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How to Set Your Scope of Work With a Software Development Partner

Nacho De Marco
Nacho De Marco

The scope of work (SOW) is a document that contains an agreement on the work that needs to be done in a specific project. Here's what you need to know to set your SOW for success.

The pandemic has sped up digital transformation processes to the point where it'd be better to talk about digital acceleration processes from now on. By saying that, I'm taking for granted that modern companies already have some sort of digital environment in place, which means they are now looking to sophisticate such infrastructure with cutting-edge technologies and tools that help them meet new demands. 

Of course, doing that isn't easy. Businesses need to identify their precise needs and opportunities for improvement, define the kind of software that can help them with that, and then find the appropriate provider to meet those requirements. That last thing might seem like the easiest of the whole process, given how many software development providers are on the market.

But that abundance of software development services is what can conspire against a company's best interests. Finding the perfect match among the crowd can be tricky, because the perfect provider means a company capable of delivering high-quality results within acceptable deadlines and without going over budget. A lot of development companies will say they can provide you with all that, so how can you be sure which one to pick?

As a part of BairesDev, an outsourcing software development company, I could give you a lot of suggestions. But I think the best way to find the right service provider is through a scope of work. Let me explain what I mean.

What is the scope of work?

The scope of work (SOW) is a document that contains an agreement on the work that needs to be done for a specific project. For a software development project, a SOW should have the following items:

  • Milestones: The project needs to be broken down into its manageable phases. The end of a phase and the beginning of the next marks a milestone in the project that lets you monitor the project's progress and how close it is to your defined timeline. Milestones can be kickoffs, meetings, feedback instances and more. 

  • Deliverables: These are what you expect to get as an end result of the project. In the case of software development, that is a software program tailor-made as per your requirements. At a general level, deliverables can also be a report, a set of features, a product or whatever you define as the end product. 

  • Timeline: Here you'll establish the schedule for the phases or milestones for your project. In other words, you'll use a timeline to set the expected duration for the entire project and for each of its phases. You just have to remember that the timeline you propose may end up looking a little different at the end, especially after a trusted service provider suggests some adjustments stemming from its experience with similar projects. 

  • Reports: These documents are the records of the progress on the project, the goal being to communicate how on-track the project actually is. Of course, you won’t create the reports while working on the SOW; rather, you'll define how you expect the reporting to be done once the project starts. 

  • Budget: Some people don't consider budget a part of the SOW, but it's always a good idea to include it, because how much you expect (or can afford) to spend on a project can have a dramatic impact on your provider options. For safe measure, you should always throw it in.

Now, let's dive into why the SOW is a good tool to help you find a software service provider.

The SOW to find the right development partner

The main benefit of outlining your SOW before contacting potential development partners is that the development teams and companies you contact will truly understand what you need. A well-written SOW will put those providers in your shortlist on the same page as you and will help them prepare a proposal for you.

That's not the only way this document can help you find the right development provider. A good SOW will let software development companies factor in all your requirements to come up with an estimate for your project. They'll take aspects like the project's complexity, the number of software engineers needed, and technologies used into account.

Since the SOW will have your budget in it, providers will be able to tell you whether they can develop the software within your price range or not. This will let you rule out certain candidates or gain some insight into costs you might not have considered and that you will have to include in the SOW. 

The technical requirements you include in the SOW help you find a development team with the expertise you need. Since you'll have to include the list of features you must have (as well as those you'd simply like to have) in the final product, the companies you contact will be able to tell whether they can tackle your project or not. 

What's more, such a list of features and technologies will help you from the get-go, as you'll be able to survey the development market and discard the companies that don't have enough expertise with them. This will save you a lot of time, while also providing valuable information for companies to define the experts they'll need on their team to tackle your project. 

The SOW sets a precise list of expectations that limits the inherent risks of any development project. By learning what you want in detail, companies can advise you on how to tackle those requirements and explain how their development processes will fit with your expectations. 

Paying special attention to the timeline and the milestones is key here. How your potential providers approach both of those factors will be very revealing. Their comments and suggestions will show you how they communicate, how they analyze a project, and how experienced they are. Knowing all of those things in advance will help you mitigate the risks present in any development project.

The timeline will make or break any potential partnership. If you are precise with your deadlines (and have a valid reason to have them rather than "just because I want them quickly"), you'll weed out more candidates from your development shortlist. Tight deadlines need more manpower and dedicated resources, which not all development teams can promise you. 

The benefit of doing this in the SOW exceeds this headhunting phase of your project. Once you secure a partnership, the timeline itself will be the organizer of the work in the entire project. Since both you and your partner will have agreed on it, the expectations will be aligned and more issues will be prevented. 

Setting your project up for success

Getting your project going in the right direction is as simple as creating a well-written SOW. That might seem like a tall order, but really, you just need to be clear about what you need and follow three simple suggestions:

  1. First, be as specific as possible about your requirements. Include a glossary of terms if you might need it to avoid confusion later on.
  2. Include visual elements to make it easier to read. Graphs and mockups can reinforce your ideas and help companies understand your vision.
  3. Make sure that the partner you choose in the end signs off the SOW, which will help you avoid disputes. 

And that's that. By following those simple suggestions, and possibly by helping yourself to one of the many templates to write SOWs you can find online, you'll have a valuable document that has helped you organize your thoughts, gain a clearer understanding of your project, and find the right development service provider for it, thus setting you up for success. 

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Nacho De Marco
Nacho De Marco Member
I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at BairesDev. I am responsible for implementing and ensuring the successful management of the business and setting future strategies aimed at positioning my company as the #1 software company in the region. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Systems Engineering as well as a Master of Business Administration. I was born and raised in Argentina and I am an eager traveler who has visited over 50 countries. I speak 4 languages and I'm currently a resident of San Francisco, CA.