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Project Management Practitioner: Work Package Authorization

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By Edited Aug 6, 2016 0 0

Let's start with the bottom-line up-front: The Work Package Authorization (WPA) is a combination of a work package and the work authorization. Sounds simple, right? Work Packages (WP) are found at the lowest level of a work breakdown structure (WBS) or project breakdown structure (PBS); it may be a single activity or task, or a collection of activities, tasks and to-do's that lead to the completion or creation of a major deliverable or unit (sub-deliverable or element) of a minor deliverable.


With WPs, a Project Manager (PM) can determine what associated material, resources, and personnel costs and time is needed to perform the work. This assignment of costs and time allows the PM to perform a bottom-up analysis of all project/product materials, resources, costs and time required to complete the entire project. Furthermore, the cumulative data establishes the project performance measures baseline. All the individual work packages and their cumulative values assigned to each deliverable, provide the information needed to develop a project schedule.


The Work Authorization (WA) is the formalizing of the permission or "authorization" to go forward with the work package. It may be a simple email or a written formatted work order with signatures acknowledging and approving the execution of the associated activity(s) and tasks. This topic will be addressed again later in this article.

The WPA established the critical elements of the allocated budget and duration for inclusion in the project schedule; and furthermore, it provides the baseline cost, time-duration, schedule baseline data that is used to evaluate and track actual costs, time, and resource expenditures as the project progresses. This information is vital when using performance analysis techniques like the Earned Value Method (more on this in a future article). In this way, the Project Manager (PM) can make assessments at various points as the project progresses regarding the performance of the project against the baseline data; such as, whether the project is ahead of schedule, behind schedule, on schedule, on budget, over budget or under budget.

How big and how detailed? A WP does not have a size or content limit. As stated before, it can consist of a single activity or several activities. The level of detail is driven by the desired degree of control or what is practical and efficient. Avoid having a combination of activities within the same WP that have differing dependencies or incompatible relationships. This means that if a single work package contains multiple work activities that are not all related or contain tasks that are individually independent and, at the same time, having differing dependencies to other unique WPs, it will make scheduling, managing and accessing progress a bit more difficult than is necessary. Try to keep the WPs simple and stand-alone.

Old Terms and New Terms: Now let's establish a base-point of knowledge for some additional terms that we will use throughout this discussion: Deliverable, Sub-deliverable, Elements, and Work.

  • A Deliverable is "Any unique and verifiable product, result, or capability to perform a service that is required to be produced to complete a process, phase, or project." (PMBOK, Pg 537) A deliverable may or may not be further reducible into smaller pieces.
  • A Sub-deliverable is an item that is the result of a further breakdown of a major deliverable; usually, it is the first level down from its primary deliverable. Additionally, a sub-deliverable has the characteristic of being further reducible into deliverable element(s).
  • An Element is an item or part of a deliverable or sub-deliverable that, usually, cannot be reduced further without establishing the work activities, tasks, or to-do items necessary to achieve the element, sub-deliverable or deliverable.
  • And, as to the word "Work", it represents the activities, tasks and to-do items necessary to achieve the deliverable, sub-deliverables, and or elements.


How do we create the WPA?

It starts with questions. How do we make this deliverable, sub-deliverable or element happen? It's a matter of an "action"; at least one or more. What are the actions needed in terms of work activities, tasks, or "to-do" items necessary to achieve the desired result? What is the scope of work, the standards and criteria that establish the correct accomplishment of the WP? Remember that the successful accomplishment or completion of the content of a WP requires that all work activities, design specifications, all features, functions, and other scope and quality criteria are achieved. After the work is identified it's time to think about resources, and all actions and activities require resources, even if it's only one person.

More terms: The Doer, the Accountable Agent, the Resources, the Time/Duration and Cost:

  • The Doer: There is always at least one human resource - the doer - in the WP. The "doer" is the person or persons assign to perform the activity or task. Identify who will be doing the work; list everyone that is assigned to that task - unless it's impractical to do so. If it is unrealistic to list everyone by name, identify the number/quantity of workers assigned to the activity. It's not uncommon in large work packages to name the unit or team, department, group, etc., along with the identity of the person-in-charge of that work group - the Accountable Agent.
  • The Accountable Agent: Every action, as in a work activity, task, or to-do item must include an identification of "who" will perform the action and who is "accountable" for its completion. This accountable agent, per se, is the individual that is responsible to ensure the work is completed; someone whom the PM and the sponsor can hold responsible for the task's accomplishment. This does not necessarily mean the person performing the work activity; although it might be the same person. Ask yourself: Who do I go after to make sure the job, activity, task, is done and done correctly? The term point-of-contact (POC) is often used in these cases.
  • Resources: Start with identifying the "non-human resources": these are the materials, supplies, and equipment, anything that will be required to create, build, assemble, and perform the activity. Consider anything that will result in direct costs, indirect costs, and incidental costs as they relate to the non-human resources. Even the simplest activity, task or to-do item will require at one material item or equipment item, even if it's only a personal computer. Don't forget to include any equipment that has to be leased or rented. Subcontracted work to a vendor is also considered a resource. The WPA can easily become a Statement Of Work (SOW) for bidding-out the work.
  • All actions or activities require time. Time is relative to duration. Duration - the amount of time needed to complete the task/action/activity etc. Where do I get the Time/Duration and Cost data? There are many ways and sources for gathering duration data: subject matter experts, previous project results containing similar work packages, line-managers or foreman, team chiefs, when a business or organization performs many projects with similar traits, they may have a template for like-type work activities and tasks. In any case, you the PM, will have to evaluate the data collected against your particular project requirements and how availability of resources before you establish a planned time/duration number.
  • Cost and Time/Duration Estimates must include projections in terms of: Best Case, Worst Case, and Most Probable. Start with the "most probable" estimates in both cost and time/duration; then develop a worst case scenario (be realistic) with associated worst case cost and time/duration possibilities; finally, develop a best case scenario with its own set of cost and time/duration possibilities. The most probable data will be used in the development of the project schedule; however, the worst case and best case data will feed into the risk and contingency planning for the project.


Using a Sample of WP taken from previous article on the Work Breakdown Structure. In the small sample below we have identified three WPs that are required for the creation of the element "Office Walls."

  • 4.0 Building Internal Structure {Deliverable}
  • 4.1 Office Spaces (8) {Sub-deliverable}
  • 4.1.1 Office Walls {Element}
  • [Work Package/Task] Frame offices in accordance with the Design and Specification Document (DSD).
  • [Work Package/Task] Install Drywall in accordance with the DSD.
  • [Work Package/Task] Paint walls. Paint colors are listed in the DSD for

Let's take the first work package shown above and fill-in the blanks.

WP Frame offices in accordance with the DSD.

  1. Description: Assemble and complete all interior framing of walls (approximately 1000 linear feet) for the interior offices (x8), Meeting Rooms (x2), Break Room (x1), Restrooms (x2), Reception area (x1), and Main Work Room (x1). DSD includes the architectural and structural requirements for the interior walls. At the completion of the framing, contact the PM, the project architect and the structural engineer for inspection and verification of work completion. Follow-on task will include electrical rough-in work package.
  2. Point of Contact = {Accountable Agent}: Mike Smith, Team Chief
  3. Human Resource(s) = {The Doer}: Carpentry team members: Sarah, Mike, Benny, and Tara.
  4. Resources = {materials, supplies, and equipment}: Wood framing materials (450 - 2"x4"x8" wood, 10 pounds of 2 ½ in. nails, 10 pounds of 3 in. nails, 300 count 3 in. wood screws, circular saw, table saw, miter box, hand saws, hammers, hand drills, assorted and other hand tools.
  5. Schedule Requirements = {Time/Duration}: 4 ½ work days (32-36 hours).
  6. Cost = Building Material Costs $4,000, Tools and equipment $500, Personnel Costs $4,300.
  • Most probable total cost = $8,800.
  • Worst Case: additional materials cost $500 + added tools and equipment costs $100 + additional personnel costs $540 = $1140 added cost and adding one full work day (8 hours) or a total worst case of $9,940 with a duration of 5 ½ days.
  • Best Case: Reduced personnel costs - $300 or total best case of $8,500.

As you can see, with the exception of the authority approval, we've essentially created a mini-project charter for the internal project team performing the work, or, if desired and needed, we have the information needed to create a SOW to be used in contracting-out to job to a vendor. However, if this is to be contracted out, don't include the worst case and best case figures: only use the most probable information as a cost projection for evaluating bids. The contractor only receives the work requirements and chooses how they will accomplish the task. Your (PM) most probable, worst and best case information helps you evaluate the bids that are offered for the job. The bid that best matches your estimates is probably the bid to select.

We now have our performance measurement data for this particular WP. When this is same process is done for all the WPs, and any isolated ancillary tasks necessary for all deliverables, we have a bottom-up analysis of the full work breakdown structure. The total of all the related data should equal the planned project cost and time/duration requirements. I need to qualify that statement slightly, as you may know that when scheduling a WP and sequencing them with other WPs based on their dependencies, often times, there will be some added lead and lag time requirements (covered in a separate article). Sometimes a WP has to have lead time built in prior to its scheduled start time for one reason or another; sometimes a task may have lag and slack time after its completion, or during the scheduled time, as a result of awaiting other WP completion or resourcing requirements. All of these essentially dead schedule times are not negative issues; they should, however, have been planned for in the original schedule or in the risk and contingency plan.


Work Authorization Format

The final piece of the WPA is the work authorization (WA). This is simply adding a work execution approval. In many respects, this WA completes the WP as a mini-project charter. The WA may simply be an email authority statement notifying all parties that a WP is authorized to begin, or it may be a formal signed document. Here are the suggested and common authority lines: Reviewer's approval (Architect, Engineer, Designer, or Subject Matter Expert), Project Manager's approval, and then the Contract/Funding Authority's approval; often times there is a separate persons who must authorize expenditure of money. Even if you choose to use an email, it can be routed through each authority figure for concurrent approvals and comments.

Here now is our completed Work Package Authorization:

WP Frame offices in accordance with the DSD.

  1. Description: Assemble and complete all interior framing of walls (approximately 1000 linear feet) for the interior offices (x8), meeting rooms (x2), break room (x1), restrooms (x2), reception area (x1), and main work room (x1). DSD includes the architectural and structural requirements for the interior walls. Additional Instructions: At the completion of the framing contact the PM, the project architects and the structural engineer for inspection and verification of work completion. Follow-on task will include electrical rough-in work package.
  2. Point of Contact: Mike Smith, Team Chief
  3. Workers: Carpentry team members: Sarah, Mike, Benny, and Tara.
  4. Resources: Wood framing materials (450 - 2"x4"x8' wood, 10 pounds of 2 ½ in. nails, 10 pounds of 3 in. nails, 300 count 3 in. wood screws, circular saw, table saw, miter box, hand saws, hammers, hand drills, assorted and other hand tools.
  5. Schedule Requirements = {Time/Duration}: 4 ½ work days (32-36 hours).
  6. Cost = Building Material Costs $4,000, Tools and equipment $500, Personnel Costs $4,300. Total Planned Cost = $8,800.
  7. Architect Approval/Reviewer: Mary Burgess: Mary Burgess, PE, July 1, 2010.
  8. Project Manager's Approval: Bill Franks, PMP, July 2, 2010
  9. Contract/Funding Approval: Aaron Spriggs, Financing and Procurement Office, July 5, 2010.

Your WPA is now a stand-alone work order.

Final Word

Later, in separate articles yet to be published, I'll explain the role of cost and duration estimates for project schedule development; how WPs & activities are used to determine duration, dependencies and sequencing to develop the project schedule; and how risk and contingency planning is developed and used. I look forwarded to seeing you back here at the Project Management Practitioner Course.



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  1. Project Management Institute A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK), 5th Edition. Newtown Square: Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013.

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