Digital Leadership & Soft Skills

Project Workstreams. The mistake of “everyone does everything” on large projects

Published by Pavel Nakonechnyy on (updated: ) in Project Management.
Project Workstreams. The mistake of “everyone does everything” on large projects

I’m sure you are well aware of the concept of task decomposition. However, today I want to tell you about project team decomposition. Project team decomposition involves breaking down the project team into smaller, specialized groups or sub-teams, each with its own specific roles, responsibilities, and objectives, to effectively manage and execute the various aspects of the project.

Large projects often face the challenge of managing numerous people working over extended periods of time. This can lead to various issues, including the mistake of “everyone does everything.” This approach can result in serious risks, including planners leaving gaps in the project plan by failing to anticipate all the required activities, team members failing to carry out designated activities properly, and team members executing all tasks flawlessly but not knitting all the project pieces together at the end, leading to the project not delivering the intended results.

Some of the reasons why that approach is not viable are project communications and need for:

  1. informing everyone of all the findings and developments;
  2. having large-scale meetings discussing questions outside of one’s direct tasks, thus pointlessly spending one’s work capacity;
  3. slowing down decision-making.

Holding for “everyone does everything” approach for too long is deadly for the project even when we are talking about involvement of just a single team (all team members share tasks together) as it leads to:

  • participants feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information, meetings and perceived complexity;
  • the project moving very slow as each fact, each step, and each decision is socialized with every other team member;
  • decision-making (as small as choosing a stance of a particular department on some issue) becomes unreliable as it is spread very thin among large group of people.

That’s the moment when workstreams (sometimes named project streams) come to play. Workstreams break down large projects into smaller, highly focused parts with their own goals and objectives, making it easier to plan, monitor, and execute their activities.

A workstream is a way to divide and conquer large projects. Make sure you decompose both the tasks and workstreams enough for a reasonably sized team to handle it. A team too big can start from as little as 4 people, if none of them is designated responsible for the stream.

This small stream team must be able to repeatedly handle tasks together, sharing all the available information and visiting all the same meetings. In IT, a team of two analysts with the same role and skillset, being Maker and Checker, makes a perfect case to handle a stream involving other people temporarily when necessary. Then, you may add a third member who, for example, has more advanced technical knowledge and therefore creates benefit with his perspective.

When you choose to set up a workstream, make sure to:

  1. Define its objectives and goals.
  2. List workstream participants.
  3. Delegate responsibility over the stream to a single person.
  4. Establish communication processes between the stream and larger project team.
  5. Create a plan for integrating workstream’s deliverables back into the whole.

In conclusion, the mistake of “everyone does everything” on large projects can lead to serious risks and project failure. Utilizing workstreams, avoiding common project management mistakes, and learning from failed projects are essential aspects of managing large projects effectively.