Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Project Decomposition and Templates

To complete any task, you need to know what tools are at your disposal. Project managers who are engaged in defining project activities use two main tools to accomplish this task: decomposition and templates.

Decomposition means breaking a project deliverable down into a list of achievable activities.

Telecom Corp. is a telecommunications company. One service that it provides to its clients is the virtual private network (VPN). VPN project deliverables include a firewall, routers, encryptors, Internet service, IP backbone, and secure remote access.

The last deliverable could be decomposed into the following three activities:
  1. provide remote access
  2. provide encryption key
  3. authenticate users
After dividing a deliverable into potential activities, the team must evaluate each activity using the following six criteria.
  1. Status is measurable.
  2. Sign of completion is visible.
  3. Start and end conditions are clearly defined.
  4. Time and cost are easily estimated.
  5. Duration has acceptable limits.
  6. Work assignments are independent.
The first criterion to consider is whether the activity's status is measurable. For example, one deliverable in a Telecom Corp. VPN project is secure remote access. One activity defined for this deliverable is authenticating users, and it is measurable. When half the users have working login IDs and passwords, the activity is fifty percent complete.
Whether there is a visible sign that the activity is complete is the second criterion. This sign could be the delivery of a document or product, or it could be the manager's signature. In the Telecom Corp. example, the visible sign that users have been authenticated to the network is when all users can access the network with a functional user password.

The third criterion to use is whether an activity has clearly defined start and end conditions. Once the beginning event has occurred, work may begin on the activity and continue to a visible sign of completion. For Telecom Corp., the authentication activity should only begin when the network is in place. The authentication activity is clearly finished only when the users are able to use their login IDs and passwords to access the VPN.

Whether activity time and cost can be easily estimated is the fourth criterion to consider. This is accomplished by estimating the time and cost of a project's activities. In the Telecom Corp. example of authenticating users to the VPN, time can be estimated at a few days.

The fifth criterion to examine is whether an activity's duration is within acceptable limits. Although there is no set rule on this, projects should avoid activities with long durations. Delays in such activities can create serious scheduling problems. In evaluating Telecom Corp.'s authentication activity, duration can be estimated at a few days. Delays here would not create huge project delays or large-scale scheduling problems. The authentication activity then meets this fifth criterion.

The final criterion is an activity's level of independence from other project activities. Independence in an activity means that once work has begun on the activity, it may continue without interruption. For example, once Telecom Corp.'s authentication activity begins, it is not dependent upon any other project activities for completion.

The second tool a project manager and team uses to define project activities is a template. A partial or total activity list, or WBS from a previous project, can be used as a template for a current project. Using templates simplifies project activity definition and reduces project costs by improving team efficiency.

To define project activities, project managers use decomposition and templates. Decomposition means breaking project deliverables into achievable activities. A template is a partial or total WBS, or activity list defined in a previous project, which can be used in a current project.

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