Three kinds of solicitations – SOW, POW, SOO
Upfront: The vast majority of federal contract’s offered fall into one of these three: SOW, POW, SOO.
SOW: This is a “Statement Of Work” which is very specific and directive in nature. “We need someone do hammer N number of nails into this here plank, using a H hammer, to meet S standard, between D dates.”
PWS: Just as specific and but less directed is the “Performance Work Statement.” This references specific measurable criteria for the work. “We need someone to hammer nails such that R resulting product to S standard is achieved between D dates.”
SOO: In some ways, this is the “minimum” requirements. It is a “Statement Of Objectives” that is to be achieved. “We need a plank of wood, of minimum M hardness and L length, to have sticky-outies, to be functional as a hat rack by D date.”
So What? Ultimately, the contract controls the entire business relationship, but first yours must be considered a valid proposal. If your proposal doesn’t speak to the type of solicitation, then it is just irrelevant. If you are dealing with a SOW (for example), don’t wander into other product or service offerings. For an SOO, suggestions for solutions is often appropriate if not explicitly required.
Bottom Line: Know the style of solicitation for what it is, and consider that document to be your audience. Weird, but yes, a document is the audience in the case of writing proposals for government work.