Statement of Work (SOW) vs Project Scope Statement for PMP Exam

Project Statement of Work (SOW) vs Project Scope Statement for PMP Exam

In the Project Initiation Process for the PMP Exam, there are several documents that are created as the basis for understanding the scope and other requirements of the project, e.g. Project Charter, Business Case, Project Statement of Work (SOW), Project Scope Statement, etc. The latter two, namely, “Statement of Work (SOW)” and “Project Scope Statement” are often confused by Aspirants. This post will help you understand their similarities and differences and help you select the right answer in your PMP Exam.

recommended PMP resourcesAdditional FREE PMP resources: 47+ Commonly Confused Term Pairs with detailed explanations. If you found this article useful, you may wish to reference other Commonly Confused Term articles.

Statement of Work (SOW) vs Project Scope Statement

  • Statement of Work (SOW) : is also known as Project Statement of Work (to distinguish with Procurement Statement of Work) is a document including the high level description of the intended deliverables of the project.
  • Project Scope Statement: a document including more details than Project Statement of Work on the scope and deliverables of the project, major assumptions and constraints are also added if appropriate.

From the PMOBK Guide definitions, it seems that both Statement of Work and Project Scope Statement are very similar as they both contains the descriptions of the project deliverables. However, when researched in more depths, it can be found that:

  • Statement of Work (SOW) contains high level information of the project deliverables
  • Project Scope Statement contains more details of the deliverables plus assumptions and constraints

Illustrated Example

Statement of Work (SOW) contains at least the following three elements:

  1. Organization strategic plan
  2. Business needs
  3. High level product scope

These are meant to provide an overarching direction for the project only, NOT the full implementation details. The high level product scope contained in the statement of work must be further developed in order for all stakeholders and project team members to really understand what are expected from the project. This is where the Project Scope Statement comes into play.

Project Scope Statement on the other hands includes lots of details for the project (not necessarily include all of the following):

  • objectives
  • project scope
  • product scope
  • requirements
  • boundaries
  • deliverables
  • acceptance criteria
  • constraints
  • assumptions
  • milestones
  • cost estimation
  • specifications
  • configuration management requirements
  • approval requirements
  • etc.

The Project Scope Statement may be elaborated progressively over time when more details on requirements and constraints are known during the requirements collection and scope defining processes.

Note also that the Project Scope Statement together with Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and WBS Dictionary form the Scope Baseline.

Which Comes First?

These two terms are often confused in real-world practice as project managers may use the two terms interchangeably to refer to documentation containing all the work to be done for the project. But according to the PMBOK® Guide (as the PMBOK® Guide is intended for medium to large scale projects), the Statement of Work (SOW)  would only contain very high level scope while the Project Scope Statement contains the full details.

Since the Statement of Work (SOW) contains a high level description of the project scope while the Project Scope Statement contains the lower level (more detailed) description of the project scope, it can be easily inferred that the Project Scope Statement is developed from the contents of the Statement of Work (SOW). So the following documents need to be developed in sequence:

  1. Project Statement of Work (SOW) – documenting the very first ideas for the project
  2. Project Charter – formally authorising the project and project manager (= SOW + Business Case + Contract)
  3. Project Scope Statement – when the project manager is collecting requirements and defining scope

Project Statement of Work (SOW) vs Procurement Statement of Work (SOW)

As its name suggest, the Procurement Statement of Work is to be created during Project Procurement Management. It contains enough detail to allow potential sellers to decide whether they are qualified or beneficial to pursue the project work. The Procurement Statement of Work includes the following elements:

  • performance (describe what can be accomplished)
  • functional (convey the end purpose or result)
  • design (convey precisely what are to be done)

The Procurement Statement of Work may be developed by either the seller or buyer. You will just need to remember that the Project Statement of Work (SOW) is mostly intended for internal use while the Procurement Statement of Work (SOW) is for always for external use.

recommended PMP resourcesAdditional FREE PMP resources: 47+ Commonly Confused Term Pairs with detailed explanations. If you found this article useful, you may wish to reference other Commonly Confused Term articles.

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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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18 Responses

  1. Hussein says:

    thanks for the explanation the most important is that scope of work is a subset of the Statement of work

  2. Satyendra Jenamani says:

    Amply clear explanation – Thanks.

  3. Ahmed says:

    Thanks for the deep understanding

  4. Indumathi Patalay says:

    Hello Edward,
    My heartfelt thanks for your efforts in setting up this website. I am sure its been a blessing for many aspirants like me aspiring for PMP.

    I have successfully completed my PMP with “Above Targets” in all the Processes yesterday. I have sincerely followed the list of Mock Exams that you have presented in your article. Here are my stats , just in case it helps others to track their readiness. PM Study = 69% ; Edwel = 80%; Olivier = 73% ; Headfirst = 87.5%.
    I did take Exam Central , PMI PMP Q& A’s ; PMP Project Management Professional Practise Exams(Considered as tough).
    Thanks once again ! And Keep continuing the good work 🙂

  5. Joe Walls says:

    i just wanted to tell you is very explicit, thank you so much for the clarification. Great work!

  6. Mike says:

    Hi Edward,
    If a Statement of Work needs to contain, according to many sources, deliverables, schedules and financials, how is it possible that it can be developed BEFORE the Project Management Plan.?

    • Edward Chung says:

      The Statement of Work contains only the high-level estimates only. The details can only be obtained after detailed planning of the project. Hope this helps.

      Wish you PMP success!

  7. Wael says:

    Please if a key stakeholder requested a change in a key deliverable what should the PM Do , after anlysis PM found that this change will not impact the Schedule and Cost ?
    1- Refuse
    2-Change Request
    3-Ask for Sponsor Approval
    4-Identify impact and options with the stakeholders

    • Edward Chung says:

      That really depends on the circumstances of the request. I would work with the stakeholder(s) to identify impact and options.

      But I would say that’s probably not the “model” answer as per the mock question bank. Thanks!

  8. sid says:

    Hi Edward. I have a question which i came across and having difficulty finding the correct answer:

    Q) A project is cancelled in the middle. Where can PM find the purpose of project?
    a. SOW
    b. Scope Statement
    c. Project Charter
    d. Project Management Plan


    • Edward Chung says:

      Hi SId,

      Yes, I agree that this question is quite difficult as there are many documents we can find the purpose of the project. I would say Project Charter would be the best answer. What’s your view?

      • Jason says:

        I think the SOW is the place to declare what the project is to do aka its purpose.

        I have Scope Statement as the project’s reach.

        I’d make Charter about team behaviours & logistics

        Project Management Plan describe how the project will be run – methods, tools, governance etc.

        I’ve not read the books for a long time – but this is my experience. Lovely website by the way.

  9. Dennis says:

    Hi Edward, you mention 3 things contained in statement work as business need, strategic plans and project scope. But, in pmbok it says product scope description and not project scope. Can you please clarify. To my understanding, SoW is more to do with product scope and scope statement is to do with both product scope and project scope. Hope you can share your thoughts

  10. Afzal says:

    I find your last sentence a bit contradicting with PMBOK “Project Statement of Work (SOW) is for internal use while the Procurement Statement of Work (SOW) is for external use.”

    PMBOK Page 68 explains both internal and external for Project SOW which makes me think for external it is giving indication to procurement SOW? Please correct me if I am wrong?

    • Edward Chung says:

      HI Afzal,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. Yes, my bad, I generalized the issue too broadly. I have updated the description above. Yes, Project SOW may be used in the rare case of procuring the whole project from external vendor. Hope this clarifies the issue more.

  11. Marco mongalo says:

    Thanks for your very instructive clarification