Will a SOW, PWS, or SOO Work Best to Achieve Your Objective?

Traditionally, a Statement of Work would be drawn up to provide every possible detail of the objectives, process, and assessment of an acquisition.

Then, the idea of performance-based work arose. Why not simply tell the contractor what you want the result to be and give them the freedom to accomplish it in the best possible way with a Performance Work Statement?

Further still, there are situations where the desired result may be more abstract than concrete or may involve emerging technologies or other levels of expertise that are foreign to the ultimate decision-maker. In this case, the desired outcome is described in detail in a Statement of Objectives, and the contractor is tasked with proposing a holistic solution in the form of a Performance Work Statement.

The chart below illustrates the differences and similarities between the three statement types.

  Statement of Work
Performance Work Statement
Statement of Objectives
What is the desired outcome? Precise, detailed description Clear, specific, and objective terms including measurable outcomes Basic, top-level description
What work will the contractor perform? Precise, detailed description Detailed description The contractor will describe process to achieve desired outcome or result in the form of a PWS
How will the contractor approach the work? Process details are specified exactly Process details will be determined by the contractor The contractor will describe process details in the form of a PWS
How will performance be assessed? The contractor’s performance is assessed against the specifications and results The contractor’s performance is assessed against specified measurable performance standards and results The contractor will respond with performance metrics, measurement plan, and quality assurance plan
What will the format of the statement be? – Background
– Objective
– Scope
– Task Requirements
– Final Product(s)
– Desired outcome or result
– Method of performance assessment
– Purpose
– Scope or mission
– Timing
– Place
– Background
– Performance objectives
– Operating constraints (optional)
Example The contractor must mow the lawn twice per week (regardless of its growth rate or appearance) The grass must be maintained at a height between 2-3” by any suitable means The grass must be maintained at a reasonable height to be specified in the PWS
Pros Provides exact specifications to achieve the desired outcome Encourages contractors to use cost-effective and innovative methods to achieve the desired outcome Empowers contractors to offer scenarios that are both cost-effective and efficient based on their experience
Cons If the SOW was completed as specified and the result is unacceptable, the government – not the contractor – is at fault Outcomes are limited by the expertise and experience of the contractor The time-consuming process of communicating objective and evaluating proposed solutions and results are dependent upon knowledge and expertise of the contractor

Source: A COR’s Guide to Statements of Work, Performance Work Statements, and Statements of Objectives

Some of you may be able to recite differences between a SOW, PWS, and SOO in your sleep. Or maybe you tend to use these terms interchangeably. While some of the differences are subtle, and there much overlap across the three vehicles – it is important to choose the type of statement that will deliver the results you desire.

Whether you need to brush up on the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), achieve or maintain your certifications, Management Concepts is here to help.

Written by:
Natalie Komitsky
Acquisition & Contracting
Media Type:

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