Work packages (WP’s) are both the backbone and building blocks of Horizon Europe projects. This is because the work packages aim is to carry out the concept presented in the project proposal. In other words – first, we explain what it is that we want to achieve by outlining the project objectives and the suggested concept (in section 1 – Excellence). Once this is established, we turn to explain how we are going to achieve this by planning a tangible work-plan, in the form of work packages that break down the different tasks, deliverables, and milestones. Experience shows that it is important to ensure the work packages in Horizon Europe are both impressive for the evaluation phase and feasible for execution. How can this be achieved? In this article, we will define the role of work packages and offer our top tips for constructing a solid work packages plan.
The roles of work packages in Horizon Europe proposals
The work packages (WP) structure in Horizon Europe project proposals has two very important roles:
- During the evaluation phase: The WPs structure enables the experts reviewing the application to assess the work involved in the project in terms of logic, relevance, collaboration, coherence, effectiveness, competitiveness, innovation, etc. Importantly – the WPs presentation is in fact a primary justification for the requested grant. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to make it as competitive as possible (while still possible for execution).
- During the execution phase: Once a project is selected for funding, the proposal text becomes an annex to the Grant Agreement, as the plan for execution. The tangible work packages, tasks, deliverables, and milestones turn to be contractual obligations of the partners (the beneficiaries to the grant). This means that it’s crucial to have a good work packages structure in place. It is in the best interest of the Horizon Europe project that the work plan will be logical and easy to manage during the project’s lifetime.
**Important note – During the proposal development phase, many applicants are focused on presenting the most competitive project structure to the reviewers, that they tend to neglect the fact that this work plan must actually be executed. Read all about how to “Ensure competitiveness and feasibility” for the Horizon Europe project for more information.
Having understood the roles of the work packages in Horizon Europe, let us turn to our top tips for structuring them successfully.
Tip #1: Work package(s) in Horizon Europe derive from the project’s Concept
The WPs are used to realize the concept of the project and not the other way around. The typical mistake that we see in many applications is the natural attempt to first develop the WPs before establishing the proposed project’s concept. This happens due to various reasons:
- Many times, the big picture (the project’s Concept) either does not exist or it is only “half-baked” at the beginning of the project development process. In severe cases, this big picture is not fully developed even at later stages of the proposal development.
- Even when there is a big picture – many project partners usually tend to see and focus only on their part of the project, and not the entire picture.
- Many applicants “play it by ear”, meaning – they focus on recruiting new partners and then make adjustments to the proposal according to the inputs from these new partners, even at the cost of significant deviation from the original big picture (assuming there is one). Generally, this practice is not recommended as it will not yield the best results (read more on this issue in “Don’t bring your friends to Horizon Europe projects”)
To summarize – developing a Horizon Europe project from the work packages up is not a recommended practice. While it is a much more demanding task to work from one holistic, comprehensive concept to the detailed and tangible work packages, it is by far the recommended option. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, make sure to follow the inner logic by addressing and establishing the project’s Concept first (in section 1 – Excellence), and only then, and based on this Concept – develop the work packages.
Tip #2: Linking the work packages back to the project’s objectives and concept
As we stressed in tip #1, the work packages should be derived from the project’s concept, which in turn is derived from the project’s objectives.
When comes the time to construct the project plan and lay down the work packages structure, it is important to also make it clear to the reviewer how this work plan is actually serving the project’s concept and objectives. For that matter, we should illustrate a clear link back to the excellence section.
The best place to address this is in the work plan overview, at the beginning of section 3.1. The way to do this is by adding a table or any kind of efficient illustration (e.g. PERT diagram) that links each work package (or a combination of work packages) to the relevant objective(s) and/or any main conceptual/methodological aspect(s). The links can be one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, or many-to-many, as needed. This table or illustration should be accompanied by text that will clearly explain all the links.
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 reviewer as well as a positive impression overall about your project.
Tip #3: Work packages in Horizon Europe to be consolidated by a single unified voice
Horizon Europe requires and encourages the collaborative work of partners on funded Horizon Europe projects. Such a method of work is valuable and productive as it can certainly expand on the capabilities of just one researcher working on a research project. However, different from collaborative work during the execution phase of the project, the same cannot be said about the collaborative writing of a project proposal. Experience shows that this type of management is typically inefficient and generally not as successful as ‘traditional’ management overseen by a single person/entity.
In the context of structuring the project’s concept and its work packages – the following two-part structure needs to be considered:
- The project’s concept is a result of collaborative thinking and the work of the consortium partners, but
- Only one [scientific] team member then consolidates the products into a unified & comprehensive concept (which then becomes a detailed work plan and work packages).
Different from the above, we often come across a project that is developed from the work packages up, based on the inputs and interests of each of the consortium partners. In such cases, little to no significant management or leadership is present, and the result is often a work packages structure that is divided, incomplete, or insufficient in putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. This is clearly not the recommended practice.
Therefore, our advice is for a single [scientific] leader (or at most a small leading team of up to 3 individuals), to handle the process of developing the project’s concept and work plan structure. In that sense, the collaborative work is limited. The partners will contribute and provide input, but eventually, only a single [scientific] leader will make decisions and manage the process. Experience shows that the results of such a process are much better than the alternative.
***It is important to note that this “[scientific] leader” position is not an official Horizon Europe requirement, but rather our unofficial advice based on ongoing experience.
Tip #4: Representing collaborative work in the work packages
The work packages reflect the collaborative work expected in the project and the work package table structure requires listing the participating partners in the work package. It is necessary to detail how many person-months they plan to invest in the work package, and to which tasks they are assigned.
Therefore, when preparing the work packages in Horizon Europe projects – the [scientific] leader(s) must collect such input from each of the partners. Additionally, the leader(s) must also make sure they fully understand what is expected from them in that sense and in light of the project’s “big picture”. It is important to ask all partners to provide as many details as possible while keeping in mind that each of the partners is following a certain agenda and interests. These might not be fully in line with the interests project, and for that matter the input from the partners must be well assessed and adjusted before including it in the work package description.
During this process, keep in mind the following guidelines:
- The collaboration between partners is an important added value of these kinds of projects. This added value should be present in the way the collaboration is presented. Keep in mind that this reflection of the collaboration’s added value should also be presented in section 3.2 (“Capacity of the participants and consortium as a whole”).
- The work plan and work package structure must make perfect sense to the reviewers (and to you, for the execution phase that proceeds).
- Avoid redundancies, overlaps and gaps between the tasks within a given work package, and across the various work packages.
- Avoid “patchwork” which simply makes use of the text provided by the partners. Make sure to consolidate the various inputs from the partners and ensure that the text has a single unified “voice” (style) across the application.
On top of this, mind the following rules of thumb when referring to the distribution of work between the work packages:
- Avoid a presentation of a single partner in a work package. Aim to demonstrate that collaborative work is present in each work package.
- On the other hand, avoid a presentation of all partners in all the work packages. The aim is to show the diversity of work in these projects. If all partners are included in all work packages, it may not make sense in the eyes of the reviewers. As an exception to that, it might be relevant to put all partners in “horizontal” work packages (e.g., the work package that deals with dissemination, communication and exploitation of results).
- Use the work packages and assignments of tasks to partners within the work packages to express the workflow and the collaborative work (e.g. Task 3 done by partner #7 in WP2 will feed the work of partners #2 and #5 in Task 1 in WP4, and so on). Use it wisely and clearly in a way that will allow the reviewers to follow your logic.
Tip #5: Link the work-plan to the profiles of the partners
The profile description of the partners is provided in section 2 of the electronic forms of the application file (Part A).
These partner profiles include both general information alongside relevant skills and expertise, track record of key personnel involved in the project, and relevant infrastructure or technical equipment.
This information is essential for the reviewers 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’d recommend to attend and update this information accordingly:
- Verify that the track record of the personnel involved in the project correlates to the expected tasks. Avoid a presentation of personnel that might not be the right one for performing the action.
- In case there is a need for infrastructure or technical equipment, make sure to elaborate on that in the profile of the relevant partner, while referring to that also in the work packages (and maybe also in section 1.2, as needed).
Tip #6: Work packages in Horizon Europe 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 reviewers to properly assess the budget request. Investing in this properly will also be beneficial to you and your partners during the execution phase.
The basic (and mandatory) information provided in the work packages about the budget request is the person-months allocation per partner in each of the work packages.
To begin with, this person-months allocation must be well correlated to the work presented in the work package and it must make sense to the reviewers.
We would recommend enhancing this presentation by providing a higher resolution of information to the reviewers and indicating the person-months allocation at the level of tasks, on top of the basic requirement of presenting this information solely at the level of the work package.
If this is done, higher resolution of details for the work plan will be achieved. In turn, the reviewers 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 reviewers. They will respect your efforts in producing such 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 execution purposes.
To conclude, work packages are the backbone for any Horizon Europe project. As such, they must be regarded with great importance and prepared with attention and detail. A successful work packages structure will not only prove helpful during the evaluation stage, but also serve as the guiding path during the project’s execution. Follow our tips above as you curate the work packages structure for your upcoming Horizon Europe grant application. As always, should any questions come up, we’re here to help!