What Do You Need To Define Activities from Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Define Activities processThis is logical next process to take up after creating Work Breakdown Structure from the project scope. This means that, by now you have identified all the work packages from scope. Work packages are created in such a way that they cover all of the deliverables.

If you are able to identify all the tasks from work packages then you are pretty much guaranteed to implement all the requirements, and not miss anything in the deliverables that reach customer!

A work package is broken down into activities.

Inputs for Define Activities process

At this stage, to define activities you have the work packages. A work package is nothing but a WBS item and corresponding WBS dictionary. Which is what goes into scope baseline. So this would be the first and prominent input.

In this process each work package is broken down into activities/tasks.

Inputs

Schedule management plan is the default input as it contains methodology and guidelines for defining activities.

Input for Define Activities process is the output of Create WBS process – because you define activities from work packages. Therefore, scope baseline becomes second input.

Your organization may have project management information system (PMIS) – a set of tools that help in project management activities such as planning, WBS budget cost management, scheduling, and change control. They process data and present them for you to come up with the best plan. You could use them to define activities. Such systems are part of enterprise environmental factors.

One does not need to reinvent the wheel. Organizational process assets will have templates, procedures and guidelines, and few sample documents from previous projects, and lessons learnt while defining activities on those projects. You can make use of all of them and get a head start.

Tools and Techniques of Define Activities process

Recall that we used decomposition as a means of breaking down scope into work packages, in Create WBS process. This process is also about breaking down something. Therefore, decomposition would be the first technique you would use.

Work packages are broken into smaller, more manageable components called activities. In general terms these are also called as tasks. These are just big enough to be able to track to completion and hence can be assigned to team members.

  • Take care not to break down into too small activities. This can lead to increase of management overhead and additional dependencies between team members.
  • Involve team into this decomposition exercise, and you will get better accuracy. Team members will get familiar with tasks, so it works to their advantage as well.

We talked about rolling wave planning in Create WBS process, right?

It is quite simple – if you do not have enough information about a module to plan a WBS for it, do not do anything with it. Plan them only when you have enough details. Sometimes, customers are not clear about certain business needs of future, and will take time to work them out. Your project management is flexible and allows them to work that way.

With rolling wave planning, you will define activities for the WBS that requires to be done in near future (where details are available), and keep the planning of future work at high level.

More often than not, you will have templates from previous projects that can be used. You can even reuse description of standard activities, and may get to use some of the milestone descriptions from them.

Finally, ask the experts. Expert judgment can save a lot of time and pain later. As we saw earlier, an expert can be from within the company or outside, a consultant, or a subject matter expert (SME).

Agile project management is a good example of rolling wave planning, it works on progressive elaboration principle.

Outputs of Define Activities process

As the process name suggests – list of activities. And a bunch of information about the activity that helps you to schedule them in a plan. This information is called activity attributes.

Activity list will be a comprehensive list of activities with unique identifier and description of what needs to be done.

Activity attributes associated with an activity are information such as activity ID, WBS ID, activity code, description, dependent activities – predecessor and successor activities, leads and lags (we shall see in Sequence Activities process ), resource requirements, assumptions and constraints. Quite a bit, is it not? But they are very useful to come up with a good schedule .

Milestone list is the list of logical delivery points. When a milestone is reached, you can deliver a piece of work to customer that is of business use to them.

Some milestones may be required as per the agreement, some may be required for moving ahead with next phase of work.

Let us look at John’s project management skills as he manages house building project for his client, Josh. It is a beautiful 3-bedroom duplex house on a land of 2400 square feet. Here is a quick look at the list of activities he has come up with –

Sample Activity List from WBS

Figure 1: Activity list of John’s building project

John’s milestone list is –

  • Lay Foundation
  • Build Structure
  • Complete Interiors
  • Complete landscaping

He gets paid at the completion of each of these milestones.

It only gets better from here. Jump on to the next process of Sequence Activities and see how John figures out the dependencies of his activities using some cool tools..

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