Defining and Sequencing Project Phases Activities and Tasks

There are three levels of elements to a project plan: tasks, activities, and phases. An activity is something that you do in order to produce a project deliverable. In our Prestige Hotels case study, the main activity involves creating a Virtual Slot Machine (VSM). An activity has several elements associated with it: linkage to other activities (whether as predecessors or successors), a cost, some duration of time, and resources (including people).

The duration of all the project' s activities should be noted using the same measurement of time: minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. Typically, activities are denoted in the number of days that each takes to accomplish. Activities that take six hours are listed as 0.25 days, for example. You can then define two components that take their cue from the duration: milestones, which are activities with 0 duration, and hammocks, which are activities that have a very long duration. For example, if your duration scale runs from 0-99 days, your hammocks would be of 95-99 days duration. Hammocks, as you can see, are "lazy" activities—those that require a great amount of time to accomplish. A task is a single element of work that must be accomplished in order to complete an activity. There may be one task or several involved in the completion of any activity. For example, in our Prestige Hotels case study, a graphic artist must create a graphic image of a slot machine, another of a cowboy boot, and so forth in order to provide all the images needed for the web-page VSM. The activity would be to create the VSM; the tasks include the development of all the graphics that make up the VSM. A phase in a project is a grouping of related activities that make up the completion of a deliverable. In the Prestige Hotels case study, one phase might be defined as building the web pages; activities within this might include creating a VSM and developing programmatic links to the partner airline. If this were a long-term project, a second phase could then be marked off to signal the start of web-page testing. One last interesting element of this discussion: You may have a deliverable that will be put together with others in order to bring about one of your project ' s main deliverables. This "sub-deliverable," if you will, is called an interim deliverable. For example, suppose that you work on a development team that ' s putting together a brand new operating system (OS). You' re involved with the development of the printing code that the OS will use. Several interim deliverables might include the software module that receives a document and spools it for printing, another that maintains communications with a printer, and still another that manages any errors that the printer might send back. The three interim deliverables, put together with others, make up the complete printing deliverable. Sequencing of project tasks, activities, and phases means putting them in order so that they logically proceed from one to another. If one task must be accomplished before another can begin, we say that the first task is a predecessor and the second task is a successor. The combination of activities that are successors to one another and that represent the longest duration is said to be the critical path of the project.

Note I talk in a lot more detail about the actual decomposition of the deliverables, to arrive at tasks, activities, and phases, in Chapter 8.

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