shall generate a specification, SOW, Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in accordance with the Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL), Integrated Master Plan (IMP), Integrated Master Schedule (IMS), and Software Development Plan (SDP) sufficient to describe the software development processes to be employed on the program.
  • The contractor shall design, fabricate, integrate, test, and evaluate the hardware, software, facilities, personnel subsystems, training, and the principle items necessary to satisfy program requirements and to support and operate the system. This includes the requirements analysis, design, coding, and unit testing, component integration and testing, and Computer Software Configuration Item (CSCI) level testing for software. This also includes system development and Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E), software quality, Configuration Management, and support for the software.
  • The contractor shall define a Software Development Approach appropriate for the computer software development and integration effort to be performed under this solicitation.
  • The contractor shall document the software development approach in an SDP, shall implement the SDP requirements, and shall maintain the SDP.
  • The contractor shall use Earn-Value Management (EVM) to manage, determine the status of, and report on the software development effort.
  • The contractor shall implement selected Software Metrics to provide management visibility into the software development process and progress. The contractor shall apply core software metrics as a minimum. The selected metrics shall clearly portray variances between actual and planned performance, shall provide early detection or prediction of situations that require management attention, and shall support the assessment of the impact of proposed changes on the program. The contractor shall provide the program office with routine insight into these metrics.

Statement of Work (SOW) Funding

The SOWs should be consistent with the proposed appropriation to be charged from a Purpose-Time-Amount standpoint. Specifically, the funds being cited on the SOW should be used for the proper purpose, within the legal timeframes established by Congress, and within the amounts authorized, appropriated, and allocated to the program.

Statement of Work (SOW) in the Request for Proposal (RFP)

The SOW is shown in its entirety in Request for Proposal (RFP) Section C of the uniform contract format or incorporated by reference, then listed in and attached to Section J.

Statement of Work (SOW) vs. Statement of Objective (SOO)

The SOO is a Government prepared document that provides the basic, high-level objectives of the acquisition. It is provided in the solicitation in lieu of a government-written Performance Work Statement. In this approach, the contractors’ proposals contain their statements of work and performance metrics and measures (which are based on their proposed solutions).  The use of an SOO opens the acquisition up to a wider range of potential solutions.


The statement of Work is one of the most important documents on a defense acquisition program. The document enables the offeror to clearly understand the government’s needs for the work to be done in developing or producing the goods or services to be delivered by a contractor. Without an SOW there might be confusion about what is required from both the contractor and the Government. Take your time and develop the best SOW you can, it will save you a lot of time in the future if anything was to go wrong.


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Updated: 2/9/2024

Rank: G27

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