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Two Minutes Tuesday #9 Work Packages in Erasmus Plus– how to do it right

The new Erasmus + deadline is approaching.

Have you had a look at the new application? (You can download the template forms here). In short, the new project application of the Erasmus Plus 2022 call for proposals has some new features. Some sections change, but the main difference to the previous form is the introduction of work packages (WPs).

As you know, for a long time innovation projects within Strategic Partnerships were characterised by the presence of so-called “Intellectual Outputs” (IOs), which were the main tangible results of a project.

From now on, in the application form, project activities will be grouped into work packages. The new application form provides for a maximum of 5 work packages, including transversal activities such as dissemination activities. This will obviously change the way you structure and design your project plan.

In this article, we will describe what a work package is and how to design it into your application form.

Probably, most of you have already used work packages to describe the project plan even though the application did not require them.

But, let’s start from the beginning. What is a work package?

A work package is a building block of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) that allows you to define the steps necessary for the completion of the work. As such, a work package can be thought of as a sub-project (or a group of related tasks within a project), which, when combined with other work package units, forms the completed project.

It is commonly known and agreed upon that breaking down work into manageable pieces (work packages) is a process that helps you to design, manage and monitor your project effectively. Also, it allows partnerships to work simultaneously or sequentially on different tasks of the project. Each team follows the steps defined in the work package plan and completes them by the specified deadline. When all teams have finished their individual work packages, the whole project comes together and the objectives have been achieved.

Depending on the kind of tasks, work packages can be focused on the tasks that will lead to the main project’s results, or they can be also concerned with the management and implementation of the project.

Key elements of a work package

As a work package can be considered as a sub-project, the key elements of a work package resemble those of a project. They include the following:

1. Work package objectives

Each work package aims to achieve one or more of the project objectives. The description of the work package should start with the statement of those project objective(s) which the work package aims to achieve. As for the project in general, the work package objectives define the methods, actions, and evaluation of the work package outputs and outcomes.

2. Description of activities

To achieve the work package objectives, a series of activities need to be undertaken by the project team. The work package plan should describe these activities in a comprehensive, logically structured and clear way.

Specifically, attention should be paid to:

– the link between the objectives, methods and activities, and  results (outputs and outcomes) of the work package

– the link with the objectives, methods, and activities, and results (outputs and outcomes) for the project in general.

3. Timetable with milestones

All activities to be undertaken in the work package must be presented in a realistic timetable, taking into account the fact that some activities must be completed before others may start. In most projects, months are used as the unit for the timing of the activities (e.g. Gantt chart).

In addition to the earliest start date and latest completion date of the work package, the timetable should also define clear milestones. A milestone is a scheduled event signifying an important decision-making moment or the achievement of a key result, allowing the next phase of the work to begin. Milestones can be used as project checkpoints to validate how the project is progressing, thus allowing proper monitoring of the project implementation. 

Milestones and indicators (or key performance indicators) are distinctly different elements. Milestones are sometimes referred to as indicators in terms of indicating a point in time of the project however indicators are used to measure performance; milestones are used to track progress, time management or mark when a new activity will begin. So let’s say that indicators are measures (both qualitative and quantitative) that allow you to track progress towards achieving the changes you wish to achieve.

4. Results (outputs and outcomes)

The activities of the work package should result in specific outputs, which are the products or services resulting from the activities and linked to the objectives. The work package plan should clearly state which outputs and outcomes are foreseen. Certain work package outputs may take the form of deliverables. A deliverable is a physical output related to a specific objective of the project, e.g. a report, publication, newsletter, tool, website, or conference. They need to be specified and listed in the work package plan.

5. Roles and responsibilities

In collaborative projects, work packages are usually divided between the organisations which collaborate in the project. Although different organisations can contribute to a work package, it is important that one organisation is in charge (WP Leader). The work package plan should make clear which organisation is responsible for the work package. Furthermore, it should be specified which activities (or tasks) will be carried out by whom and with whom (Leading organisation or Task Leader), and who in the organisation will oversee the completion of the work package. This may be a manager, supervisor, team leader, or a designated team member.

6. Relationship to other work packages

Breaking down a project into different work packages is a way to manage the steps that are necessary for the completion of the project. Therefore, it is important to ensure the integration of the work of each work package within the broader project framework. The relationship of work packages to other work packages can be made explicit by stating how the actions build on the results of other work packages, and how the outputs and outcomes will be used by others. The interrelation between the work packages can also be made explicit via a Gantt chart.

Having understood the roles of the work packages in Erasmus +, let us turn to our top tips for structuring them successfully.

Tip #1: Linking the work packages back to the general project’s objectives

The work packages should be derived from the project’s description, which in turn is derived from the project’s objectives.

When the time comes to define the project plan and lay down the work packages structure, it is important to also make it clear to the evaluator how this work plan is actually serving the project’s objectives. 

The best place to address this is at the beginning of the Work Package section (“What are the specific objectives of this work package and how do they contribute to the general objectives of the project?”). The way to do this is by linking each work package (or a combination of work packages) to the relevant objective(s) of the project. 

When doing so, make sure that the work plan presentation is clear and smooth with no gaps or unwanted overlaps. This will convey a very powerful message to the evaluator as well as a positive impression overall about your project.

Tip #2: Representing collaborative work in work packages

Work packages reflect the collaborative work envisaged in the project and the structure of the work package table requires listing the partners participating in the work package. 

Therefore, it is important to make sure that partners fully understand what is expected of them in this regard and in the light of the project’s “big picture”. During this process, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Collaboration between partners is an important added value of this type of project. Please note that this reflection on the added value of collaboration should also be presented in the “Partnership and cooperation arrangements” section.
  • The work plan and the structure of the work package must make perfect sense to the evaluators (and to you, for the implementation phase going forward).
  • Avoid redundancies, overlaps, and gaps between activities/tasks within a given work package, and between different work packages.
  • Use work packages and activity/task assignments to partners within work packages to express workflow and collaborative work. Use it wisely and clearly in a way that will allow evaluators to follow your logic.

Tip #3: Link the work-plan to the profiles of the partners

The profile description of the partners is provided in the section Participating Organisations”. These partner profiles include both general information alongside relevant skills and expertise of key staff/persons involved in the project. This information is essential for the evaluators when assessing the feasibility of the work plan, the personnel involved in the execution of the project, and the added value of the collaborative work.

Therefore, when drafting the work packages and work plan, we would recommend updating this information accordingly.

Verify that the skills and expertise of key staff involved in the project correlate to the expected activities/tasks.

Tip #4: Work packages are the primary budget justification

The work presented in the work package is the primary justification for the requested budget. It is imperative that the work plan will be well designed in order for the evaluators to properly assess the budget request, especially now that the budget is allocated on a lump sum basis. Investing in this properly will also be beneficial to you and your partners during the execution phase.

The basic information provided in the work packages about the budget request is the person-months allocation per partner in each of the work packages that you can describe in the section Please explain how the grant amount attributed to this work package constitutes a cost-effective use of the budget”.

To begin with, the estimated human effort by work package can be calculated as follows (indicative method): if 1 year = 220 (working) days, then 1 month = 220/12 = 18.33 (working) days. So 24 full working days for one person would be 24/18.33 = 1.31 person‑months.

To calculate the total person‑months, multiply the proportion of your effort associated with the project by the number of months of the appointment.  

Of course, this person-months allocation must be well correlated to the work presented in the work package and it must make sense to the evaluators.

We would recommend improving this presentation by providing the evaluators with as much detail as possible, e.g. by indicating the allocation of person-months at activity/task level, in addition to presenting this information only at the work package level.

In turn, the evaluators will have a better picture that will enable them to better assess the plan. We know from experience that this will probably leave a great impression on the evaluators. They will respect your efforts in producing such a higher resolution of planning.

Doing this right ensures the budget estimations of the partners and the overall work plan will be more accurate. Needless to say that this is good for both evaluation and implementation purposes.