Thursday, August 25, 2022
This article is written from the perspective of someone that looks at scope of work (SOW) documents on a regular basis and often submits (and wins) tender bids centred upon them. It is based on years of experience in dealing with thorough, vague, and altogether misleading SOWs that have helped, hindered, and almost brought to a shuddering stop, projects of various type and size here in the UK and overseas.
Thusly, the guidance below can also be applied to those that write SOWs or oversee their eventual delivery onsite. As I continue to see all relevant parties pulling their hair out over these documents, it is clear that there is scope for improvement, before we even get to the works.
What do we mean by SOW?
A scope of work document is really an agreement. Or at least it should be. It is a list of items and deliverables covered by a tender or issued by a decision maker at a project. Suppliers and equipment / service providers look at these documents and decide whether they could honour the workload and terms of a subsequent contract, based on those deliverables, timelines, milestones, required reports, etc.
Excerpts from SOW documentation might be:
– Prepare rail-mounted gantry (RMG) crane specifications; perform structural and mechanical design reviews; provide fabrication support services, including site audits to the manufacturers; and lead inspections upon delivery.
– Design and install a bespoke fall protection system for an aerospace facility; integrate the system with 67 separate bridge cranes that vary in capacity and cover three million square feet.
– Complete statutory inspection and maintenance of all assets across multiple wind farms, including all turbine mounted safety equipment (TMSE) and personal service lifts, in addition to a fleet of loader and davit cranes; look after balance of plant (BOP) base and service operation vessel (SOV) equipment.
– Complete services related to Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER), crane maintenance, and personal protective equipment (PPE), for a major railway provider.
You can guess why there might be problems and the obvious ones are:
What if the person writing the scope has left important detail out?
What if they’ve misunderstood timelines and instructed work long before it is required?
What if the details included aren’t based on competence or understanding of, say, lifting and rigging standards?
What if someone applies to complete the work that doesn’t have the resources to do it efficiently, timely, or safely?
In one recent incident, we had a legitimate claim for monies owed, that were being withheld because of disputes beyond and outside the original SOW. We even had record and calculations of additional incurred costs due to vagaries in the scope. But there have been countless other scenarios that I’ve heard about where problems have been caused by a bad SOW, or an SOW being delivered badly. Either way, it is bad.
Think about an SOW that asks for certain works to be complete but doesn’t mention the conditions underfoot. It might be that a company can easily and quickly install their crane but the need to replace flooring has been overlooked.
In another project I was involved with, it was assumed that the duct work did not contain any asbestos material, but we endured two uncompensated asbestos delays. On the same site, we purchased certain lagging but were made to change it to foam, at our own expense.
This should all be covered and detailed in a full SOW, which is why anyone bidding for work should check everything has been considered and anyone writing one should make sure all bases are covered.
Beware of a short SOW, not a long one.
Another problem that is repeatedly encountered by my peers is project managers and joint venture representatives moving away from jobs. Some contracts span several months and even years, and suppliers build up a rapport with the people they work for. If something extra needs doing and it isn’t much inconvenience, it isn’t a problem to devote some time to it. If something is running a little late, again, common sense prevails. This is all in the spirit of healthy working relationships, until a replacement project manager arrives with an inflexible approach, or a company sends a new worker to the site, and they refuse to cooperate when they’re required to stay behind a few extra minutes to wait for a crane to complete a lift.
It is sometimes the case, of course, that changing personnel can work in your favour and in other scenarios things remain constantly good or bad, but consistent, nonetheless. On one project, long-running problems endured through the tenure of multiple project managers, and we weren’t given an audience with relevant parties to air grievances.
Try to nip it in the bud
As with many things in life, the earlier problems are addressed the better. It is never too early and never too late. For example, if you’re thinking of putting a bid in for a contract but are unsure about one or two details, get in touch with the person that wrote the SOW. Ask them questions and point out where and why you’re unsure.
It can work the other way as well, and those writing these documents can ask industry experts how they should approach a challenge in the scope. If a crane needs to be installed or maintained, find someone to consult that can explain exactly what is required. This is especially important when contracting for specialist services.
Even once a project is underway, issues shouldn’t be left to fester. If a supplier feels like they are being asked for too much, it is reasonable to flag that up. If the project manager sees a shortcoming or corner being cut, they should make it known too. We all want to avoid situations where things build to a crescendo and then months of problems are thrown at everyone in the room in five minutes.
You can imagine the scene:
“You didn’t deliver the wire rope slings in time”
“You didn’t have the crane ready when I sent the riggers and rigging gear to site”
“How can I inspect what isn’t onsite?”
“The slings wouldn’t be faulty if they were stored correctly”
“Why are we asked to inspect that area on Mondays when access and egress is always blocked”
“Why didn’t you put this in the original SOW?”
“Why didn’t you ask why it wasn’t in the original SOW?”
Once bitten, twice shy
It amazes me how often I have the same conversation with a contact about the same issue with the same people. I know of companies that keep taking work with projects and joint ventures that have caused problems in the past, nearly always related to SOWs.
My company steers away from businesses and individuals that have caused us issues. If one SOW was full of oversights and miscalculations, chances are the next one will be too. If nobody was made available to discuss problems on the last job, they’ll likely not come to the table the next time. If a project manager constantly added to the SOW last year, they probably haven’t broken the infuriating habit since.
The soaring costs of materials are well documented, and this is relevant to SOWs too, especially on long-running construction projects, for example.
I read an article recently that rightly pointed to the fact that some jobs can take five years, and the industry is asking contractors to get out their crystal ball today and to lock in a fixed price that considers all eventualities. That’s impossible. What’s £80k today might be £100k by the turn of the year.
I’ve even heard of people offering cash payments to clients because they can’t meet fixed-price contracts.
Reality is, SOWs are necessary to many businesses, like ours. And there isn’t really an alternative way of someone saying, “This is what I need—can you help?”
As I wrote last time, there are a series of long-term infrastructure projects out there that are keeping us all busy—and will do for months and years to come. Attached to all of them are SOWs. Along with HS2, Crossrail is one of the biggest transport infrastructure initiatives that has ever been undertaken in the UK. Construction at Hinkley Point C began in October 2016, while projections made last year by EDF said that the site should start generating power in mid-2026. Thames Tideway and Liverpool docks are other examples.
We’ve only had good experiences with purchasing decision makers at these projects and it certainly pays—literally—to look closely at SOWs and who’s writing them.
Good luck with your next bid.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd