Join Bonnie Biafore for an in-depth discussion in this video Identifying the work that needs to be done, part of Project Management Foundations: Schedules (2013).
Just about everything on a project runs more smoothly if you start by identifying what work needs to be done and break it down to the right level of detail. For most projects, the best way to identify work is to start at the top with the high level project deliverables and work your way down. First, make a list of the high level deliverables. In our example, the high level deliverables are orientation topic outline, employee handbook, videos, a website and live training.
Each of these deliverables can be put into a section of the overall project. Don't forget to add in work like the project management you do, reporting and communication. Then identify what needs to be done to produce each of these deliverables. This means breaking the work down into smaller pieces, until you have tasks that are easy to estimate, assign and track. Once you have a section for each high level deliverable, the next step is to look for lower level deliverables.
In our example a few lower level deliverables are, the train the trainers materials, and a training schedule. For each of these lower level deliverables, identify the tasks that will deliver them. The next step is to review the tasks to see if they look like they're the right size. The way to tell if the task is the right size, is if you can estimate it and track it easily. A common rule of thumb is between 8 and 80 hours, anywhere from 1 day to two weeks.
Here are a few methods you can use to evaluate the size of your tasks: Break down tasks so that they're duration represents a small percentage of your projects length. Like 5% or less. Break down work into short tasks for short projects, longer tasks only on longer projects. For example, if a project is only a month or two, say 40 business days, keeps task duration up to two days long, or 5% of the project length. When a project is 18 months long, task up to a one or two week duration is fine. You can gauge whether task are small enough to estimate with reasonable accuracy.
See if task can be assigned to a single person, or a small team. Estimate, roughly, whether task will be shorter than your reporting period, so you get timely status updates. See if tasks have distinct beginnings and ends, like being triggered by another task or delivering something at the end. That makes it easy to track status. If the task is the right size, you can stop right there. If the task is too big, repeat these steps until the task is the right size. For larger projects work with a small planning team to break down the first level or two of tasks.
Then you can hand off tasks to other teams to flesh out the lower level work that has to be done. For instance you might give the task of creating an orientation website to a small web development team. If you get tasks from the lower level teams add those to your overall project. After you have the task list completed Get together with your planning team, and make sure each task is correct. If you get duplicate tasks from a couple of teams, make sure that you include the work only once in your list.
You also might decide to reorganize things, so you can hand off an entire chunk of work to a single team. When you're done, you have something that looks like an organization chart. This breakdown of tasks is called a work breakdown structure. Top down isn't the only way to identify tasks. If you work by yourself or on very small projects, a few dozens tasks and a couple of people, say, you might work at the detailed level until the entire list is done. If you take this approach, you can still organize the tasks into groupings of work.
As you'll see when we organize work with summary tasks. At other times, you might work your way from side to side. Take the first high-level deliverable, and flesh out all the tasks for that aspect of the project before you move to the next. This approach works with well if different teams take on each part of the project with well-defined hand-offs from team to team. With this work breakdown structure in place, you're well on your way to building your initial schedule.
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- Identifying the work that needs to be done
- Adding milestones
- Delaying or overlapping tasks with lag and lead time
- Assigning resources
- Balancing workloads
- Adding buffers and baselines to the schedule
- Uncovering and correcting out schedule problems<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.