Why Defining Deliverables & Scope is Just as Important as Planning the Work

Why Defining Deliverables & Scope is Just as Important as Planning the Work

Why Defining Deliverables & Scope is Important

In order to measure plan realism and achievability more effectively, one must differentiate between three indices: deliverables, scope and work.

As we expend time, effort and money on project execution, we are simply converting work into deliverables. If project execution is 100 percent efficient and to plan, then this conversion of work results in an as-expected asset (deliverable) at the end of the project. If, however, execution is less than 100 percent, then additional time and money is spent to achieve deliverable completion. The net result is that we end up spending more time and money than planned.

What does it mean to have scope and work aligned?  Take a small leap of faith with me and let’s assume we have a deliverable that we are going to value in terms of “effort.” The “effort value” we place on this deliverable is 365 days. That means whatever this deliverable is, I believe it is worth 365 days of effort. I even build a plan that illustrates how those 365 days will be expended in the production of this deliverable. If I got the plan right, then there is balance between the value I placed on the deliverables and the work required to actually produce them. But if I got it wrong because I didn’t account for the work in the right manner, then there is imbalance and something must be changed to regain alignment. A decision must be made. Either I revise my assumption that the value of the deliverable is worth 365 days, or find efficiency in my plan to bring the work back in alignment with my original 365 day “effort value.”

The frequency at which projects overrun (both time and cost) suggests that there is regular imbalance between what gets included in a plan and what it actually takes to produce the deliverable. Achieving alignment between scope and work before execution begins increases our chances of maintaining this balance during execution. How do we do this with InEight Basis? Keep reading to find out.

Why the Traditional WBS Approach Doesn’t Really Work

Historically, project scheduling tools have done a poor job of providing for this. Yes, tools such as Primavera and MS Project have the concept of WBS versus activities, but where they fall short is how they relate to each other. WBS elements are really nothing more than summaries, containers or groupings of activities. As the span of the children’s activities expands and shrinks, the WBS does the same accordingly. WBS elements in tools today aren’t really representing scope or deliverables, but instead are just summarizing total elapsed time for a group of activities.

Takeaway: A WBS element in a CPM tool is really just a container of activities – it is not truly representing scope or deliverables.

A Better (not different) Approach

Let’s walk through the evolution of building a project schedule.

Step 1: Define High-Level Deliverables

Define scope segments. This is essentially the definition of your WBS structure.

Project Planning

Figure 1 – WBS Definition

Step 2: Time Phase Your Deliverables

Without yet defining detailed activities or logic, define estimated timescales or windows for when you expect deliverables to be required by. These timeline placeholders can be moved around with respect to time and elongated as needed to represent estimated durations. Let’s call these placeholders your Basis Breakdown Structure (BBS). Each Basis Breakdown element carries a target finish date that we call our Basis Date. The Basis Date is the date we expect or would like each of the deliverables to be completed by.

In our example below, we can see when each of the core Engineering, Procurement and Construction deliverables are expected to be completed (top down planning). This top-down plan becomes our schedule. This is a scope or deliverable-driven plan. At this point no activities or work have been detailed out. Each BBS element carries a corresponding target completion date as indicated by the orange target markers. These are the dates that the team will subsequently strive for in the next phase of schedule development.

Phased Breakdown of Deliverables

Figure 2 – Time Phased Basis Breakdown Structure (BBS)

Step 3: Flesh Out the Schedule Using a Bottoms-Up Approach with Activities and Logic.

Once the time phased WBS has been established (our Basis plan and BBS structure), then we can start to backfill the details of the plan with work and logic links – the “how are we going to execute” piece of planning.

As we detail out a Basis breakdown element (shown as a hollow grey bar in figure 2) with activities and logic links, the BBS element becomes a true WBS (solid black bar) – that is, it then inherits the timescale of the detailed work (activities) like a traditional WBS would.

What is important to note here, is that the original Basis date for the WBS remains. In the example below, we can see that the procurement scope has been fleshed out into two sequential activities (“Long Leads” and “Off the Shelf”). The sequencing and combined durations of these two activities result in the overall procurement WBS blowing through the original 30 Dec 2017 Basis date to now being 31 Jan 2018. The Basis date has been breached. Not only that, but the sequential logic through to construction means that the Basis dates for Phase 1 and Phase 2 of construction have now also been breached resulting in a later than anticipated plan. Remember our original example? We now have misalignment or imbalance in our plan. This is not uncommon. The difference is we have complete visibility into that imbalance so we can address it before execution begins!

Project Planning

Figure 3 – Bottoms-Up Meets Top-Down

Takeaway: In InEight Basis a WBS element still behaves exactly as we would expect and consistent with our traditional scheduling tools BUT with the introduction of the Basis Date that is tied to the top down plan (the original BBS before it became a true WBS element), we are able to track how well aligned our scope and our work are– a visible indication as to how achievable our plan is!

Step 4: Baseline Your Schedule and Execute!

Once you have established whether your work aligns (or not) with the Basis dates, you can then make informed decisions as to whether you:

  • Accept there is misalignment: A potentially bad approach setting yourself up for failure.
  • Adjust the Basis dates to fit the planned work: In effect, letting the stakeholder know that their expectations cannot be met and that instead you have a newly proposed timeline. Risky approach in terms of upsetting the project stakeholder.
  • Adjust the work to align with the Basis dates and stakeholder expectations: This can be achieved through various techniques such as adding additional resources or schedule compression techniques. For this to be most effective, you should look to canvas the expert opinion of your discipline leads and domain experts through what we call consensus-based planning.

Takeaway: The plan needs to align scope and work – if it doesn’t, then it is either setting false expectations with the stakeholder – or – is executing under a pretense that a misaligned schedule is achievable.


The concept of scope and work within project management is far from new. However, proper consideration of these as separate (yet aligned) entities is, without question, a solid step forward from traditional CPM planning that, while arguably effective, doesn’t have a great track record for helping us build realistic plans. If we don’t establish proper agreed-upon goals or targets, then it is hard to know where to shoot.

The concepts of Basis dates and Basis Breakdown Structures (BBS) are not a diversion from the fundamentals of CPM scheduling – instead, it is building on this technique, making it an even better vehicle for establishing sound and realistic project  .

InEight Basis construction management software is built on the concepts described above. Added to this, InEight Basis is also a scheduling platform designed for interactive planning and consensus-based scheduling.

About the author:  Dr. Dan Patterson founded BASIS which InEight acquired in 2018 and re-branded as InEight Basis. Since becoming a member of InEight’s executive leadership team, Dan is focused on expanding his vision of creating next generation planning and scheduling software solutions for the construction industry.  

As a globally recognized project analytics thought leader and software entrepreneur, Dan has more than 20 years of experience building project management software companies. Throughout his career, Dan has focused on solution innovation and project management, including advanced scheduling, risk management, project analytics and AI.

Dan is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI). He attended the University of Nottingham in the UK where he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a PhD in construction management.