Project Management

Work Breakdown Stuctures

Have you ever mapped out a family tree? Our family has done this for years tracing us back to Charlemagne. Genealogy is favorite habit started my Grandfather.

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is very similar to a family tree. It maps out the deliverables of the project, with sub deliverables and activities stemming in a tree format. One of my favorite ways to do the WBS is with yellow post it’s so you can move them around to where they belong. Once I worked on a project where we had to tape together all of the papers that included the post it’s and it was at least 25 pages. This served us well when we showed management the magnitude of the scope of the project!

Doing this on large sheets of paper is useful so you can capture the finished product. A Guide to the PMBOK describes a WBS this way: “A WBS is a deliverable oriented grouping of project components that organizes and defines the total scope of the project; work not defined in the WBS is outside of the project”.

A Work Breakdown Structure is break down the work packages to enable you to roll them back up to a schedule that is complete. A work package is usually no more than 40 hours.

The WBS should detail the full scope of work needed to complete the project. Accuracy and completeness are required when composing your WBS.

Decomposition is one of the tools you will use when preparing your WBS. You should be able to break down the deliverables to a point where you can easily plan, execute, control and close out the project deliverables. Each work package should be able to be easily estimated in the Activity Definition Process.

You can think of this process in 4 major steps:

1.    Identify all of the major deliverables. The PMBOK is clear on noting that the deliverables should be defined according to the way the project is organized. One way is to organize a project in phases. The phases become the first level of decomposition, followed by the deliverables.

2.    Step2 involves estimating cost and duration. If that cannot be done, then you have to decompose further until the work package can be estimated. I usually use a work package of 20-40 hours at the most. Not all deliverables will have the same level of decomposition. In any case, a schedule cannot be made until the WBS is complete and has estimates that are as accurate as possible.

3.    Step 3 involves identifying components that make up the deliverables.

4.    Step 4 is the verification step. You need to determine that each component listed is clear, complete and necessary to fulfill the requirements of the deliverable. Also, you need to easily add up all the estimates, budget and assignments to create a solid schedule.

A WBS looks very much like a flow chart. The goal is to break down the work so that each work package can be assigned to a specific person for accountability and the Project Manager can easily manage the schedule knowing that all parts of the project have been broken down to their smallest part.

Each Work package is assigned a unique identifier and these are documented in the WBS dictionary. The dictionary includes a description of the work package, costs, budgets, schedule dates, resource assignments and activity descriptions.

This process sounds like a lot of work, but it is a known fact that the more you plan, the better you will be in the end.  I like to use SharePoint to keep this document and keep for the project records.

The WBS plays a major part of Project Management. For those taking the PMP certification course, I was told that if you didn’t know the answer to a question WBS probably was it!

 

 

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September 18, 2008 - Posted by | Scope Management | ,

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