17 June, 2024

Put Workstreams to Work: Why a Workstream-First Approach Improves Project Success

Workstreams have always been a staple of Project Management. In many ways, they form the backbone of the project completion process. But despite their prominence, it’s ironic that none of the leading industry resources mention workstreams in their big fat guides. 

Instead, workstreams exist, almost like the air we breathe. Few of us think too much about them and many Project Managers even take them for granted. Maybe it’s because, in Gantt charts, workstreams seem to happen by accident. Most PMs don’t construct a project plan with workstreams top of mind; rather they just occur as a byproduct of the planning process. 

Yaniv Shor Loves Workstreams

However, Yaniv Shor, founder of Proggio, places workstreams front and center of his project thinking. He asks, what if we place workstreams at the heart of our planning and delivery? What if we elevated their prominence in the PM process to make them a core function of project planning and execution? 

The result, he argues, could be a much better organized and more focused team and, ultimately, a more successful outcome. That’s why he built his Project, Program, and Portfolio Management software, Proggio, with workstreams as the starting point.

And it’s also why I have asked Yaniv back to the blog, to tell us:

So, with no further ado, over to Yaniv…

First, What is a Workstream?

A workstream is essentially a series of interconnected activities that are part of a larger project. Each workstream is focused on achieving a specific outcome, often owned by a particular team or department. Here’s an introductory video:

While they happen almost as a byproduct of Gantt-based planning, a work breakdown structure is a more intentional approach to working with workstreams. A WBS breaks the project down into buckets of related tasks organized by various parameters and often led by a specific manager.

In either scenario, workstreams form the connective glue that links tasks and milestones together across the project. For example, in a manufacturing scenario, tasks might include ‘calibrating the assembly line’ and ’employee training’, while ‘deliver the first fully-assembled prototype’ would be a milestone, each following under the ‘Production Setup’ workstream. Workstreams are how you get from Point A to Point B in the project plan.

Here is how to create a:

Why Workstreams Matter

While they may not get much attention in conventional project management, workstreams serve six critical functions:

  1. Coordination
  2. Strategy
  3. Accountability
  4. Scalability
  5. Visibility
  6. Focus

We’ll look at each in turn.


By ‘“’bucketing’”’ tasks together, workstreams organize the work and keep everyone flowing together on the same path. This provides guardrails that keep a team working in the same direction. They prevent distractions and deviations. This can be a game changer for staying on task, on budget, and achieving project objectives. 

Supporting Organizational Strategy

By defining workstreams, project managers and stakeholders get better clarity of a project’s internal structure and how it relates to the organization’s strategic priorities. They make it easier to create a responsibility matrix, which reduces surprises along the way and increases the probability for success. With workstreams, teams can focus on the right things, create synergies across functions and shared resources, and break down silos to improve collaboration.

Enhanced Accountability

Because each workstream has a designated owner or responsible team member, it’s easier to track performance and hold people accountable. Individual contributors focus on completing their tasks and handing off work to the next task owner. This eliminates dangerous gaps where too many projects typically fall apart – in that space between teams.  

Facilitating Scalability

As a project grows in scope or complexity, project professionals can easily scale workstreams and modify them to accommodate changing needs. Some tools that use a workstream-forward approach, like Proggio, even allow project managers to turn workstreams into templates that can then be duplicated, expanded, and modified to manage a larger project. This accelerates project planning and start-up by eliminating much of the manual setup. And it ensures no steps are left out of the workstream in the next iteration. 

A good example is a pharmaceutical company that might create a new project for every production lot of its new breakthrough drug. With Proggio, project managers can simply ‘“’copy and paste’”’ the previous workstream, change the lot number, and they’re off and running. Simple modifications to this allow Project Managers to focus on tailoring each new project, rather than replicating duplicate processes.

Complete Visibility

Workstreams make it easy for Project Managers and leaders to get a top-down 30,000-foot view of the project on a single screen. If they want more detailed information, they can dive into the specific tasks to see status, ownership, and progress.

Proggio’s layered model makes it extremely easy to break down high-level structures into small tasks without losing the blueprint. And it can display a complicated project on a single screen with clarity. The user can simply click to drill down to see the smaller, hidden layers, in much the same way you might zoom in on Google Maps to go from the 30,000-foot view to a street-level view. 

Workstreams on a Proggio Project Activity Map

Driving Focus

Workstreams create a concentrated focus on specific aspects of a project, making it easier to allocate resources, set priorities, and achieve goals more efficiently. Project Managers can use thenm to direct that focus to what matters for the specific project.

When you break the work down into smaller segments and can see how those segments link together, it’s easier to get a realistic view of what needs to be done and how much each contributor has on their plate.

Types of Workstream

While workstreams can be confined to a specific department: IT has its piece, manufacturing has another, for example – the beauty of workstreams is that they support a wider array of project planning and execution models. That’s especially valuable when projects span the entire organization, like a new product launch or an office relocation. Here are three common workstream models:

1. Cross-functional

An example of a cross-functional workstream is a go-to-market strategy for a new product launch. It would include defining the pricing, market positioning, and creating promotional materials. This would therefore involve multiple departments, perhaps even outsourced help like from a marketing agency. In this case, each department or work team has its own workstream.

2. Outcome-focused

Here, a workstream is defined by a goal. For example, in a corporate sustainability project:

  • One workstream might be ‘reduce carbon footprint’. This would include tasks such as auditing current emissions, selecting renewable energy sources, and retrofitting facilities with greener equipment.
  • Another workstream might be ‘community engagement’ that includes conducting local surveys, organizing focus groups, and creating educational content to improve relationships with the community and garner support for your efforts.

3. Methodology-based

An example here might be implementing a lean manufacturing project for a manufacturing company.

  • One workstream would focus on ‘lean fundamentals’, and include things like identifying waste, mapping the value stream, and applying 5S principles.
  • Another, ‘operational efficiency’ workstream, might include setting up Kanban systems for production, implementing Just-in-Time practices, and establishing continuous improvement cycles.

Putting Workstreams Front and Center

In most project management platforms and approaches – especially those based on a linear, planned life cycle – workstreams happen almost by accident rather than with intention. Tasks are entered into the plan, and they naturally fall into workstreams based on who owns them, or how they fall in the timeline. 

The Proggio platform takes a different approach by putting workstreams front and center, which provides a more intuitive way of project planning by mimicking how most of us intuitively like work.

For example, think about how you’d plan a vacation. You wouldn’t randomly book a flight and then make dinner reservations before choosing a hotel. You’d break the process down into bucketed To Do lists that might look something like this:

  • Destination
    • Set a budget
    • Decide on travel time or distance parameters
    • Look at possible activities
  • Travel
    • Book a flight
    • Rent a car or reserve an airport shuttle
    • Secure passports if needed
  • Accommodation
    • Choose/book a hotel
    • Make dining reservations
    • Book amenities (spa, excursions)

The Proggio platform provides this system of organization at its core. In order to even build a project timeline, Proggio requires that you first build workstreams, and then it guides project managers in creating this ‘bucketed’ system by design, starting from the top down. 

The Value of a Project Hierarchy

Workstreams create a powerful hierarchy of information about activities, dependencies, and resource allocations. This hierarchy achieves several things:

Better Visibility of Activities and their Relationships

Workstreams allow you to put project plans all on the same page. Rather than grouping tasks in a waterfall structure or as a Gantt chart, which might require you to scroll through multiple screens, Proggio puts related work in the same lane (grouped workstreams) and organizes activities side by side. 

That means no more endless scrolling through massive spreadsheets to find the information you need. Now, it’s all in one place, on one screen. This ‘visual map’ works similar to an organization chart, allowing you to see the ‘bucket’ and then all the tasks within it, for a better view of the entire process. 

Intuitive Organization of Work

Our brains naturally want to group similar work together to help keep our thoughts organized. Proggio workstreams take that approach and apply it to projects, grouping tasks that naturally fit together into common areas of work.

And it is the Project Team that decides what is the best basis for this grouping, by considering the:

  • project team culture
  • tasks at hand
  • delivery approach
  • organizational structure

This helps project managers keep related tasks together, ensures nothing falls through the cracks, and creates greater accountability because someone owns that task all the way up the chain. 

One of Proggio’s most useful and efficiency-driving features is the ability to build, save, and reuse templates for workstreams. This means that repeatable processes can be easily duplicated and nothing gets lost or forgotten. 

Clear Dependencies among Tasks

By organizing projects into workstreams, Proggio helps you to clearly see dependencies, so you get a more detailed picture of the impact each task has on other parts of the project. This includes roles and responsibilities and a more accurate depiction of risks in real-time. Now you can see the impact that missing a deadline or changing a task priority has on the rest of the project. 

Improved Communication and Collaboration

Any good project management tool must be able to make collaboration easier. Because a workstream approach shows dependent tasks and how they connect across multiple teams, this helps to cut down on miscommunication or dropped balls.

Workstreams support a natural flow: when one individual or team completes their portion of the activity, it gets passed over to the next individual or team. This is harder to track in Gantt-based tools because Gantt doesn’t make connections between different teams and task sequences, making it hard to see connections and relationships between one part of a project to another. 

Instead, Proggio supports better collaboration. If a contributor or team has a forward-looking question about something that’s coming next in the plan, or a team needs background or context on tasks that have already been completed, Proggio allows them to connect and collaborate because everyone can see how everything’s connected and who they need to talk to.

Dynamic Planning for Adaptive Delivery

Even the most carefully constructed project plans can change, either by intention (a deliberate adjustment in priorities, for example) or by accident (like a shipping delay in receiving critical materials). In other words, the initial workstream is just a starting point, and you need to be able to adjust, pivot, or even overhaul the workstream as a project evolves. 

Proggio’s workstream-forward approach to project management allows this inherent flexibility, giving teams the latitude to respond to new challenges or shifts in priority with room to iterate and refine the plan as you go along. 

Risk Management

The importance of risk assessment is so often underestimated by Project Managers. As a rule of thumb, it should consume 50% of the project planning and creation process. This is because managing a project isn’t only about the project plan, but also about all of the many things that can go wrong or pop up unexpectedly, which can have a major impact on the outcome. 

One source of risk is interdependencies. See our video, Communications Channels: How to De-risk Your Project. Rather than weighing every risk equally, Proggio’s workstream-forward approach assigns a higher risk score to activities that have more dependencies, so that when one thing changes, it’s clear how it puts everything down the chain at risk.

By putting workstreams at the forefront of planning and management of projects, Proggio helps to de-risk a project by highlighting areas where risk is higher so that project managers can take mitigating action. For example, if a task is dependent on activities from multiple other workstreams, this is a clear indication of risk, and Proggio can highlight those areas that may warrant extra attention or vigilance.

Risk Management in Proggio

Considering the complexity of today’s modern projects, and the number of projects most companies are running simultaneously, having a clear picture of all the work, and how it all relates together is essential. 

Summing up Workstreams

Especially when it comes to shared resources and cross-functional teams, using a workstream-forward approach can simplify project management by using an intuitive and visual structure to keep everyone organized, on the same page, and working toward clear, shared goals while facilitating scalability without losing clarity. 

To learn more about how Proggio’s approach to putting workstreams at the forefront makes for a smarter, more efficient solution, check out the recent Fireside Chat with Mike Clayton and Yaniv Shor, ‘Demystifying Workstreams.’ 

And Do Share Your Thoughts about Workstreams

How do you use them? What benefits have they brought to your projects? I’ll be delighted to respond to any comments you make, below.

Never miss an article or video!

Get notified of every new article or video we publish, when we publish it.

Yaniv Shor

About the Author...

Yaniv Shor is the Founder and CEO of Proggio. He has over twenty years of experience in global companies such as Verifone, Aladdin (Safenet), Flextronics and Intel where he held many senior positions. Yaniv is the author of the must-read book for project and other managers, Time to Deliver and a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He also holds a patent for Project Map, which is the foundation of the Proggio platform. Yaniv holds an MBA from Technion University and a BA from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Never miss an article or video!

 Get notified of every new article or video we publish, when we publish it.