Schedule Activity is an important study topic in the Time management knowledge area, for the PMP® certification exam. Many professionals confuse this topic with that of a work package. However, a solid understanding of the topic can help us in creating and managing our project schedule besides enabling us in correctly answering questions based on this topic, in the PMP® certification exam.

So, let us take a detailed look at Schedule Activities.

What are schedule activities?

Each work package at the bottom of the WBS is decomposed into smaller pieces known as schedule activities. These schedule activities represent the effort needed to complete the work packages. Each activity is small enough to be estimated, managed, monitored and controlled.

Once these schedule activities are defined, they are sequenced in the order in which they must be performed .The resource requirements and the activity durations are then estimated for these activities. Finally, the project schedule is created which shows when each activity is scheduled to begin and end. The project schedule also shows the planned start date and planned finish date for the overall project.

What is an activity list?

The entire schedule activities that are scheduled and performed on the project are compiled into a single list of activities called the activity list. The usefulness of the activity list depends upon its accuracy and completeness. It is an essential input for building the schedule. Therefore, it is important for project managers to involve the team in defining the activity list so that the estimates are more accurate.

The scope baseline, which comprises of the WBS, WBS Dictionary and the Project Scope statement, is an important input while creating the activity list .Each activity in the activity list should be mapped to one and only one work package. However, a single work package can be decomposed into one or more activities.

Activity list is generally defined by elements like an identifier (Activity Name, Activity ID), name of those who are responsible for the work and description of each activity in sufficient detail so that the scope of the work can be thoroughly understood by the project team members.

The activity list is used as a basis for the following five time management processes outlined in the PMBOK® guide: Sequence Activities, Estimate Activity Resources, Estimate Activity Durations, Develop Schedule and Control Schedule.

When is an activity list created?

As per the PMBOK® guide, the activity list is created in the Define Activities process in the Time Management Knowledge area. The process of Define activities is often performed as soon as the scope has been base lined. To put it differently, the activity list is usually created after the requirements documentation, project scope statement, Work Breakdown Structure, and the WBS dictionary has been created and they are under control.

What are the major difference between schedule activities and work packages?

One of the major differences between work packages and schedule activities is that the work packages are deliverable focused, focusing on the scope of the project, while the schedule activities are focused on the work that needs to be done in order to complete the work packages. The activities should include enough detailed information to enable the project team to perform the work.

There also exist a thin line of difference between a WBS and an activity list. Although an activity list is an extension of a work breakdown structure, it is not a part of the work breakdown structure. The WBS belongs to the scope baseline, while the activity list is closely related to the project’s schedule.

What are activity attributes?

The activity attributes can be thought of as an extension of the activity list. Activity attributes extend the description of each activity by identifying the multiple components associated with each activity. During the initial stages of the project, activity attributes might be limited to the Activity ID, WBS ID, and the Activity Name. However, as the project progresses, there will be a need to store additional information regarding the activities like the activity codes, activity description, predecessor activities, successor activities, logical relationships, leads and lags, resource requirements, imposed dates, constraints and assumptions.

Activity attributes can be used to recognize the specific people who will be handling specific pieces of the work or to specifically state where the work will be carried out. Other uses include indicating the effort levels that will be required. These include LOE (level of effort), discrete effort, or AE (apportioned effort). Developing a schedule that will identify when planned activities will be selected, ordered and sorted is another use of activity attributes.

Significance of rolling wave planning

There are multiple occasions where a project manager is unable to adequately break down the project work and schedule it, due to a lot of project unknowns .There are also occasions where the project manager concurs that planning should be done at a higher level and then wait until the project work has begun and the work is clearer, to plan the lower level of work. This method is called as a “rolling wave planning”.

In rolling wave planning, a project manager may choose to carefully decompose certain work packages into activities, with anticipated execution in the near term, in great detail, while delaying analysis on work packages that will not be accomplished, until later in the project.

This type of planning must be continuously revisited throughout the project, much as the waves continuously pound the shore.

Rolling wave planning is used more frequently on projects like creation of a software application within the Information technology industry and less often on construction projects within the construction industry where unknowns may cost millions of dollars.

Besides rolling wave planning, work packages can also be decomposed into schedule activities with the help of tools such as decomposition, activity templates and expert judgement.

Thus, each work package is decomposed into one or more schedule activities. All of the schedule activities that need to be performed in a project are compiled into an activity list.

The activity list is created in the Define activities process .The activity list is the basis for all five time management processes viz. Sequence Activities, Estimate Activity Resources, Estimate Activity Durations, Develop Schedule and Control Schedule. Also, additional information about the schedule activities is stored in the activity attributes.

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