Project Practitioners > He Know's What He's Doing!

He Know's What He's Doing!

By Morley Selver, P.Eng IPMA B

At a recent workshop I was going over the Work Breakdown Structure and the need break the scope down into more manageable packages. One of the attendees had a question about one of his projects. He was managing a small project that was upgrading some instrumentation at four separate locations. The design work was supposed to be the same at all four locations. When he got the project it was bundled into one package. The question was, since the work was the same, it did not appear to be any big deal to have one package so, was it necessary to break something like that up into work packages?

My suggestion was to break the work down into four separate packages for the following reason:

  • Budgets
  • Cost control 
  • Construction


You may not know it, but each of the locations will have a budget where they commit funds to the overall project. The intent for the project, in this cases, is to take the total cost and divide by four with equal amounts to each location. That sounds like a good plan, but it seldom works out that way. There is always a problem with a least one of the locations. When the costs starts getting out of site because of one location, is it fair to split the cost amongst all locations? You can bet, if the original budget commitment gets exceeded, the locations will want to know why. As the project manager what do you tell them? We had problems at Location X but we were not keeping track so you have to pay for those problems. Not a good answer is it? By using separate work packages you can keep track of the costs at each location,  justify any increase in costs, and collect cost data for future work. All locations get charged based on what actually took place plus you look like you know what you are doing.

Cost Control

Although the design appears to be the same at each facility, one never knows if  one  location will be different and there is always the chance that it will happen. By breaking it into four packages,  if there is a difference, you can capture the costs in the design office and in the field.  Since  cost control is progress monitoring, (Earned Value Analysis) you can measure progress for each location, rather than one big package. If you have four locations and one is giving you trouble, how do you measure overall progress when you have one package? With four separate packages, you can measure progress on each package and can address issues for each specific location. If Earned Value Analysis indicates problems at one location, you can address it specifically. By breaking the project down you have better control which means you look like you know what you are doing.


With four locations, you could us one contractor for all work or separate it into four packages. By breaking the project into four packages you improve your control over the issuing of construction packages and site construction.  It now allows you to use as many or as few contractors as you need without too much effort. You can also track construction progress on a location by location basis. Breaking down the work into four packages gives you more control over issuing drawings, awarding contracts, controlling the schedule, and it looks like you know what you are doing. 

At the end of the day, even for small projects, you should break down the work into packages. You can not predict the future, you never know what is going to happen. Breaking the project down into work packages gives you more control over your project, and it looks like you know what you are doing.


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Related Links
You don't have to go all the way to Earned Value to track project costs. Our Cost Tracking examples provide some ideas that track costs vs budget without a lot of overhead. Our Burning Question on cost tracking provides some additional ideas. If you're working in an industry that requires or encourages EVM, consider listening to Carl Pritchard's podcast introducing the topic (1 PDU).

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