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Myth-Information: A PWS is not a SOW

Don Mansfield


I have recently noticed an interesting phenomena regarding how the term "statement of work" is being used and understood in practice. If what many of my students are being taught in their contracting offices is any indication, "statement of work" (SOW) has come to mean a work statement that is not performance-based--the opposite, if you will, of a "performance work statement." Why is this happening? The definition of "performance work statement" (PWS) at FAR 2.101 could not be more clear:

“Performance Work Statement (PWS)” means a statement of work for performance-based acquisitions that describes the required results in clear, specific and objective terms with measurable outcomes.

A PWS is an SOW--an SOW for performance-based acquisitions.

In researching the origin of this phenomena, I came across the "A COR's Guide to Statements of Work, Performance Work Statements, and Statements of Objectives". Citing nothing, the author asserts the following regarding SOWs:

SOWs are detailed descriptions telling the contractor what to do and how to do it. By describing the work in such detail, the Government essentially provides the preferred approach or solution to the problem and locks in the approach the contractor must take. The danger of this method, of course, is that if the contractor follows the government's SOW and the result is unacceptable, it is the government's fault.

The guide goes on to explain the difference between the SOW and the PWS:

The distinguishing difference between a SOW and a PWS is that the PWS does not tell the contractor how to do the work, but rather describes the work in terms of outcomes or results. As an example, let's use mowing a lawn. A SOW would define how and when to mow the lawn (the contractor shall mow the grass once a week using a gasoline-powered lawn mower set at a two-inch height), whereas a PWS would define the required outcome (the contractor shall mow the grass so that it is maintained at a level that is two to four inches at all times). The SOW requirement does not take into account seasonal variations, such as weeks when it rains continuously and weeks when it does not rain at all and the grass does not grow. The PWS attains the same objective--maintaining the grass at a certain height--but without dictating how often it must be done.

Sigh. Believe it or not people were charged for this misinformation--the fine print of the guide says that it is part of a subscription service. Ironically, the article refers the reader to the "Seven Steps" library, which also contains the DoD Handbook for the Preparation of Statement of Work (SOW) (MIL-HDBK-245D). Paragraph 3.1 of the Handbook contains the following description of the purpose of the SOW:

The SOW should specify in clear, understandable terms the work to be done in developing or producing the goods to be delivered or services to be performed by a contractor. Preparation of an effective SOW requires both an understanding of the goods or services that are needed to satisfy a particular requirement and an ability to define what is required in specific, performance-based, quantitative terms.

Emphasis added.

The truth is that some SOWs are performance-based, some are not. We refer to those that are as PWSs.


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