Introduction to Statement of Work

Statement of Work

Have you ever received a box of furniture from the delivery guy or purchased something requiring assembly at the big box store. The picture on the website looks AMAZING! You can’t wait to dive right in and rearrange the room and decorate and store things. It is going to be the best day ever!

You gently open the box with your keys because you can’t be bothered to walk over to your desk (which was delivered already assembled) to get the letter opener. Ten minutes later as you pull the last of the impenetrable tape from the cardboard (which was so much easier to tear than the tape I might add) you peer into the Styrofoam packing for a confused moment. “That doesn’t look like the picture on the ad”, you think quizzically. There is hesitation…“Am I up to this?”

As you carefully open, remove cardboard and Styrofoam packing and wood bits and pieces that will theoretically be your new entertainment center, a plastic zipper bag falls from the debris. There in the bag are the instructions. You read. Easy stuff.

These instructions have been through some gruesome translations to get to your language. They are clear and concise. At one point they are out of order. You are certain. Halfway through, that steps are missing or incomplete. These instructions don’t use all the parts in the box?! When you are done the entertainment center looks more like your cubism project from high school art class. (Great conversation piece, but not safe for your TV or fancy record player.)

So it is with a supplier statement of work. Good instructions give the team the best opportunity for a brilliant performance. The key to writing a good statement of work is knowing the requirements and explaining them in the proper detail. You must capture the actions and assignments with the proper detail to lead to the product you need without being overly restrictive or prescriptive. It takes the right people.

Engineering, configuration, quality, planning: team composition will depend largely on the intended result. If you need a small crew, don’t overdo it. If you need specific definitions of multiple, complex tasks get the right experts in the room. It’s okay to write as a team or write individually, but I think the product comes out better when the team collaborates in the editing or rewrite process. More than one person should read through it: to ensure the language is easily understood; to verify the steps are complete; to sanity check the grammar and spelling and punctuation.

When you proof-read the document together try to keep in mind what deliveries you expect. Do this by keeping lists. Put them on the board and check them off as you read the instructions that describe each one. You will not get what you don’t ask for. Even assumptions must be listed. You can always add requests in the PO or other contract efforts but that will cause confusion.

The goal with a statement of work should be easy, on-time delivery of all work requirements. If the supplier doesn’t understand the statement of work and delivers something improperly or late or not at all it will not matter whose fault it is. You will not be able to deliver. That is why you are going to have a long and boring meeting with the supplier to discuss it all with them. Don’t fall into the temptations to gloss over details. Get buy-in and points of contact for each deliverable or requirement. Make sure action owners understand.

This is a lot of effort but it is not wasted effort. In the expediting world, this is the level of effort required whether you do it upfront or after the parts were already delivered wrong or late or never. But scrutiny and stress that occurs at that point won’t make for happy days at work.

Ensure your supplier has the directions that will deliver you the entertainment center of your dreams (metaphorically speaking) and play those old records from the shelf. Your customer demands will be easier to satisfy if your suppliers (and their suppliers) understand the entirety of the project in both breadth and depth.