Term: Statement of Work (et al)

This is a bit muddled, but the basics are clear enough: clients write “statements” that describe what they want (that is, the Work). These more-or-less comprehensive lists of what the client wants to contract for (services, products, data, reports, processes, standards) range from high-level, conceptual documents down to highly detailed specifications.  

Some statements presume or dictate a specific solution; others leave it open to bidder ingenuity. It would be tidy if the different terms covered distinct and agreed-upon sections of the possible range of such statements, but the real world is rarely as tidy as one could wish. In increasing order of specificity, it’s about like this:

  • Statement of Outcomes (SOO) / Statement of Need (no acronym known): The former used in American government contracting; the latter more used in Canada. As their names suggest, intended to be high-level, conceptual specifications.
  • Statement of Requirement(s) (SOR): In Canada’s military, operators use these to specify what they need to accomplish the mission, and someone else takes that and turns it into a SOW. Bidders never even see the SOR. But not everyone uses these terms in a military sense, and some folks issue SORs that fall between a SOO and a SOW. Confused yet?
  • Statement of Work (SOW): Usually a specification tending to the detailed end of the range; some get right down into prescribing tasks. Because it’s harder than it looks to specify what you want once you get down into the details, SOWs tend to be unclear, incomplete, and even (gasp!) inconsistent.

What matters in a given RFP is not so much what it’s called, but what it is.  And to know that, you just have to read it.

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