Project Work Packages

project management skillsProject Work Packages for Your Team

Project work packages support excellent team performance because they give team members clarity on assignments. They also let the team participate in estimating and planning their 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. Why don’t 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. People will love it.”

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

Remarks like these drive many project managers to dive into micro-management. As a result, they create work breakdown structures with endless details. They hope that if the work breakdown structure contains every “to do list” item that people might forget,they 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 the project manager gave them. They aren’t committed to delivering the project’s end result.

There is a better alternative, however.

project Work Package

Project Work Packages to the Rescue

Adding project work packages to your planning and tracking process is a simple and efficient process. It pays dividends that exceed the amount of effort it requires. Project work packages describe the work each team member is responsible for on a project. They are foundations for estimating and controlling the project scope. Project work packages allow a project manager to develop smaller and more achievement-oriented work breakdown structures. They have better control over assignments than a monstrous project plan provides.
Using project work packages also helps you control a large source of scope creep – your project team. Poorly defined assignments are an invitation for team members to “get carried away” with the assignment.  They add features, information and functionality that weren’t intended by the project’s sponsors or the project manager.

Project work packages come in many forms and it’s easy to add too much detail. You should start with a work package that’s one page (or less) when you introduce it to your project team members. You can always get more sophisticated later.

Elements of Project Work Packages:

Project Work package
ID information – First, you identify the project, the team member and the achievement that team member will be accountable for delivering. This is not a list of the activities they will perform.

Approach statement - Then you and the team member discuss the approach the team member will take for the task. This is very situation-specific. An example is  suggesting ways to avoid political issues the team member must deal with. Or you may discuss the technical approach the team member will take. What you’re doing is painting a big picture of the strategy the team member will use. More senior of project team members may be in a better position to specify their approach to the deliverable. In that case, you’re merely indicating your acceptance of their approach.

Input and output deliverables – You and team member discuss the deliverables from earlier tasks in the project that they need before they can start work on this task. These are the inputs the team member needs so you identify the tasks and the people responsible for delivering them. You and team member will explicitly identify and describe the outputs they will create in addition to the primary deliverable from this task. Examples of these outputs might include documentation of the design, calculations and/or supporting information the team member gathered. All of these outputs require work and you 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 of the work they must do.

Team member time commitment - You and the team member discuss the kind of work effort the task will require. For example, if they must get approvals from several departments (and each dept. requires review time), the team member may not be able to work 100% of the time on this task, even if they are available. You and the team member identify the required time and work commitment. Then you obtain a commitment of that time from the team member’s superior. It is a good practice to have that superior sign the team member’s work package, agreeing to the time commitment, the deliverable, and the work estimate.

Risk assessment - You and the team member go through a process of identifying two kinds of risks. First, you 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 other departments or delays from vendors who are notoriously late. You and the 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. You can take steps to mitigate the bad risks and encourage the good risks.

Estimates - using the above information, you and the team member discuss the estimate of work. This approach to project work packages  sets us up for three point or PERT estimates. On the other hand, you and team member may simply agree on a work estimate plus a duration estimate that take into account the team member’s time availability.

The information on the project work packages should not be more than one side of one piece of paper and the meeting should not require more than 10 or 15 minutes for a small task.

The best way to complete these project work package is to make it a joint effort between you and the team member. After all, it is the foundation for gaining their commitment to their deliverable and the project.

Sometimes you’ll be planning before you know the identity of the person who’ll be given the assignment. In that case, you’ll complete the project work packages yourself. When the person is identified, you’ll meet with them to review and finalize it.

The team member will maintain the assignment work package for the life of the  project . It serves as the team member’s supporting documentation for defining variances and overruns. Finally, you archive the project work packages with the actual work and time required 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. Additionally, these project work packages improve the scope control process. Read more on project work packages


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