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Project Work Packages

Project Work Packages for your Project Team

Project work packages support excellent team performance because they give team members clarity on assignments, letting the team participate in estimating and the approach to the task.

Do your team members make comments like these about their assignments?

One day before the task due date:

“Ohhhh, now I understand what you really wanted.”

Two days after starting an assignment:

“The people on that previous task did the wrong thing. Should I redo it for them or do you want them to start over?”

During estimating:

“I really can’t tell you how long this will take. How about I just call you when I’m done?”

When turning in a “completed” assignment:

“I had no idea you wanted documentation too!”

When reporting a duration overrun:

“It’s taking longer than you planned but my boss and I have added some really great “state of the art” stuff that people will love.”

You Can’t Solve those Problems with Micro-management – Use Project Work Packages

Hearing remarks like these drives many project managers to dive into micro-management and work breakdown structures with endless details. The hope is that if the work breakdown structure contains every “to do list” item that people might forget, we won’t hear these schedule-busting comments. Micro-managing also fosters a “to do list” mentality in team members. They feel responsible only for completing the list of tasks, not delivering the end result the project needs.
But there is a better alternative.

Project Work Packages Template

Work Package

Project Work Packages to the Rescue

Adding assignment work packages to your planning and tracking process is a simple and time efficient process that pays dividends far in excess of the amount of effort it requires. Project work packages allow a project manager to develop smaller and more achievement oriented work breakdown structures and still have a better level of control over assignments than PMs get from a monstrous project plan.
Using project work packages also helps us control one very large source of scope creep; namely our own project team. Poorly defined assignments are an invitation for team members to “fall in love with the assignment” and add features, information and functionality never contemplated by the project’s sponsors or the project manager.

Project work packages come in many forms and it’s easy to get carried away with too much detail. It’s a far better process to start with a simple work package that is one page or less when we introduce it to our project team members. We can always get more sophisticated later.

Elements of Project Work Packages:

Work package
ID information – first, we identify the project, the team member and the achievement the team member will be accountable for delivering (not the activities they will perform).

Approach statement - here the project manager and team member jointly discuss and make notes on the approach the team member will take to the task. This is very situation-specific but the project manager may suggest ways to avoid certain political issues among the people the team member will have to deal with. Or they may discuss the technical approach that the team member will take. What we’re getting at here is a big picture of the strategy the team member should use. More senior members of the project team may be in a better position to specify the approach to the deliverable and the project manager is merely indicating his acceptance of the approach.

Input and output deliverables – the project manager and team member discuss the deliverables from previous tasks which the team member needs to start work on this one. We write down the inputs the team member needs and identify the tasks and the people responsible for delivering them. Likewise, the project manager and team member will explicitly identify and describe the outputs the team member will create in addition to the primary deliverable from this task. Examples of these outputs might include documentation of the design, calculations or supporting information that the team member gathered. All of these outputs require work and we want to reach agreement on them now. The estimates the team member will make at the end of the work package process should reflect all the work that has to be done.

Team member time commitment - the project manager and team member discuss the kind of work effort the task will require. As an example if there are approvals to be secured from various departments, each of which will take review time, then the team member may not be able to work 100% of the time even if they are available. The project manager and team member identify the pattern of work commitments and then the project manager secures that time from the team member’s organizational superior. It is a good practice to have that superior sign the team member’s work package, agreeing to the time commitment and to the output deliverables and the estimate.

Risk assessment - the project manager and team member go through a process of identifying two kinds of risks. First, they identify two or three bad risks that could cause the task to take more time and more work. These bad risks might include lack of cooperation from user departments or delays from vendors who are notorious for late deliveries. The project manager and team member also discuss one or two good risks that could cause the task to take less time and work. This is very valuable information for the project manager who can take steps to mitigate the bad risks and encourage the good risks.

Estimates - using the above information, the team member and project manager discuss the estimate. The project work packages approach we have talked about is set up for three point or PERT estimates. Or the project manager and team member may simply agree on a work estimate and a duration estimate that takes into account the team member’s time availability.

As noted above, the information on the project work packages should not take up more than one side of one piece of paper and for small tasks the meeting should not require more than 10 or 15 minutes.

The best way to complete the work package is to make it a joint effort between the team member and the project manager. It is after all, the foundation for gaining their commitment. In circumstances where we’re doing our plan before we know the identity of the person who’ll be given the assignment, we’ll complete the project work packages ourselves. When that person is identified, we’ll meet with the individual to review and finalize it.
The work package is something the team member will maintain for the life of the assignment. It serves as the team member’s supporting documentation for defining variances and overruns. Finally, we archive them with actual work and time noted so that we can refer to them in the future to help us on a new project.

Project Work Packages Summary

Using project work packages as a foundation for estimating and controlling scope lets project managers build smaller and more flexible work breakdown structures while actually improving the scope control process. Read more on project work packages


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