A work package is an essential project management concept — but also one that is commonly misunderstood. This informative and easy-to-read article covers the basics of what a work package is, and how to use it to improve project planning, scheduling, performance and outcomes.
You might have seen the term come up a lot, especially when talking about a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and wondered to yourself what is a work package anyway? Well, a work package is a collection of similar tasks which are bundled together to create a kind of mini-project within a project. What defines a work package is the inter-relatedness of the tasks involved, as they must have elements which connect them.
A work package is generally decided on due to the following characteristics they have in common:
- Nature of work involved (e.g. marketing, programming, etc.)
- Outcomes of the tasks
- Geographical location where tasks take place
- Time when tasks will be completed
- Technology or materials that will be used
- Team leaders in charge
- Specific stakeholders
By putting related tasks together, a work package becomes an easier element to understand for the project team responsible. Team members are able to see the connection between different task strands and focus on those that apply to them. As part of a Work Breakdown Schedule, using work packages provides a greater level of clarity as each block of connected tasks can be easily visualized.
To distinguish what is a work package from an actual project in its own right, one must look at the outcomes. Each work package is only ever one element of something larger, so its outcomes will directly relate to the furtherance of the aims of the overall project. Let’s consider at an example, if adding a new feature to a technology product, like some great project management software, there may be several work packages related to its development, such as:
Within each of these there will be a wide variety of different tasks but by arranging related tasks together it becomes easier to communicate with responsible teams and set milestones and deadlines to get a better idea of your project’s critical path.
Using work packages effectively means that your team shouldn’t get bogged down with information or caught up on email threads that have no relevance for their department. They also provide an easy reference point for describing a variety of metrics within the project, such as:
- Budget: Knowing how much is dedicated to each area and how well it is being adhered to
- Deadlines: How well they are being kept to and whether certain areas are causing more delays than others
- Risks: What needs to be watched for where and how likely issues are to arise
- Priority: The importance of various areas and what needs to be focused on first
- Stakeholders: Knowing who needs to be kept in the loop for different task strands
For project managers, using work packages effectively is essential as it allows them to easily differentiate and delegate necessary tasks. They also provide greater visibility for other stakeholders outside the project team, making it easier to explain budget and timeline issues from a broader perspective rather than having to go into detail on specific tasks. The most important advantage however, is that it allows a major project to be broken down into more manageable pieces so that neither you nor your team get overwhelmed by the size of the project you are undertaking.