Best Practices for Defining the Scope of Work for a Construction Project

Defining the Scope of Work is one of the most important parts of the preconstruction phase in construction management. The project in its entirety and every subsection therein needs to have clearly defined scopes of work. Without them, projects are opened up to a wide array of issues including disputes, budget overruns, delays, incomplete sections of work, and unhappy owners.

Sometimes contractors earn the reputation of doing the least amount of work possible to complete the job. If they don’t value the relationship with the general contractor, they may just show up, do the minimal amount of work, and sign off on their work early. Other times their understanding of what’s being requested of them may differ from the owner’s, leading to heated arguments and mediation proceedings. Construction projects inherently have a lot of unknown variables, and unexpected changes are likely to arise. Making every effort to document the scope of work to the greatest level of detail possible based upon your current best sources of information, is your first line of defense to mitigating issues down the line.

How should one best go about detailing the scopes of work then? Defining the scope of work is integrated with the process of defining the construction schedule. This is where you’ll lay the foundation for mapping the project to the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) systems. You start with the high level phases, and break them down into smaller sections until you have digestible sections of work that crews and specialists can each accomplish in turn. Each such task needs its own Scope of Work. Ultimately the Scope will be the centerpiece of every contract signed by each contractor and subcontractor. When you request for bids from contractors, among the first questions they’ll ask will be clarity on the scope of work. It contains all the construction obligations that they’ll include in their bid for the work, and everything owners will later check against when reviewing for signoff. A good Scope of Work will readily be converted to a punchlist when checking the work of contractors.

Here are the most important steps to defining a robust Scope of Work.

  1. Project Overview & Objectives. Introduce the project in high level terms and overall goals of the project. This could be anything from building a bridge, to constructing a dam. The overview should include the location, important dates, owners, and any other relevant information that would be helpful for contractors tp know when bidding the project.
  2. The Scope in Detail. This step is the crux of the Scope of Work, and where project planners need to include all the details and obligations that the contractors are expected to accomplish. This section should include finely tuned specifications like the exact dimensions of the design, and the technical details such as the expected concrete strength. It takes some years of experience to build up the background knowledge required to define the Scope in detail. Project managers and construction managers need to anticipate where the scope may be misinterpreted and what level of checks and sign offs they want to build into the project.
  3. Deliverables. Each task and subtask in your Work Breakdown Structure needs deadlines and deliverables. Write down what they are at the highest level. For example, a contractor is to be hired to pour concrete so a house can be built on top of it. This lets the contractor know where they fit in within the overall project and exactly the task they’re being contracted for.
  4. Schedule. The Scope of Work needs to include the schedule for that specific task. This lets contractors confirm their team’s availability for their bid. The schedule should note where the work fits into the overall project timeline as well, so contractors can know how likely the schedule may be delayed. Experienced contractors know that if they’re last on the project, it’s somewhat likely their section of work will start later than expected.
  5. Administration & Terms. Here is where you include all the legal details and procedures the contractor needs to know, such as how change orders are handled and payments will be administered. Including information on what to do if there are questions with the work or unexpected circumstances is extremely important.

Establishing and reviewing the Scope of Work is part of the ongoing process of managing a construction project. Each task and crew needs specific instructions so they know exactly their role in the greater project. Ensuring that it’s clearly documented in a verifiable way is equally as important. Conventionally Scopes of work would be in written form, or stored on a digital file system.

One of the advantages to working with Construction Management Software like Linarc is that they’re designed to make Scopes of Work easy to define, and easy to refer back to at any point. This level of organization and operational clarity are necessary for projects of even modest size. Having a clear record of all events in the project, especially relating to Scope, is essential for when questions come up throughout the course of the project.