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Creating an effective work breakdown structure (WBS) is built upon the idea that the building blocks, i.e. the work packages that are used to create the WBS, have been measured and formulated to the same standards and methodology. The importance of work packages in project management, therefore, often leads to people searching for a good work package definition. This way, they can ensure that they are as precise, helpful and effective for their team as possible.

Work Package Definition

A work package is a collection of related tasks, that can also be seen as mini-projects, which make up a project. Though they can technically be anything that’s part of the project, they do all share the same characteristics:

  • Components of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
  • Each work package is part of the same project
  • Collection of tasks are overseen by a PM or responsible team member
  • Allow simultaneous work to be carried out
  • Grouped into related areas (e.g. technology, geography etc.)
  • Contains the essential steps needed to complete the package
  • Has a set deadline for the whole package to be delivered


How to Break Down Work Packages

Though they can vary in size, a general rule of thumb for work packages is that they follow the 8/80 rule, i.e. they should not take less than 8 hours or more than 80. Deciding on what will be included in the work package should be chosen using the same criteria. For example, if one work package is created for your New York team, then all other packages in that tier of the WBS should be based geographically. This is to avoid overlap or tasks going missing because no-one was assigned responsibility.

Why Work Packages Are So Important

Fully functional and effective work packages provide a huge range of benefits for your project as it progresses along its course. These include:

Cost Monitoring

Budgeting a project correctly can be a huge task, which is why it helps to break it down to a workable, micro level. By costing each work package individually and monitoring their performance with Earned Value or Cost Variance metrics, it becomes easier to identify the performance of your project in terms of its budget.

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Simultaneous Work

Defining and delegating team tasks through a WBS allows a project manager to carry out efficient resource allocation. By building work packages around core processes, different parts of the team can work simultaneously on deliverables and avoid delays waiting for expertise or handing over tasks from one team to another.

Clear Identification and Delegation of Responsibilities

The various elements within a work package allow for a detailed breakdown of tasks and a transparent overview of responsibilities for the responsible team members. The visibility and structured format of the work package means that each employee involved in the project can see what they are supposed to be doing through the life-cycle of the project as well as how their roles fit into the broader success of the project.

More Effective Oversight

Each work package and task strand are designated as being under the remit either of the project manager or an involved team member. The clear delegation of these oversight responsibilities makes it a lot easier for progress reports to be made and potential risks to be identified early.

Fortunately, work packages, when used in conjunction with an effective project management tool, can help you manage your team more efficiently. Sign up for your free trial today.

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Preview: Gartner Market Guide for Adaptive Project Management & Reporting

Pick a PPM solution with the best capabilities to match your unique needs

In the Gartner Market Guide for Adaptive Project Management & Reporting guide, Gartner, Inc. provides recommendations and evaluation criteria for executives and PMO leaders assessing Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) solutions. This guide outlines the adaptive project management and reporting process flow as well as a market review of current providers in the following categories:

  • - Existing pure-play PPM providers
  • - Collaborative work management (CWM) providers
  • - Enterprise agile planning (EAP) providers
  • - Technology Platform providers from other markets

The guide provides insight into how well a product or service fulfills certain functional capabilities – with a forward-looking market direction and analysis provided.

In the report, Gartner, Inc. mentions/states that “by 2024, 50% of all program and portfolio management (PPM) leaders will integrate complementary technologies to enable portfolio decision making and adaptive work management for digital business evolution.”

Clarizen offers a complete solution that connects work across the enterprise, turning ideas into strategies, plans, and action. With Clarizen, organizations can work the way they want to work and have real time visibility across all workstreams in their portfolio. This keeps teams focused on the things that matter, provides the real-time information needed to make more accurate and timely decisions, and delivers results faster to meet and even exceed company goals and customers’ expectations.

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Buyer’s guide to project management software