• Duane C. Barney

Scope, scope, scope

When designing and building it all comes down to scope of work SOW, you have an idea; a new home, a remodel, your dream kitchen, but at this point it is an idea in your mind only. To make it a reality that idea needs to be translated into a something that can be read by others and built, this is where your architect comes in. If you jump straight into pricing, call a few contractors, wave your hands around and say you want to build a new house, what will it cost? This is like the game of “telephone” where each person whispers the “same” message to the next to see how the message translates at the end of the line. The message you tell each contractor is slightly different and what they hear is different as well, the result is a vast array of pricing for whet is your mind is the same project.


You architect works closely with you to define the message in language contractors can understand. This is a set of construction documents that outlines the scope of work. Unfortunately for you, it will most likely be in a language you can’t read or understand. Thus, you architect is a key player in translating your dream into reality. Imagine starting a business in a foreign country, where you do not know the language, and everything you do must be translated, your translator is your life line, mis-translated and the result will not meet your expectation. Defining the SOW is critically important to achieving the result. The scope of work is the road map to building your dream and will be used for:


1. Contractor pricing

2. Governmental approvals

3. Permitting

4. Basis for the construction contract

5. Subcontractor selection

6. Material selection

7. Project changes

8. The END results


the impact on each of these items has many facets. For example, I was pricing a project where the tile section had not been made, very common and understandable in the early stages, so I needed to include a material allowance. This was a nice home, so I included $25/sf which I thought was a reasonable starting point. The client ultimately selected material that was twice the price and harder to install. This impacted the allowance, the subcontractor install price, and the schedule. All of which were fine by me since I was there to perform the work the client desired. The architect pulled me aside and asked “what were you thinking with such a low allowance” I merely replied, that I thought $25/sf could buy some really nice tile. The documents had not defined the tile SOW, so my subcontractor and were left to guess, I included my guess in the contract so that was not an issue. The client and architect were surprised at the additional cost which all came down to the SOW as defined by the construction documents at the time of the initial pricing.



Simple terms such as, new windows, carpet, siding, etc. without a defined scope of work will all have the same impact


The SOW travels through the project, the schedule, suppliers and subcontractors and the final price; ultimately the client received the tile and look they wanted for the project, which is the objective. No one was at fault here, the scope just had not yet been defined. This can happen at every level in every project and the clearer the SOW is defined in the beginning the fewer surprises there will be. Changes on a project are all about adjustments to the SOW either a clearer definition or a new idea all together. Ultimately it all comes down to scope of work, SOW, for you, the architect, the contractor and their subs and suppliers.

Questions about how to start your project? We recommend this book as an essential first step.

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