5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 6: Process 6.2 Define Activities

1. Introduction

The define activities process uses the process of decomposition to take the work packages identified in the WBS which are nouns, and to identify the activities which are verbs required in order to complete them.

It is therefore the bridge between the planning involved in scope management, and the planning involved in time or schedule management.

The following contains an overview of the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs related to this process, as listed in the PMBOK® Guide.

1. Schedule Management Plan A key input from the plan is the prescribed level of detail necessary to do the work which would come from the following elements:

  • Units of Measure
2. Scope Baseline Besides the WBS, you would need the following elements from the project scope statement:

  • Constraints
  • Assumptions
3. EEFs
  • Organizational structures and culture
  • Published commercial information from commercial databases
  • Project Management Information System
4. OPAs
  • Lessons learned from previous projects
  • Standardized processes for creating activity list
  • Templates containing activity list from previous projects
  • Activity-planning policies, procedures, guidelines, including scheduling methodology
1. Decomposition Technique for dividing and subdividing project scope and project deliverables into smaller, more manageable parts.
2. Rolling Wave Planning Also known as progressive elaboration. Work in the near term is planned in detail, whereas work in the future is planned at a higher level.
3. Expert Judgment Project team members and other experts can provide expertise in defining activities.
1. Activity List Includes all scheduled activities on the project.
2. Activity Attributes Extends the description of each activity by having multiple components associated with each activity such as:

  • predecessor and successor activities
  • leads and lags
  • resource requirements, and constraints (including imposed deadlines) and assumptions.
3. Milestone List Lists all milestones and identifies them as:

  • mandatory (specified by contract)
  • optional (based on historical information)

2. Inputs

As inputs, the basic parameters regarding units of measure are needed from the schedule management plan. Then the WBS is required, because the define activities process is based on further decomposing the work packages contained in the WBS into activities. The EEFs and OPAs give the background information and tools required to do the process.

3. Tools & Techniques

For tools and techniques, the decomposition process is the main one, and since it is the same technique as used in the scope management process 5.4 Create WBS, the schedule management process 6.2 Define Activities can be profitably done in conjunction with that other process.

The rolling wave technique, also known as progressive elaboration, can be used in several situations.

  • very large projects or projects that are totally new
  • projects where you need to start the work of executing the project before you have all of the planning 100% complete
  • projects where the work to be done in the final stages of the project depends on the work to be done in the initial stages of the project and cannot be planned completely until this work is complete

Those work packages which represent work to be done in the near future are completely broken down into activities, whereas the work to be done at later stages in the project are broken down only to a certain level, called planning packages. These are then progressively elaborated as the time gets closer to their execution.

Expert judgment is always a useful technique when dealing with something as complex as the creation of a project schedule. The expertise comes from those who have done this type of activity planning before, either on other projects or preferably on projects that were similar to the one the organization is doing now.

4. Outputs

The activity lists and activity attributes are parallel to the WBS and WBS dictionary in that the former contains an organized list, and the latter contains the information necessary regarding those items in the list to carry on the following planning processes.

Milestones are important because they are used to coordinate internally on the project and also externally, between the organization and the supplier and/or customer.

The next process in schedule management is 6.3 Sequence Activities, and that is discussed in the next post.


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