Work Packages: A Brief History

Effective construction project task management can be accomplished by grouping tasks into work packages. But what exactly is work packaging and what is its benefit to engineering and construction firms? In this article we discuss some of the history of work packages as well as some of the practical applications.

Defining Work Packages

Work Packages (WPs) are the smallest unit of organization when planning a construction project and the lowest part of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), a topic we’ve covered in other articles. In order to build a work package, one needs to have a deliverable in mind, which can vary from package to package. Within each work package, there are a group of activities or tasks that complete the package. A work package is a project within the project with a scope of work, safety & quality requirements identified, budget and time frame established, and identification of resource needs to complete the WP as planned.

With this kind of complexity, software such as Trestles Labor Management System (TLMS®), can simplify and improve the process of creating well planned WPs that support the master schedule and ensures the crews have what they need to execute the work safely, efficiently, and on-time. Optimizing TLMS, daily production goals are established for each tasks and the system displays daily productivity and planning vs. actual progress comparisons. To see how TLMS handles work packages, request a demo here.

History of Work Packages

Where did this methodology come from and why has it been so influential? The history of WPs coincides with the history of WBS, which was established as a process in the 1950s with the US Department of Defense. The original name of the concept was the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and it started out as a way to efficiently construct missile systems.

In the 1960s it grew more widespread as it became a requirement for all contractors who worked with the Department of Defense. Construction as an industry became some of the earliest adopters of WBS, most likely due to a need to comply with government standards. We would suggest, supported by Construction Industry Institute (CII) research and adoption of Advanced Work Packaging as a “Best Practice”, engineers and contractors will see performance improvements if WBS definition and Work Package Management become even more commonplace and standard among small organizations.

Benefits of Work Packages

Today work packages in the context of a work breakdown structure exist throughout many industries. It makes up a central feature of the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) because it has been shown to provide an efficient means for managing projects. Some of the benefits are:

  • Simultaneous work - Work packages allow for simultaneous work to be done on different components of a project in parallel by multiple teams. Each team follows the tasks defined for the work package and completes them by the specified deadline.

  • Seamless integration - Because of the way that planning is done up front, once crews have completed their individual work packages, the entire project can come together seamlessly.

  • Controlling Costs - Costs can be controlled because they are added up at the micro level. They can be easily monitored and changed to avoid macro level surprises.

  • Using software, like TLMS, optimizes the use of work packages because it connects information in your WBS hierarchies with incredible ease, eliminating hours of work.


Hopefully this article will clear up some of the confusion around Work Packages. As we at Trestles have said, “Big jobs are just a lot of little jobs.” A WBS for a large EPC project can be quite complex, with hundreds of Work Packages whereas a smaller contractor may have a project that only requires one or two WPs. In either case, the crew performance will improve if there is a well thought-out plan broken down into tasks and they have everything they need to be successful.

Learn more about Advanced Work Packaging as a Best Practice Here