Representing a conditionally repeating activity

Suppose you plan an activity that requires an unknown number of repetitive cycles, such as obtaining approval of a report. In reality, you write a draft and submit it for review and approval. If the reviewers approve the draft, you proceed to the next activity (such as preparing the final version). But, if the reviewers don't approve the draft, you have to revise it to incorporate their comments and then resubmit it for a second review and approval. If they approve the second draft, you proceed to the final version. But if they still don't approve that draft, you have to repeat the process (or try to catch them in a better mood).

Conducting a survey: Utilizing the Work Breakdown Structure

Suppose your boss asks you to estimate how long it'll take to survey people regarding characteristics of a new product that your company may develop. Based on initial thoughts, you figure you need to contact people at your headquarters, at two regional activity centers, and from a sampling of your current clients. You tell your boss, "Between one and six months."

Have you ever noticed that bosses aren't happy when you respond to their question of "How long?" with an answer of "Between one and six months"? You figure that finishing anytime before six months meets your promise, but your boss expects you can be done in a month, given some (okay, a lot of) hard work. The truth is, though, you don't have a clue how long the survey will take because you don't have a clue how much work you have to do.

Developing a WBS encourages you to define exactly what you'll do and, correspondingly, how long it'll take. In this example, you decide to conduct three different surveys: personal interviews with people at your headquarters, phone conference calls with people at the two regional activity centers, and a mail survey of a sample of clients. Realizing you need to describe each survey in more detail, you begin by considering the mail survey and realize it includes five activities:

I Select a sample of clients to survey: You figure it should take one week to select your sample of clients if the sales department has a current listing of all company clients.

You check with them and they do.

i Design and print a survey questionnaire:

You get lucky. A colleague tells you she thinks the company conducted a similar survey of a different target population a year ago and that extra questionnaires may still be around. You find that a local warehouse has 1,000 of these questionnaires and —yes! — they're perfect for your survey. How much time do you need to allow for designing and printing the questionnaires? Zero!

I Send out the survey and receive the returns: You determine you'll need a response rate of at least 70 percent for the results to be valid. You consult with people who've done these surveys before and find out that a minimum response rate of 70 percent needs a three-phased approach: First, mail out a set of questionnaires and collect responses for four weeks. Second, mail out another set of the same questionnaires to the nonrespondents and wait another four weeks. Finally, conduct phone follow-ups for two more weeks with the people who still haven't responded.

I Enter and analyze the data: You figure you need about two weeks to enter and analyze the data you expect to receive.

I Prepare the final report: You estimate two weeks to prepare the final report.

Now, instead of one to six months, your estimated time to complete your mail survey is 15 weeks. Because you've clarified the work and how you'll do it, you're more confident in your number and you've increased the chances that you'll achieve it!

Revising the draft is a conditional activity; it only occurs if a certain condition (in the report example, not receiving everyone's approval) comes to pass. Unfortunately, a WBS doesn't include conditional activities — you plan to perform every activity that you detail. So you can represent conditional activities in two ways.

1 You can define a single activity as Review/revise report and assign one duration to that activity. You're saying, in effect, that you can perform as many reviews and revisions as possible within the established time period.

1 You can assume that you'll need a certain number of revisions and include each of these reviews and revisions as separate activities in your WBS. This approach defines a separate milestone at the end of each review and revision, which also allows more meaningful tracking.

Assuming that your project needs three reviews and two revisions doesn't guarantee that your draft will be good to go after the third review. If your draft is approved after the first review, congratulations! You've bought some time in the schedule and can move on to the next activity immediately (that is, you don't perform two revisions just because the plan says so!).

However, if you still haven't received approval after the third review, you continue to revise it and submit it for further review until you do get that seal of approval. Of course, then you have to reexamine your plan to determine the impact of the additional reviews and revisions on the schedule and budget of future activities.

A plan isn't a guarantee of the future; it's your statement of what you'll work to achieve. If you're unable to accomplish any part of your plan, you must revise it accordingly (and promptly).

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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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