Activity Definition

For any project manager just coming on board a project, the critical first steps are to learn about the people involved—both stakeholders and the project team—and to understand the issues that currently exist and exactly what the project is expected to deliver. These steps are forerunners to Activity Definition.

For the steps described in the PMI standard under the heading Activity Definition, you must have a clear understanding of the activities that are outlined in the WBS. This will become important as you identify the inter-dependencies among activities, as well as the type of resources that should be assigned to each of the activities. Start from the beginning, not the end, and resist the temptation to focus too heavily on dates. Although later it will be necessary to come back and look at how the "realistic" plan fits into the needs of the business, at this stage it is important to find out what your people believe are the necessary tasks required for project completion. This can also help to provide the ammunition that you need to fight for a date based on the effort involved.

Such activity definition can be done relatively easily in a project scheduling tool such as MS Project; using this tool will make it easier to accomplish the remaining tasks of Time Management. However, this task can also be done with Post-It notes or 3x5 cards. Give a descriptive title to the task and a brief definition, along with notes gleaned from the team. Detailed notes will be helpful, as you will come back to these notes throughout the project. There is a "notes" section for each task within MS Project to capture this information, or use the back of the 3x5 card.

At this point it is not imperative to have the entire team available; the focus is not on creating dependencies. The leads for each area (in an IT project these might be the Requirements Lead, Development Lead, Test Lead, Lead Architect, etc.) can provide enough input to develop the activities. Essentially, this initial meeting answers the question: What specific actions need to happen to deliver the product defined in the scope statement?

Keep milestones in mind, both external milestones to clients or upper management, along with internal milestones for the team.

Be cautious about identifying tasks that are too broad in scope; for example, "develop website" or "create design document." Dig into the details; push to understand what must be done and how it ties into other activities. If you know something needs to happen, but neither you nor your team lead can put your finger on it, create "placeholders." Keep these "to be determined" placeholders in the plan until you have fully fleshed these out. As you continue to refine the plan (and even after the plan is finished) you may expect to come across activities that were "forgotten" or "unknown" at this early stage of the project. Expect the plan to change.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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