Project Management

Building a Work Breakdown Structure


Building a Work Breakdown Structure

The WBS is a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team, to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables. The WBS organizes and defines the total scope of the project. The WBS subdivides the project work into smaller, more manageable pieces of work, with each descending level of the WBS representing an increasingly detailed definition of the project work. The planned work contained within the lowest-level WBS components, which are called work packages, can be scheduled, cost estimated, monitored, and controlled.


On projects I’ve worked on, the project team would go into a conference room and use post it notes for each piece of work until we reached something that was a week or less. NOTE: It’s easiest to bring a roll of paper to put the post it notes on so you can roll the whole thing up to input it into soft format.


The WBS represents the work specified in the current approved project scope statement. Components comprising the WBS assist the stakeholders in viewing the deliverables of the project.


Work Breakdown Structure Templates


Although each project is unique, a WBS from a previous project can often be used as a template for a new project, since some projects will resemble another prior project to some extent. For example, most projects within a given organization will have the same or similar project life cycles and, therefore, have the same or similar deliverables required from each phase. Many application areas or performing organizations have standard WBS templates.


The Project Management Institute Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures provides guidance for the generation, development, and application of work breakdown structures. This publication contains industry-specific examples of WBS templates that can be tailored to specific projects in a particular application area. A portion of a WBS example, with some branches of the WBS decomposed down through the work package level.




Decomposition is the subdivision of project deliverables into smaller, more manageable components until the work and deliverables are defined to the work package level. The work package level is the lowest level in the WBS, and is the point at which the cost and schedule for the work can be reliably estimated. The level of detail for work packages will vary with the size and complexity of the project.


Decomposition may not be possible for a deliverable or subproject that will be accomplished far into the future. The project management team usually waits until the deliverable or subproject is clarified so the details of the WBS can be developed. This technique is sometimes referred to as rolling wave planning.


Different deliverables can have different levels of decomposition. To arrive at a manageable work effort (i.e., a work package), the work for some deliverables needs to be decomposed only to the next level, while others need more levels of decomposition. As the work is decomposed to lower levels of detail, the ability to plan, manage, and control the work is enhanced. However, excessive decomposition can lead to non-productive management effort, inefficient use of resources, and decreased efficiency in performing the work. The project team needs to seek a balance between too little and too much in the level of WBS planning detail.


Decomposition of the total project work generally involves the following activities:


·         Identifying the deliverables and related work

·         Structuring and organizing the WBS

·         Decomposing the upper WBS levels into lower level detailed components

·         Developing and assigning identification codes to the WBS components

·         Verifying that the degree of decomposition of the work is necessary and sufficient.


This analysis requires a degree of expert judgment to identify all the work including project management deliverables and those deliverables required by contract. Structuring and organizing the deliverables and associated project work into a WBS that can meet the control and management requirements of the project management team is an analytical technique that may be done with the use of a WBS template. The resulting structure can take a number of forms, such as:


·         Using the major deliverables and subprojects as the first level of decomposition.

·         Using subprojects where the subprojects may be developed by organizations outside the project team. For example, in some application areas, the project WBS can be defined and developed in multiple parts, such as a project summary WBS with multiple subprojects within the WBS that can be contracted out. The seller then develops the supporting contract work breakdown structure as part of the contracted work.

·         Using the phases of the project life cycle as the first level of decomposition, with the project deliverables inserted at the second level.

·         Using different approaches within each branch of the WBS, where test and evaluation is a phase, the air vehicle is a product, and training is a supporting service.


Decomposition of the upper level WBS components requires subdividing the work for each of the deliverables or subprojects into its fundamental components, where the WBS components represent verifiable products, services, or results. Each component should be clearly and completely defined and assigned to a specific performing organizational unit that accepts responsibility for the WBS component’s completion. The components are defined in terms of how the work of the project will actually be executed and controlled. For example, the status reporting component of project management could include weekly status reports, while a product to be manufactured might include several individual physical components plus the final assembly.


Verifying the correctness of the decomposition requires determining that the lower-level WBS components are those that are necessary and sufficient for completion of the corresponding higher-level deliverables.


Outputs of Creating a WBS:


·         Project Scope Statement (Updates): If approved change requests result from the Create WBS process, then the project scope statement is updated to include those approved changes.

·         Work Breakdown Structure: The key document generated by the Create WBS process is the actual WBS. Each WBS component, including work package and control accounts within a WBS, is generally assigned a unique identifier from a code of accounts. These identifiers provide a structure for hierarchical summation of costs, schedule, and resource information.


The WBS should not be confused with other kinds of breakdown structures used to present project information. Other structures used in some application areas or other Knowledge Areas include:


·         Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS). Provides a hierarchically organized depiction of the project organization arranged so that the work packages can be related to the performing organizational units.

·         Bill of Materials (BOM). Presents a hierarchical tabulation of the physical assemblies, subassemblies, and components needed to fabricate a manufactured product.

·         Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS). A hierarchically organized depiction of the identified project risks arranged by risk category.

·         Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS). A hierarchically organized depiction of the resources by type to be used on the project.


The WBS Dictionary


The document generated by the Create WBS process that supports the WBS is called the WBS dictionary and is a companion document to the WBS. The detailed content of the components contained in a WBS, including work packages and control accounts, can be described in the WBS dictionary. For each WBS component, the WBS dictionary includes a code of account identifier, a statement of work, responsible organization, and a list of schedule milestones. Other information for a WBS component can include contract information, quality requirements, and technical references to facilitate performance of the work. Other information for a control account would be a charge number. Other information for a work package can include a list of associated schedule activities, resources required, and an estimate of cost. Each WBS component is cross-referenced, as appropriate, to other WBS components in the WBS dictionary.


The Scope Baseline


The approved detailed project scope statement and it’s associated

WBS and WBS dictionary are the scope baseline for the project. The next step is to estimate all of the work packages and create your baseline schedule.



January 11, 2009 Posted by | PMBOK, Project Management, Scope Management | , | 8 Comments

9 Top Things to Make a Successful Project

These are the 9 things that make a wonderful project!

1.   Know who your Stakeholders are. These are the people you have to communicate to. No one likes surprises!

2.   Spend a lot of time getting the scope right and signed off on. If the scope isn’t correct or sufficient, you will never get your requirements correct.

3.   Spend lots of time on your work breakdown structure. Break it down into work packages until they cannot be broken down further. A rule of thumb I use is a work package cannot be more than 40 hours.

4.   Spend a lot of time in team building. A good team works harder and produces a better product (and also has more fun!). Also reward them with a party or outing at the end of a successful project.

5.   Follow the SDLC. If the scope changes after you have written the Requirements documents, the Requirements documents must change accordingly. This follows all the way down the line. It is very important that you educate your Stakeholders that a change must go through a change review process, documents must change and the schedule will be extended.

6.   Manage people’s time on a daily basis. Not only do you want the time they spent on their task but also the remaining work. If you first estimate something at 40 hours and are 20 hours through, that doesn’t mean you are 50% done with the project. This way you can manage the schedule closely by putting an additional resource, dropping other functionality or whatever makes sense so you can make your schedule.

7.   Never surprise anyone. I make it a habit to never surprise my Stakeholders. As soon as an issue comes up, communicate it and brainstorm on options. I also tell all my team members to never surprise me. If I get bad news as soon as it happens, I have time to recover. If I get it 2 weeks before shipping I get very angry.

8.   Spend lots of time on Risk planning, Risk analysis and contingency planning. You can never spend too much time.

9.   Monitor the project carefully. Your critical path can change in an instant so you must look at it at least weekly.


September 26, 2008 Posted by | PMP, Project Management | , | Leave a comment

Earned Value Management Planning Process

During the project planning process, EVM requires the establishment of a performance measurement baseline (PMB). This requirement amplifies the importance of project planning principles, especially those related to scope, schedule, and cost. EVM elevates the need for project work to be executable and manageable and for the workers and managers to be held responsible and accountable for the project’s performance.


Project work needs to be broken down—using a work breakdown structure—into executable tasks and manageable elements often called control accounts. Either an individual or a team needs to manage each of the work elements. All of the work needs to be assigned to the workforce for execution using an organization breakdown structure (OBS).


Project work needs to be logically scheduled and resourced in a work plan; the work scope, schedule, and cost need to be integrated and recorded in a time-phased budget known as a performance measurement baseline (PMB)

hypothetical work plan with a Gantt (bar) chart, to which earned value measurement has been added.


In the planning process, the means for assessing physical work progress and assigning budgetary earned value also needs to be established. In addition to routine project management planning, earned value measurement techniques are selected and applied for each work task, based on scope, schedule, and cost considerations.


In the project execution process, EVM requires the recording of resource utilization (i.e., labor, materials, and the like) for the work performed within each of the work elements included in the project management plan. In other words, actual costs need to be captured in such a way that permits their comparison with the performance Measurement Baseline.






September 20, 2008 Posted by | earned value | , , | Leave a comment

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!



September 18, 2008 Posted by | Scope Management | , | Leave a comment