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project phase and project activity, what's the difference?

I'm currently working to produce a WBS template for our company. I'm quite confused with the two terms. What I know is that it has this levels -- phase, activity, tasks and milestones. Open Workbench is also like that. I was reading wikipedia and these two phrases consfuses me:

* development phases of a project and
* software development activities

Both mentioned phases and activities. How do you set the hierarchy?


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While there are different schools of thought on this, I think the predominant thinking is your WBS should contain neither phases nor activities. Your WBS is supposed to break down your project scope into smaller, more manageable chunks of work or product materials. Think nouns, not verbs. Your WBS is not scheduled, it simply describes all the scope of your work and no more than the scope of your work.

When you decompose to the lowest level you need (while there are heuristics around that lowest level, the true level to which you decompose is at the level you need to manage properly), the lowest level is your work package, under which you develop your activities. This what you sequence and schedule.

I define activities as actual work--think verb--to be performed by project resources, human or otherwise. I define a phase as a logical grouping of activities that mark the end of something significant. You do not always need to use phases, use it if it makes sense.
Thank you for replying.

I just wanna say something about the actual work, I think most people call it task and not activity; at least the people around me.

Here's from Open Workbench:

Phases are the major steps required to achieve the project's goal. Most well defined projects have multiple phases with specific objectives. Within each phase there are any number of activities leading to the completion of the phase's objectives. You can further divide each activity into tasks—the smallest identifiable project component—and milestones, which mark significant events or dates used to measure a project's progress.

Thanks for the tip.
I have heard activities and tasks used synonymously in most cases. Doing BPR and using prescribed methods, often times there is a definition created by the organization for each of these. For example, an activity may describe work at a higher level in which there are tasks below. Some definitions may say that a task has a single actor, where as an activity has multiple actors. Also, I have seen it the other way around: tasks at the higher level and activities lower. Other definitions may use time to discriminate between the two. I think the point is you have some latitude to define each as you see fit.

However, I think you should keep your WBS deliverable oriented, in that each decomposition is a noun, not a verb, and represents a tangible product material. I have seen nothing but problems when people mix both activities and scope together in a single WBS. One issue is when you are trying to figure out if a customer request is in scope or not. A well defined WBS would answer the question immediately. If tasks are in there, your water is muddy and everything becomes open to interpretation.

I do not agree with your statement about most well defined projects have phases. I would suggest you not getting caught up into creating a phase if you do not need it. Phases almost pop out at you. When you have to think about it, you are making it up and that begs the question why. That said, if you like phases and it organizes you to help you manage it, by all means do it. But I want to make sure for others who may read this that phases are not a requirement to make a well defined project. Not at all.
Thanks for clarifying...


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