As project managers, we often manage a plethora of projects that vary in size and complexity. This means that it is not only imperative to understand how to put together a project plan, but the details of how to do so, including defining and sequencing activities. As defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI), Sequence Activities is "the process of identifying and documenting relationships among the project activities. The key benefit of this process is that it defines the logical sequence of work to obtain the greatest efficiency given all project constraints" (PMBOK, 2013). It's key to understand what the activity is and in what order it needs to be performed. Which, interestingly enough, is how many of us approach planning of our daily routine.
The first thing I do when defining activities for a project is similar to how I plan my day. It starts with an activity list. The activity list is all of the things that need to happen to get the job done or in the case of my daily routine, what I would like to accomplish before I go to bed. The more formal definition being that these schedule activities represent the effort needed to complete the work packages. Once I have defined a list of activities for my project or day, I look it over to make sure: 1) I did not miss any activities, 2) I understand exactly what each activity is, 3) I break down larger activities into smaller sub-tasks, and 4) I am not over-allocating myself or others.
Each activity should be small enough to be estimated, managed, monitored and controlled.
This to-do list is an essential input for building your daily schedule. It provides a scope for all that you want to accomplish in your day and the level of effort required to check things off your list. In the same way we create a to-do list, if your activity list for a project involves effort from the project team, it is important as project managers to include the team's input in defining the activity list so that the estimates are more accurate.
Once these schedule activities are defined, they are sequenced in the order in which they must be performed. For example, my daily morning routine consists of activities in this order: wake up, go to the gym, eat breakfast, take a shower, dress up, and drive to work. The activities can be done out of sequence, but what order makes the most sense when mapping out the start to finish to my day? My preference is to get sweaty with a gym workout prior to showering and getting ready for work. Others prefer to leave their workout for the end of the day. Sequence the activities in the order that makes the most sense for you.
However, there are some examples where hard logic comes into play. Take renovating a house. You cannot hang portraits on the wall until the paint is done drying. I mean, you can, but who really wants to ruin a good paint job? In this example, there is a specific order or sequence to which the activities must be completed in. Same goes for project work. A feasibility report cannot be released to a client without the following work being completed in this sequence: concept design, packaging dimensions, bill of materials, then initial cost estimate. Just think about how sequencing activities can change up the way you look at your to-do list or vice versa, how it can help you prioritize the tasks to be done on your project plan.
I encourage everyone to practice defining and sequencing activities as part of your daily routine. As it does for project managers when we break down a scope of work, I promise it will provide some clarity to even your most daunting to-do lists. At the very least, you will get the satisfaction of checking things off your list as you go about your everyday life.