PRINCE2 and PMBOK: Product vs Work Package

Help for the confused PMP

Odoo image and text block

PRINCE2 and PMBOK discussions are always part of our courses in Canada. At the end of class this week, I asked students to tell me one thing that stuck in their minds from class.

One PMP in the class said “I have to remember the difference between PRODUCT and WORK PACKAGE.” He continued on to say that it was primarily the differences in the definition of work package. “Product, Product, Product” was his chant. He understood it but has been so used to using the phrase "work package.".



PRINCE2 and PMBOK definitions

Let’s start with the definitions from the “good books” of PRINCE2 and PMBOK: In the 5th Edition of the PMBOK, the Glossary defines a Work Package as “the work defined at the lowest level of the work breakdown structure for which cost and duration can be estimated and managed.” In the Scope knowledge area, work package is further explained: “...can be used to group the activities where work is scheduled and estimated, monitored and controlled. ... work refers to work products or deliverables that are the result of activity and not the activity itself.” Translation: A Work Package represents a Product or Deliverable, a tangible or intangible thing that needs to be created. In PRINCE2 – the term Product is defined as: “An input or output, whether tangible or intangible, than can be described in advance, created and tested.” PRINCE2 has two types of products – management products and specialist products.

PRINCE2 and PMBOK differences

Based on the above – the two terms Work Package (in PMBOK) and Product (In PRINCE2) are interchangeable. But it starts to get a bit confusing when PRINCE2 uses the phrase work package in a related but different way. In PRINCE2, a work package is defined as: “The set of information relevant to the creation of one or more products.” The PRINCE2 work package will contain a description of the work, the product description(s), details of any constraints on production, and confirmation of the agreement between the Project Manager and the person or Team Manager who is to implement the Work Package that the work can be done within the constraints. This PRINCE2 definition of work package is very similar in nature to the Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary in PMBOK which is defined as “...a document that provides detailed deliverable, activity and scheduling information about each component in the WBS.” With this in mind, the totality of the work package PLUS the WBS dictionary in PMBOK’s world is in fact the same as the work package in PRINCE2’s world.

Using the PRINCE2 Work package

In PRINCE2, the work package is used to control the authorization of work to the team members or team managers. This includes those team managers who may be external to the organization and who are doing work by way of a contract. Their statement of work and terms/conditions in the contract will be heavily driven by the contents of the work package. Think back to times when you gave only verbal instructions or a few sentences in an email to describe the work needed from the team member or team manager. Very often assumptions are made on both sides about time & cost related to the work and the quality that is required is often left to those who are creating the deliverables/products. It quite often leads to a product that in the eyes of the supplier is complete, but when it is under review the review doesn’t like it, or thinks there should be some additional features, functions or specifications that were never written down. But, whatever your organization calls it, the information in PRINCE2’s work package or PMBOK’s WBS Dictionary is critical to proper planning, monitoring and controlling of the delivery of products or deliverables. In the end, PRINCE2 is ok with you calling this information whatever you want. That is listed in Chapter 19 under tailoring. As always, PRINCE2 and PMBOK complement each other. The use of the term work package has a bit of “two nations, one language” to it but, with a bit of thought and practice, the different uses of the terms can be easily understood so that you get the best of both PRINCE2 and PMBOK