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What Is a Task? What Is an Activity

What Is a Task? What Is an Activity

Tasks and activities are frequently used interchangeably, causing some confusion. Unfortunately, there is no consensus within the software project management community for the relationship between activities and tasks. In some areas, activities are composed of tasks, and in others tasks are composed of activities. In our experience, activities have a higher order than tasks, and are primarily composed of tasks. Of course, what really matters is that the work is clearly defined for the team members, not what it is named.

As a lower factor in the hierarchy, tasks are relatively shorter in duration than activities, phases, projects, or programs. They are generally the lowest order of work element in a project, though various software project managers also describe subtasks as a further division.

There are several defining attributes of tasks and activities. Tasks generally are an assigned piece of work to be finished within a certain time period. Activities are often a grouping of tasks that can be carried out by one person or organizational unit, and/or that create a single work product. Descriptions of task and activity provided by Webster's are:

Task: a usually assigned piece of work often to be finished within a certain time; implies work imposed by a person in authority or an employer or by circumstance.

Activity: an organizational unit for performing a specific function; also: its function or duties.

Other authoritative definitions - from the PMBOK - are:

Activity: an element of work performed during the course of a project; an activity normally has an expected duration, expected cost, and expected resource requirements, and can be subdivided into tasks.

Task: a generic term for work that is not included in the work breakdown structure, but potentially could be a further decomposition of work by the individuals responsible for that work; also, the lowest level of effort on a project.

The big thing is that tasks mean anything tracked that is not in the WBS. It really refers to what a professional learned in school. This is why everything is not broken down into the baby steps taught in a computer programming textbook. For years, the industry has argued over whether a task is part of an activity or an activity is part of a task. The 2000 edition of the PMBOK makes that distinction clear.

So, for software project management, we will use the following definitions:

Task is a generic term for work that is not included in the work breakdown structure, but potentially could be a further decomposition of work by the individuals responsible for that work. Also, it is the lowest level of effort on a project.

And an activity is an element of work performed during the course of a project. An activity normally has an expected duration, expected cost, and expected resource requirements. Activities can be subdivided into tasks.



Tags

software project management, task, activity
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