Scope Of Work In Construction: The Only Guide You Need To Understand It

Written by Bridget Cooper

DateJan 13, 2024
Reading time10 min read
Project manager

Whether you’re dealing with an RFP or ITB, the scope of work construction section is perhaps the most important in these documents. It's where the project manager highlights responsibilities to contractors, deliverables, quality standards, timeline, and other crucial details regarding the construction. 

However, have you ever examined the scope of work section? Do you know what each section in the construction scope requires and why it’s important to the construction contract? That’s what we are going to cover in this guide. We will go through different elements that make up this section to help you understand the scope of work properly. But first, let’s define the scope of work to try and understand it. 

What is the Scope of Work in Construction?

The scope of work is a special section in the construction bid package where the clients highlight what they expect from the contractor. Think of scope of work as a script that contractors have to follow to deliver the construction project as requested. 

The scope of work serves as a construction agreement guiding consultants, engineers, and general contractors toward achieving the project’s objectives. 

Clients include project blueprints to guide contractors throughout the project. These blueprints also help general contractors estimate the project’s complexity and cost estimate when bidding. The contractor’s responsibilities are also well documented, highlighting their roles and objectives in the entire construction project. Finally, the client includes project expectations in terms of quality, project milestones, and deadlines. 

Now that we have a clear idea of the scope of work in the construction industry, let’s dissect it further to learn about the different key elements in this section of a bid package. 

What’s Included in the Scope of Work?

The scope of work has many sections, each helping to explain the project expectations clearly to general contractors. However, not every scope of work is similar, as the contents of this section vary with construction projects. 

For instance, a large-scale project like a sports stadium construction would have a majority of different contents than that of a home remodeling. However, there are key elements you’d expect to find in almost every scope of work, and that’s what we will discuss. 

Project Overview

The project overview is a brief introduction to the construction project. It’s where the client shares project details like location, size, type, and purpose. Think of the project overview as the initial sketches to establish a framework for contractors. 

Let’s take a bridge construction project as an example. A client would specify the project’s exact location either by name, street address, or, to some extent, GPS coordinates. They then mention the project’s size. Is it a big or smaller bridge? What’s the maximum weight the bridge can handle? 

And finally, the client mentions the project’s purpose. Will it be used for commercial purposes? Is the project’s aim to help the locals? Such details introduce contractors to the project idea and set the tone for the other sections. 

Project Scope

In this section of the scope of work, the client goes through all the tasks and objectives to be completed by the contractor. The construction activities vary with the project, but it’s common to see a client listing tasks like excavation, demolition, landscaping, and other relevant activities in their scope of work. 

Clients tend to be very detailed in the project scope. They don’t just highlight the tasks but also outline the necessary steps in each activity. This section of the construction scope requires proper project management skills to understand and deliver.

For instance, a client would break down a bridge construction project into tasks like site preparation, building support, assembling the beams, etc. A contractor with proper project management skills would manage to bring this construction scope to life.

The importance of the construction project's scope is to paint a picture of the entire project to a contractor. The general contractor uses this information as the blueprint to deliver quality work. 

Milestones and Project Deliverables

It’s unwise to rush a construction project as you risk delivering poor work. That’s why clients break down the whole project into smaller tasks in their scope of work. They also include milestones for these tasks to track project progress and keep up the momentum. 

A project milestone is the completion of a specific phase. The client also specifies the timeline for this milestone in their construction scope, helping the contractor schedule their construction phases accurately. 

Project deliverables include finished sections, complete installations, and updated project reports. For instance, a project manager would request a section completion report of a bridge project highlighting the milestones and predetermined objectives. 

Milestones and deliverables help contractors maintain their construction schedule by adhering to the requirements in the construction scope. The two also serve as quality checks to ensure the project progress as determined without any major deviations that would compromise the entire structure. 

Authority and Responsibilities

A construction project has many stakeholders. The key players include the project owner, engineers, consultants, architects, contractors, and subcontractors. Without properly defining each party’s authority and responsibilities in the scope of work, the entire project would be chaotic. 

This section of the construction scope clearly divides the authorities and responsibilities to the relevant parties involved. For instance, a client’s authority would be to approve key design decisions. Their responsibility is ensuring the completed project aligns with the predetermined standards in the scope of work. 

Defining authorities and responsibilities in the scope of work helps to streamline the bidding and construction process. Clients, contractors, and subcontractors enter into a construction contract knowing what is required of them in the construction scope. They know who to contact in case they need any information or clarification.

Payment Schedule and Contract Terms

Financial planning is crucial in any construction project. The client usually has a budget that they estimate would finance the project to completion. The contractor also has the project cost estimates and a markup to make profits. 

This section of the scope of work gets into the nitty-gritty details of finances. It highlights the payment schedule, including the conditions and timing of every disbursement. Proper project budgeting and timely finance disbursement ensure the project aligns with the schedule. 

Running out of funds mid-project stalls the entire construction process and tarnishes the client’s reputation, making it difficult for contractors to work with them on future construction projects. 

Contract terms are equally important and are among the legal requirements of a scope of work. First, they promote professionalism between the involved parties. The terms clarify the roles and responsibilities of every stakeholder which they have to discharge. Examples of contract terms in the scope of work include how to handle delays, warranties and guarantees, termination clauses, and payment terms. 

Contract terms are binding, and everyone who signs them is obligated to fulfill their end. 

Let’s consider a project where the contract terms require a contractor to provide project reports, and they fail. A client could contact them inquiring about the report or decide to terminate the contract if the contractor keeps dodging them.  

Secondly, contract terms can be used to navigate disputes. The terms highlight dispute resolutions to ensure everyone feels protected during the project. 

Additional Provisions

Obstacles and unforeseen challenges are common in the construction industry. These challenges often lead to delays, causing the project to run longer than anticipated. 

Maybe it’s weather changes that project owners didn’t account for, like unexpected rain. Or, it could be a supplier not delivering the materials on time. Sometimes, construction workers could go on strikes called for by their unions. The list is endless. The construction scope must address these problems.

This section of the scope of work addresses how to navigate the unknown. It served as a project management tool to get things back on track. A project scope should highlight how contractors and project owners would compensate for the lost time. In most cases, it’s usually a time extension. 

However, the contractor must prove that the delay wasn’t their fault, if at all it was caused by another party. For instance, they’d have to prove that the supplier wasn’t able to deliver materials on time or the subcontractor completed their tasks late. 

Scope of Work Challenges

Since the scope of work focuses on explaining the project, we should expect potential challenges in either writing or interpreting this document. 

Getting the details wrong here could derail the project, result in a substandard project, or inflate the budget astronomically. Let’s look at some of the challenges to expect in the scope of work to help you avoid them.

Unrealistic Demands and Deadlines

Ideas are easy to forge and visualize. However, not all ideas can be realistically delivered. Some would require extreme budgets from materials or expensive professionals. 

Clients who set up unrealistic demands often end up with an incomplete project, debts, and a general bad experience in the construction industry. 

To avoid all these issues, it’s best to evaluate the expectations in the scope of work. Hire a construction expert, consultant, engineer, and financial expert to help you differentiate between fantasy and reality. Doing so will save you from the headache caused by underachieving and financial dungeon that would bankrupt you. 

Deadlines in the construction scope are also crucial to delivering the project on time. Deadlines keep contractors on their toes and help keep everything on schedule. 

However, clients need to be realistic with deadlines in their scope of work. Rushing a project is dangerous and unwise. First, the contractor might have to cut corners to beat this deadline. Doing so leads to an unsafe structure that might crumble and cause harm. 

Secondly, poor work quality is a guarantee under these circumstances. Contractors won’t have ample time to inspect the completed project. 

Incompleteness and Ambiguity

Failure to define tasks and objectives clearly in the construction scope is disastrous. First, there will be a misinterpretation of the objectives and project. When this happens, you should expect a few events to occur. 

First, the contractor will deliver a project that misses the intended goal. You’d still have to pay them since it’s your fault for not being clear with project details in the scope of work. That means you’d incur charges for a project that won’t benefit you.

Secondly, there will be a dispute that could end up in court. A client would sue the contractor for not delivering the project as requested. Or, it could be the contractor suing the client for not paying. 

Ensure you’re crystal clear in defining the project, objectives, tasks, and assignments in the construction scope. Don’t assume that the contractor understands the project.  

Ambiguity also leads to receiving unqualified or untargeted bids. It usually occurs since every contractor understands the scope of work differently. 

Let someone else go through the scope of work to point out any areas that need more clarification. 

Final Thoughts

The scope of work is very crucial to any construction project. It outlines every project detail, defines roles and responsibilities, explains the payment schedule, and establishes project deadlines. The contract terms in the construction scope provide the legal requirements necessary to handle any disputes.

Without a scope of work, contractors would have a hard time understanding the project, leading to unsuitable bids and projects that miss the mark.

As a client, you should take your time writing the scope of work. Ensure you include and explain every detail to make it easy for contractors to deliver the desired results. If you lack experience writing the scope of work, it’s best to hire someone who has done this before. 

As a contractor, go through the scope of work section, taking notes of every detail. Doing so will ensure you understand the project properly and structure your bids to match the demands. It also helps you decide whether you have the right project management skills to handle a project of that magnitude. A scope of work also helps you deliver the project as requested. 

Written by Bridget CooperUpdated on Feb 23, 2024

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