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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chapter 34: Defining Activities

In the previous chapter, we saw that the activity list is an important part of defining the project schedule. But first, we have to prepare one so that we can use it to prepare the schedule, isnt it? In this chapter, we are going to learn just that.

So, lets get started!!!

Defining Activities:

Activities that need to be performed to produce the project deliverables are identified using the activity definition process. To understand it better, look at the picture below:

Let us look at the 3 parts of it in detail.

Input to Defining Activities

Identifying project activities starts with the work packages in the WBS, which in turn are derived from the project scope statement. The input items are:

Elements of the scope baseline, such as deliverables, assumptions, and constraints, will be useful in defining activities.

All the following three components of the project scope statement are needed to define activities:

WBS and WBS dictionary - The work packages in the WBS are decomposed into project activities. To define activities in detail so that you can assign appropriate resources to them, you need the details about work packages, which are provided in the WBS dictionary.
• Project scope statement - The WBS is built from the project scope statement. While dealing with the WBS, you might need to go back to the project scope statement. The following elements of the project scope statement are especially important to consider while identifying activities:
     o Assumptions related to the activities or schedule planning, such as work hours per week
     o Constraints that will limit the schedule options, such as predetermined deadlines on project milestones
     o Project deliverables, to ensure that everything is covered in WBS work packages
Enterprise environmental factors - The enterprise environmental factors relevant to identifying schedule activities include project management information systems and project scheduling software tools.
Organizational process assets - Following are examples of organizational process assets that can be useful in the process of identifying activities:
     o Organizational policies related to activity planning
     o Organizational procedures and guidelines used in defining activities
     o Knowledge base of lessons learned from previous projects regarding activity lists
So, the major input to the activity definition process is the WBS, whose work packages are decomposed into activities using some tools and techniques.

Tools and Techniques for Defining Activities

The major task in the Define Activities process is to decompose the work packages in the WBS into activities.


Do you remember that we used the decomposition technique to create the WBS by subdividing the project deliverables into smaller manageable tasks called work packages. Decomposition is also used in the activity definition process for subdividing the work packages into smaller, more manageable components called schedule activities.

Component planning

If there are areas of the project scope for which sufficient information is not available yet, there will definitely be corresponding components in the WBS that are not decomposed to the level of work packages. You can only develop a high-level schedule for these planning components. You accommodate this kind of high-level scheduling by using a technique called rolling wave planning to plan the project work at various levels of detail depending upon the availability of information. Work to be performed in the near future is planned to the low level of the WBS, whereas work to be performed far into the future can be planned at the relatively high level of the WBS. So, a WBS component at the bottom level of a branch of WBS hierarchy for which some planning can be performed is called a planning component.


As a timesaver and a guide, you can use a standard activity list or an activity list from a previous project similar to the project at hand as a template. The template can also contain information about the activities in it, such as required hours of effort.

Expert judgment

Activities make the core of a project. So, it’s very important to identify and define them correctly to make the project schedule efficient and effective. Therefore, expert judgment is a very important tool that can be used in this process.

Output of Defining Activities

The key output item of the activity definition process is a comprehensive list of all the schedule activities that need to be performed to produce the project deliverables. The list of output items of this stage are:

Activity list

This is a list of all the activities that are necessary and sufficient to produce the project deliverables. In other words, these activities are derived from the WBS and hence are within the scope of the project. Also, the scope of each schedule activity should be described to sufficient detail in concrete terms, so that the team member responsible for it will understand what needs to be done.

Activity attributes

These attributes are in addition to the scope description of the activity in the activity list.
The list of attributes of an activity are:

• Activity identifier and code
• Activity description
• Assumptions and constraints related to this activity, such as target date
• Predecessor and successor activities
• Resource requirements
• Team member responsible for performing the work and information about the work; for example, where it will be performed

Some attributes evolve over time. The attributes are used to arrange the activities in the correct order (sequencing) and to schedule them.

Milestone list

A schedule milestone is a significant event in the project schedule, such as the completion of a major deliverable. A milestone can be mandatory, such as one required by a contract, or optional, such as one determined by the team to run the project more smoothly. The milestone list includes all the milestones and specifies whether a milestone is mandatory or optional. Milestones are used in building the schedule.

The Define Activities process generates the final output as activities and not deliverables. Therefore, ideally speaking, the WBS and the WBS dictionary should be generated before defining activities. However, practically speaking, the activity list, the WBS, and the WBS dictionary can be developed concurrently.

To wrap up this chapter, the output items of the activity definition process are a schedule activity list, a list of attributes for each activity, and a list of milestones. Before you can schedule them, the identified activities need to be arranged in the correct order, which is called sequencing – this is what we will be learning in the next chapter.

Previous: Introduction to Project Schedule

Next: Sequencing Activities

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