The Project Management Tool Kit

100 Tips and Techniques for Getting the Job Done Right

The Project Management Tool Kit

Author: Tom Kendrick, PMP
Pub Date: December 2013
Print Edition: $19.95
Print ISBN: 9780814433454
Page Count: 288
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Third Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814433461

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Time Process


Activity Definition
(PMBOK® Guide 6.2)

What:   Documenting the activities resulting from the lowest level of the project work breakdown structure (WBS) and assigning an owner to each.

When:  Project planning.

Results:       Clear descriptions of all identified project work and delegation of responsibilities.

An activity is generally the smallest portion of a project used in planning, tracking, and control. In some projects, activities may be referred to as tasks, stories, work packages, or use cases, or using other descriptors.

Verify Activities

Activity definition is a key step in project plan development. After developing the work breakdown structure (WBS), verify that all work listed is necessary. Begin assembling your project activity information based on your schedule planning. If the work at the lowest level might require more than a month to complete or seems likely to consume more than 80 hours of effort, strive to decompose it further.

People often overlook work related to organizational, business, or legal requirements. Examples include preparation for project life cycle checkpoints, methodology or regulatory requirements, project and other reviews, scheduled presentations, and specific documents the project must create. Add any missing work you discover to your WBS and scope baseline.

Describe Activities

Convert the lowest-level WBS entries into project activities that can be estimated, scheduled, and tracked. Check that each represents a discrete, separate piece of work that has a starting and a stopping point. For each piece of work, capture and document any assumptions.

Describe each lowest-level work package concisely in terms of the work to be done and the task deliverable (examples: install power, edit user documentation). These verb-noun descriptions ensure clarity and make planning and tracking easier.

Identify one or more specific deliverables for each lowest-level activity. For each deliverable, specify the acceptance or test criteria. Be able to describe any requirements relating to standards, performance, or specific quality level. If no one can clearly define the deliverable for an activity, the work may be unnecessary; consider dropping it.

Assign Owners

Seek capable, motivated owners for each lowest-level activity. Look for willing volunteers for all defined work and remember that you will be responsible for all tasks for which you fail to find an owner.

For each activity, assign one and only one owner, delegating responsibility for the work. Owners will be responsible for planning, estimating, monitoring, and reporting on the activity but will not necessarily do all the work alone. In some cases, owners will lead a team doing the work, or even serve as a liaison for outsourced tasks. For each activity, identify all needed skills, staff, and any other resources and use this information to complete your responsibility analysis and required skills analysis.

Identify Milestones

In addition to project activities, which consume time and effort, project schedules also have milestones—events of negligible duration used to synchronize project work and mark significant project transitions. Uses for milestones include:

   Project start

   Project end

   Completion of related parallel activities

   Phase gates or life cycle stage transitions

   Significant decisions, approvals, or events

   Interfaces between multiple dependent projects

   Other external activity dependencies and deliverables

List all project milestones.

Document Activities

Document all activities and milestones in your software scheduling tool or using some other appropriate method. Include activity names, owners, assumptions, deliverable descriptions, any identification codes (based on your WBS hierarchy, phase or iteration prioritization, or other organizing technique), and other important information. The activity list (often part of a WBS Dictionary, “burn down” list, or plan of record) serves as the foundation for project planning, risk analysis, monitoring, and control. Provide all activity owners a thorough description of their work.

Use activity definitions as a foundation for other planning processes, including activity duration estimating, activity resource estimating, activity sequencing, schedule development, cost estimating, and risk identification.

As the project planning and execution proceed, keep activity information current. Periodically review and update the activity list to reflect additional work identified during the project, particularly work added because of scope change control or uncovered in a project review.


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