How important is one document to a project? 

You know the drill… if you were stuck on a desert island and only had one project document to run with, what would it be?  Sure, requirements are critical.  I’ve always said that successfully documenting requirements on the project is one of the most critical things you can do.  But how do you get there?

In my opinion, the Statement of Work, or SOW, is probably the most critical document you can start off with on a project.  It gives you everything you need to start building your project from – of course that’s only if it exists and it’s done right.

How big or small does a project need to be to warrant an SOW? 

Is there a dollar amount below which an SOW is an overkill? Or is there a minimum project duration below which an SOW would be an extravagance?  An unnecessary luxury?  My answer here is a definite no.

If a project is handed to you and there’s nothing but some notes on a paper, my recommendation is to stop, refuse to move forward, and request a formal statement of work.  If one can not be produced, then I highly recommend building tasks into the front end of the schedule to incorporate sitting down with the project sponsor and creating at least a minimal statement of work document.  What you’ll gain from this type of planning upfront in the project is invaluable.

I look to the statement of work to provide me – at a minimum – with the following when I’m kicking off an engagement:

- General statement of the project purpose or need

- Description of the major project deliverables

- Definition of the project milestones

- Estimation of the project effort

- Estimation of the project timeline

- Estimation of the project budget (this actually may be specific as it may be set in stone from Sales)

- A high-level description of the project team roles and responsibilities for both sides

- Assumptions for the project

If these things are included in a statement of work document, then the project manager should have enough to get started on planning the project, putting together a draft schedule, and requesting resources for the project effort.