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Understanding the Anatomy of a Work Package Template

Updated: Feb 10

What is a Work Package Template?


Definition of a work package template.


A work package acts as an agreement between the project manager and the task owner. It summarises everything that needs to be managed about a delivery: the scope, dependencies, timescales, reporting, budgets and more.


What is an example of a Project Work Package?

Here is an example of a work package format for you to download and use


An Example Work Package Template

Work Package
.docx
Download DOCX • 31KB

Click on the above link to download the work package template example.


The benefits of using a work package.


A work package;


  • Defines accountabilities for objectives

  • Removes ambiguity and assumptions about the deliverables

  • Sets clear expectations on timelines and milestones

  • Allows the project to define tolerances within which the work should be delivered, such as budget

  • Helps identify resources and where additional support might be required.

  • Identifies dependencies on other workstreams within the project

  • Clarifies reporting expectations


There's an adage that goes, "If it's not written down, it doesn't exist." This saying underscores the importance of documenting information, decisions, plans, or agreements to ensure they are acknowledged, remembered, and can be referenced in the future. It's a principle especially relevant in business, law, and project management, where written records are crucial for accountability, clarity, and continuity, and certainly ones I subscribe to.


Of course, it depends upon the nature and size of your project and its deliveries as to whether a formal work package is necessary and the level of detail that goes into it. Still, I would suggest that any moderately complex project with multiple workstreams and team leaders should have clearly defined work packages.


Without agreeing on the contents (and it should be an agreement between parties), ambiguity can set it, and people can be confused or forgetful about the scope and other aspects of what they've been assigned. Hence, it gives everyone something to refer to and update as needed.


What Should be Included in a Work Package?


As a minimum, I would recommend the work package contains;


  • Objectives and deliverables.

  • Scope of work and detailed tasks.

  • Resources required (human, technological, and financial).

  • Timeframes and milestones.

  • Cost estimates and budgeting details.

  • Quality and performance metrics.

  • Risk management plans.

  • Communication and reporting protocols.


However, this can and should be adapted to cover any additional aspects that bring clarity to the stakeholders involved in overseeing the delivery.


How Do You Write a Work Package?


The seven key steps to creating a project work package are;


  1. Defining the Project Scope and Deliverables

  2. Detail the tasks and activities

  3. Assign the resources and responsibilities

  4. Establish the timeline and any deadlines

  5. Outline cost estimates and budget allocation

  6. Set quality standards and define the risk management approach

  7. Finalise the communication plan and document controls


Step 1: Define the Scope and Deliverables


Identify the Overall Project Objectives


Understand what the project aims to achieve at a high level and capture it as succinctly as possible. Give the work package owner and anyone within their team who refers to the document the very clear context within which their deliveries exist.


The work package doesn't exist in isolation or just for its own purpose; it should drive towards a greater outcome, so share that vision and objective.


Simon Sinek has popularised the term "Start with the why." This principle emphasises starting any initiative by explaining its purpose or why it exists as a bedrock of delivery. This approach helps people understand the picture they contribute to, which can be more motivating and empowering than simply being told to execute tasks.


Define Specific Deliverables


List the tangible and intangible outputs the work package will produce. Ensure these are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).


The critical thing here is clarifying the outputs/outcomes as precisely as the project needs.


For example, if the work package is to build a docking module for the International Space Station, then it will have precise outputs to fit correctly with the rest of the station. So, the same here; we need to ensure we aren't dictating the 'how' but the 'what' in as much detail as is needed for the project to proceed.


I say this a lot with any scoping, but it's just as essential to make sure you are also clear about what is not in scope. Otherwise, you may get more than you bargained for!


Step 2: Detail the Tasks and Activities


This section should be owned and written with or by the work package owner. This is the 'how', and generally, we should be asking people and teams how they would want to go about a task, not telling them.


Again, it depends upon the nature of your project, but you'll likely want to undertake a collaborative planning approach and initiate sessions with the work package owner and the team. This fosters a sense of ownership and accountability, as team members contribute to the how of the tasks ahead.


Each team member brings unique skills and insights. By engaging and empowering them in the planning process, you can identify the most efficient and innovative approaches to the work.


Break Down Deliverables into Tasks


Really, as a project manager, you want to empower the work package owner to run with the work package and not overly burden you or them with reporting on the minute details of every activity necessary. However, a reasonable summary should be produced that digs into their 'how' in sufficient detail to allow the project manager to track progress against milestones.


So, if you just had a work package that had a task of "create network infrastructure", and that's all you monitored by asking, "Is it done yet?" you'd have no visibility into the progress within the delivery beyond what you were told at a superficial level until it all goes wrong and suddenly you are hit with a nasty surprise of a delay.


If you have the work package defined in terms of major tasks and milestones, it'll be a lot easier for the owner and the project manager to know how things are progressing against the plan, and things will go a lot smoother.


Start by outlining the major components or milestones needed to achieve each deliverable. This high-level overview helps in understanding the broader structure before diving into details.


Collaboratively break down each component into smaller, manageable tasks. This step should be detailed, with each task clearly defined to ensure no ambiguity regarding what needs to be done.


Assign ownership of tasks to specific individuals or sub-teams. Ownership implies responsibility, not only for completing the task but also for deciding how best to achieve it.


Sequence Activities

Now, you need to link these tasks and form the delivery timeline. Here are some high-level steps and considerations;


Start to identify any dependencies between tasks where the initiation or completion of one task relies on another. Remember that dependencies can be internal to the work package and potentially external. This mapping is crucial for understanding the flow of work.


With dependencies mapped, collaboratively create a sequence plan that outlines the order in which tasks should be tackled. This plan should consider the most efficient path to completing the deliverables, considering resource availability and project deadlines.


While establishing a sequence is essential, maintain flexibility to accommodate changes or insights that may arise during the project execution. This adaptive approach can lead to more efficient project outcomes.


Step 3: Assign Resources and Responsibilities

The work package owner and the project manager must demonstrate to themselves and the project team that they know the impact of resources needed for the deliveries, be these people, tools, budgetary, or otherwise.


How to Allocate Resources


Begin with a detailed assessment of the tasks identified in Step 2 to understand the types and quantities of resources needed. This includes personnel (skills and expertise), materials, tools, and financial resources.


Create a resource plan that outlines what resources are needed, in what quantity, and when they will be required during the project timeline. This should also consider the availability of resources and any constraints or limitations.


Financial resources should be carefully planned, with a budget for each task or deliverable. This budget should cover all costs associated with resources, including procurement and maintenance.


You'll probably also need to clarify budgetary thresholds, such as allowed deviations. For example, +/- 5% budget tolerance.


Look for opportunities to optimise resource allocation. This might involve leveraging shared resources across tasks, employing multi-skilled personnel, or identifying cost-saving measures without compromising quality or timelines.


Assign Responsibilities


Ensure that each team member understands their specific tasks and the broader impact of their work on the project's success.


Clear communication regarding expectations and outcomes is vital.


I find that implementing RACI charts to delineate roles and responsibilities clearly can be a valuable tool to define who is:


  • Responsible (R): The person(s) who will perform the task.

  • Accountable (A): The individual is answerable for the task's completion and success. There should be exactly one person with this assignment per task, often the work package owner or project manager.

  • Consulted (C): Those whose opinions are sought; typically, these are subject matter experts.

  • Informed (I): Those who are kept up-to-date on progress, often stakeholders or team members affected by the task's outcome.


Here's a quick example;

Task

Project Mgr

Software Dev

Tester

Product Owner

UX Designer

Define project requirements

A



C

C

Develop the software


R




Design user interface





A

Perform unit testing


C

A



Deploy software to production.

A

R

C




Step 4: Establish Timelines and Deadlines

This step involves estimating task durations and developing a comprehensive schedule aligning with project goals, resource availability, and task interdependencies.


Begin by estimating how long each identified task will take to complete. For accuracy, use historical data, expert judgment, and estimation techniques such as PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) or the Delphi method.

An example of a PERT diagram
An example of a PERT diagam


Consider the complexity of each task and its dependencies on other tasks. Some tasks cannot start until others are completed, affecting duration estimates.


Add buffer time to account for potential delays and unforeseen challenges. This helps ensure that the overall project timeline is realistic and achievable. Don't be tempted to have the work package delivered to a recklessly optimistic plan.


Consult with the team responsible for each task to validate the estimates. Their insights can lead to more accurate duration predictions.


Develop the Schedule


Using a project management tool or software, lay out the project timeline. Identify the start and end dates for the project and plot when each task should begin and end.


Mark dependencies in the timeline, showing which tasks must be completed before others can start. This visual representation helps identify critical paths and potential bottlenecks.


Assign resources to each task based on the resource plan developed in Step 3. Ensure that resource availability aligns with the task schedules, adjusting as necessary to avoid overallocation or conflicts.


Identify key milestones within the project. Significant points or deliverables within the project help track progress towards the final goal. Make sure these milestones are marked in the schedule.


Incorporate regular review points in the schedule to assess progress, address issues, and make necessary adjustments. Flexibility is crucial in accommodating changes without derailing the project.


Share the finalised schedule with the entire project team and stakeholders. Ensure everyone understands the timeline, responsibilities, and how their work fits the larger project goals.


Step 5: Outline Cost Estimates and Budget Allocation


Estimate Costs


Break down the costs into categories such as labour, materials, equipment, and overheads. This helps in understanding where the money is going and facilitates more accurate estimations.


Leverage data from similar past projects and consult with experts to estimate the costs more accurately. This can help anticipate and plan for typical expenses and potential financial risks.


As previously mentioned, Include a contingency budget to cover unexpected costs or overruns. The size of this budget can vary depending on the project's complexity and risk level but is typically between 5% to 20% of the total estimated costs.


Once initial estimates are made, review them with project stakeholders, including finance professionals, to ensure they are realistic and comprehensive.


Allocate Budget


Assess the importance and urgency of each task and deliverable within the project to guide budget allocation. Priority should be given to tasks critical to project success and those with fixed costs that cannot be adjusted.


Allocate the budget according to the project's phases, ensuring each phase is adequately funded according to its needs and the resources required.


While allocating the budget to specific tasks is essential, maintaining some flexibility to transfer funds between tasks as the project progresses and priorities shift. However, maintain strict controls to ensure the overall project budget is not exceeded.


Set up a system to regularly monitor actual spending against the budgeted amounts. This should include periodic financial reports and reviews to track expenditures, identify variances, and implement corrective actions if necessary.


Obtain formal approval for the budget from the necessary authorities within the organisation. Depending on the project's scale and governance structure, this may include senior management, finance departments, or project sponsors.


Step 6: Set Quality Standards and Risk Management Measures


Ensuring the quality of deliverables and managing potential risks are pivotal components of successful project execution. This step outlines establishing quality criteria and identifying and mitigating risks within a work package.


Define Quality Criteria


Collaborate with stakeholders to define the quality standards that each deliverable must meet. These standards should be based on industry best practices, regulatory requirements, and stakeholder expectations.


For each deliverable, outline clear and measurable acceptance criteria. These criteria will serve as the benchmarks to assess whether the deliverables meet the established quality standards.


Plan for regular quality checks and audits throughout the project lifecycle. This includes peer reviews, testing, and validation processes to ensure that quality standards are consistently met.


Identify Risks


Perform a risk assessment to identify potential risks impacting the work package. This includes analysing project scope, resources, timelines, and external factors such as market or environmental conditions. Still, I would suggest focusing only on significant risks that could derail the delivery, not every single risk you can think of, or the list will be too long.


Classify identified risks by their nature (e.g., operational, financial, legal) and potential impact (e.g., high, medium, low). This categorisation helps prioritise risk management efforts.


Keep a detailed record of all identified risks, including their possible causes, impact, and probability of occurrence. This risk register becomes a critical tool for ongoing risk management.


Plan Risk Mitigation


For each identified risk, develop specific strategies to prevent the risk from occurring or to reduce its impact if it does. Depending on its nature and impact, strategies may include avoiding, transferring, mitigating, or accepting the risk.


In addition to proactive mitigation strategies, prepare contingency plans for how to respond if a risk materialises. This ensures the project team can act quickly and effectively to minimise disruptions.


Designate a team member as the owner for each significant risk. The risk owner monitors their assigned risks and implements the mitigation and contingency plans as needed.


Risk management is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update the risk management plans to reflect project scope, schedule, and external environment changes. This includes revisiting the risk register and adjusting strategies and plans as necessary.


Step 7: Finalise Communication Plans and Document Controls


The final step in creating a work package focuses on ensuring effective communication and proper management of documentation, which are vital for project transparency, accountability, and success.


Establish Communication Protocols


Specify the channels through which communication will occur, such as meetings, email updates, project management tools, or instant messaging platforms, ensuring they are accessible to all relevant parties.


Determine how often updates and reports are needed. Regular intervals (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly) are essential for ongoing tasks, with additional updates for critical milestones.


Establish the communication format, whether written reports, presentations, or informal updates, to ensure information is consistently clear and understandable.


List all project stakeholders, including team members, management, clients, and external partners, defining who needs to receive which types of communication.


Compile these details into a comprehensive communication plan that includes roles, schedules, methods, and formats, ensuring everyone knows how and when information will be shared.


Implement Document Controls


Establish a version control system to track and manage document changes, ensuring everyone works with the most current information and that previous versions are archived for reference.


Define who reports and updates should be sent to and how any significant issues are escalated, schedule regular reviews of the document management and control processes to ensure they remain effective, and make adjustments to accommodate changes in the project scope or team.


 

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About the author

Hi, I'm Alan, and have been working within the IT sector for over 30 years.

For the last 15 years, I've focused on IT Governance, Information Security, Projects and Service Management across various styles of organisations and markets.

I hold a degree in Information Systems, ITIL Expert certificate, PRINCE2 Practitioner and CISMP (Information Security Management).

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