Work Packages for Clear Assignments & Estimates

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

A key success factor for project managers is making crystal-clear assignments to their project team members. This ensures the team members understand what’s expected before they start work.

As importantly, clear assignments lead to accurate estimates for their tasks. This ensures the overall project estimates are accurate. It’s important for team members to be committed to those estimates and have some “skin in the game” in terms of hitting their work and duration numbers.  You get all these benefits by using a work package for each assignment.

Work Packages Store Data for Future Projects

Project managers need a vehicle to capture and store historical data on each project. So when you or other project managers have similar tasks on new projects, you can look at the actual assignments in the work packages from completed projects. You can use some of that data for the current project’s tasks. You should be able to retrieve the estimated hours versus the hours actually used and apply that information to the analogous estimates on your project. The use of the project work package addresses several success factors.

The project work package is a simple tool that improves the clarity of project assignments. At the same time, it increases the level of team member commitment to their estimates. In a very real sense, the work package is the contract between you, the project manager, and the project team member. In it, you make clear exactly what you expect of the team member on each task. The work package details the metric you will use to measure the assignment as well as the approach the team member should take to complete it. It also details the input deliverable(s) the team member needs to start their work. Additionally, it specifies the output deliverable(s) which are the things other team members need from this assignment before they can start their work. The work package also allows you and the team member to discuss risks and how to handle them. It is a very important part of the estimating process.

Learn How to Use Project Work Packages

You need to work with your team members to introduce the project work package. Be careful that it’s not viewed as “just another form to fill out.” You want to talk with them about it as a contract or agreement that the two of you will use on the project. It does the following:

  • defines an assignment
  • states their availability to work on the assignment
  • includes their estimate of work and duration.

You should point out that it offers them protection against changes to their assignments that don’t include adjustments to the work and duration estimates. You may honestly explain that the work package is a device to reduce the padding of estimates. That’s because it offers the team member protection against unfair changes to the scope of their work assignment. If the scope of their assignment changes, the two of you can can discuss a change to their work package.

It will take one or two projects for the team members to become accustomed to using work packages but the benefits are substantial. They are helpful on the current and future projects.  The project manager can review completed work packages to use as the basis for estimates on future projects.

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Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on Amazon.com