Construction Basics for Owners: Scope of Work, Schedule, and Changes

By Susan Van Bell, Esq., AIA Contract Documents Consultant

March 29, 2022

Scope of Work

Scope of work is a topic that has already been discussed in the articles in this series on working with an architect and working with a contractor. To recap the topic, you want to have clear communication with your architect and your contractor when you are developing your project goals and negotiating your contracts. You, the owner, need to provide the architect and contractor with the information that they need to provide their services and to provide schedules, fees, and cost estimates as accurately as possible. You want to be sure that the services to be provided by the architect are clearly set forth in your owner/architect agreement, including design development, construction contract administration, and any services that you might want the architect to provide in addition to the architect’s basic services. Similarly, the owner/contractor agreement should be clear about the work that the contractor will be providing. The fewer changes that are made in the scopes of the architect and contractor after the contracts are signed and the project is moving forward, the more efficient and less costly the project will be.


The schedule is an important element of a construction project. You probably have an idea of how long you want your project to take from start to completion. The date of commencement of construction and the date of final completion are known construction milestone dates. Other milestone dates included in the project schedule are dates by which the contractor needs to complete a specific portion of the work. Your architect or contractor can tell you if your time expectations are realistic, but they will generally try to work with you on meeting your time requirements.

The architect’s services will be performed based on phases of design development, from a preliminary assessment of your requirements through design documents and then construction documents. The architect will provide you with a schedule for performance of those services. If you agree to that schedule, it should not be adjusted by you or the architect without reasonable cause. Keep in mind that both your architect and contractor need to be able to plan allocating their time and resources not only to your project, but to other projects as well.

As noted above, construction milestone dates indicate when the construction will begin, and then when the contractor will complete certain portions of the work. The contractor will provide a construction schedule, including agreed-upon milestone dates. Sometimes the contractor’s payment schedule is based on construction milestones. For example, in a renovation project, milestone dates might be completion of demolition, framing, hanging of drywall, etc. A payment might be due at each of those points.

A term that is defined in the AIA Contract Documents and that has gained wide construction industry acceptance is “Substantial Completion.” This is defined as “the stage in the progress of the Work when the Work or designated portion thereof is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents so that the Owner can occupy or utilize the Work for its intended use.” (AIA Document A201-2017 Section 9.8.1) For example, if your project is construction of a new single family residence, Substantial Completion is the date when you can move into the house, even though some work still needs to be performed. If your architect is providing construction contract administration services, your architect will determine when substantial completion has occurred. At that point, a “punch list” of items remaining to be completed will be prepared. Once those items are done, the project is complete.

Changes in the Work

All parties involved strive to complete a construction project on time and on budget. However, the nature of construction is such that it is pretty much impossible to know whether that can be achieved. The construction process often necessitates changes that cannot be known in advance. There can be problems that are discovered during site preparation or demolition of an existing structure. Your architect and contractor will use their expertise to try to anticipate these things in advance, but it’s just not always possible. Similarly, there can be problems with labor or material availability that cannot be known in advance. The worldwide pandemic, of course, provides an excellent example of this. The pandemic had significant ramifications for construction projects, with labor shortages, supply chain issues, and increased cost of materials. Everything from the price of lumber to delays in obtaining windows, appliances, and furniture was affected. When these types of things happen, a change may be required to the contract time or price to cover the additional time needed to complete the project or the additional cost for labor or materials. Adjustments to the contract time or sum might also be required if the owner asks for changes to be made during the course of the project. Changes should be agreed upon by the parties and documented in writing. The AIA publishes a change order form, AIA Document G701-2017, that may be used for this purpose.  Documentation of changes is important to make sure there are no misunderstandings or disputes arising out of a change.


Scope, schedule, and changes are important concepts to understand when executing your contracts and through the course of your project. Clarity on these issues will help you to plan your project and weather unexpected changes.

Our next article will take a look at contract sum, owner financing, and the payment process.

Susan Van Bell, Esq. was Senior Director of Content for AIA Contract Documents for over ten years. She is currently a consultant.

AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.