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    Please help me understand the widely-held notion that a SOW "directs the contractor how to accomplish the work" when the contractor is free to propose a solution that meets a System Performance Specification (PRF), free to apply their engineering process, and free to implement their own development methodology.


    Before addressing when to use a Statement of Work (SOW) or a Performance Work Statement (PWS), it is good to discuss what they are and what the differences are.  DoD Handbook Preparation of Statement of Work (SOW), MIL-HDBK-245E, pg ii states “the SOW specifies the tasks, also referred to as work requirements, to be accomplished by the contractor. The execution of those tasks is left to the contractor's discretion.” A PWS on the other hand, is defined in the FAR.  According to FAR 2.101, “Performance Work Statement means a statement of work for performance-based acquisitions that describes the required results in clear, specific and objective terms with measurable outcomes.”  In other words, a PWS says what needs to be done, but does not say how the work is to be accomplished.  This allows the contractor to be innovative in achieving the outcomes required by the PWS.

    To illustrate the differences, let’s look at an example.  Let’s say that we have a requirement for grounds maintenance.  If we were to use a SOW, we would probably say that the grass must be mowed once a week and that the grass needs to be watered every other day.  In order for the contractor to be successful, they would have to mow once a week, regardless if the grass was too tall or not.  Also, the grass would need to be watered regardless if it had rained lately or not.  If we were to put this requirement into a PWS, we might say that the grass has to be 3 inches tall plus or minus 1 inch and that the ground must have a certain level of hydration.  In this case, the contractor can be innovative in their actions to meet the requirement and measure the grass on a regular basis and only mow the grass when it is approaching 3 inches.  They would also measure the hydration and water only when the ground needs water.  One can see that using a PWS has the opportunity to provide the contractor with more latitude to apply a unique approach to meet the measurable objectives.

    Now that we understand the differences between a SOW and a PWS, we need to decide which one to use in a certain acquisition.  The decision as to which one to use gets down to the requirement.  If there is a specific procedure which needs to be done to incorporate into a system or to fit into other services, then a SOW may be appropriate.  In this case, the contractor must follow the prescribed procedure and cannot deviate.  If there is not a specific procedure that must be followed, the use of a PWS may yield better results and often at a lower cost.


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