Work Package vs Activity for PMP Exam

Work package vs activity for the PMP Exam

The terms “Work Package” and “Activity” are commonly by many project managers to refer to “the tasks to be performed in the project”, many would use these two terms interchangeably. However, for the PMP Exam, “Work Package” and “Activity” carry different meanings and should not be treated as the same.

Work Package vs Activity

  • Work Package: a work package is the lowest level element of the WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) through decomposition of the project scope in the “Create WBS” process.
    • The Work Package is the lowest level in the sense that meaningful estimation of cost and duration for the scope of work included can be achieved.
    • One Work Package can contain many activities which are to be performed by one or more project team members.
    • For Project Scope Management 
  • Activity: an activity is a small enough unit of work that needs to be carried out to fulfil the project scope.
    • The Work Package is further decomposed into activities (which are to be entered into the “Activity List”).
    • The activity list is to be used to develop the project schedule.
    • Every activity has a start and end day (duration), there may be some sort of logical relationship between the activities.
    • For Project Schedule Management

According to the PMBOK® Guide, there is no recommended or fixed way of how detailed the “Work Package” or the “Activity” need to be. The detail level should be suitable for the project in question to give meaning estimation and planning. This is one of the project tailoring areas a project manager is given the freedom to define.

Illustrated Example

The following are my “work packages” to be included in my PMP Exam prep (please note WBS and Work Packages would usually be based on the deliverable and intended outcomes):

  • Fulfil the Exam Registration Requirements
  • Revise the Exam Syllabus
  • Assess My Readiness
  • Take the Exam (and pass in the first try)

And the following are the activities under each work package of exam study:

  • Fulfil the Exam Registration Requirements
    1. Get 35 Contact Hours of Project Management Education with PM PrepCast™ (a podcast-type downloadable online course)
    2. Get enough project management experience
    3. Fill in the online registration form
    4. Pay the fee
    5. Respond to audit request (if required)
  • Revise the Exam Syllabus
    1. Read the PMBOK® Guide once
    2. Read Andy Crowe’s How to Pass the PMP Exam in First Try once
  • Assess My Readiness
    1. Try out online mock exam question banks
    2. Get over 70% for at least 2 full-length mock exams
  • Take the exam (and pass in the first try)
    1. Schedule the timeslot online through Prometric
    2. Get up early on the day
    3. Get to the Exam Centre 30 minutes early
    4. Take and pass the exam

As you can see, for each work package there are many activities. The work packages can give us an overview of what needs to be done (for scope estimation) while the activities can give us a detailed account of what is actually involved (for time estimation).


It is helpful to think of the following structure:

Project -> Project Phases -> Project Deliverables -> Work Packages -> Activities

  1. A project may contain many project phases.
  2. During each project phrases, some project deliverables are to be created.
  3. During Project Scope Management, the deliverable is to be decomposed into work packages in the WBS for scope estimation.
  4. During Project Schedule Management, the work packages are to be decomposed further to give the activity list for activity resources estimation, scheduling and sequencing.
recommended PMP resourcesAdditional FREE PMP resources: 47+ Commonly Confused Term Pairs with detailed explanations. If you found this article useful, you may wish to reference other Commonly Confused Term articles.

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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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6 Responses

  1. A says:

    Thanks for all the work you have done, in the summary part I think you made a mistake, it says phrase instead of phase.

  2. Ramesh Kumar says:

    Thanks Mr.Edward for your presentation
    I have found more useful the details provided by you

    Appreciable for your service.

  3. Afia says:

    Thank you Edward for all your help. I am researching and studying for my PMP; I have found your site to be very helpful.

    Project -> Project Phrases -> Project Deliverables -> Work Packages -> Activities

    Do you mean Project Phase or phrases? This page also hasn’t be updated to PMBOK 6 as Time Management is now Schedule Management.