Break it Down!
The money-maker tool for project managers is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). It is the basis for scope definition, schedule development, resourcing, cost projections, and scope verification. The WBS provides the relationships among all the components of the product, to include deliverables and work activities. Each lower level of the WBS shows more and more detail. The completed WBS identifies all deliverables and the tasks/work packages used to measure project performance. As a rule, if it is not on the WBS, it is not part of the project.
Why use a WBS? It helps to define deliverables and all work activities required to complete the project – It provides a logical means of organizing the information – when done right, it provides a better overall understanding of the scope of the project, what is in-scope versus out-of-scope – and allows you to assign cost and time estimates to work activities – and begin the work of identifying logical relationships between work activities/tasks in order to diagram the project’s work flow in a logical and manageable manner.
The WBS process is a top-down identification of the project’s product or service content and the work required to complete each element. It is an iterative process, in that you and the team will usually create a straw-man concept of the main elements. Then, as everyone starts to see the picture grow, they will tend to go back and forth from element to sub-item creating more detail until everything is identified. It’s also common for the team to jump the gun and start naming work items and activity tasks before completing the WBS. This is part of the challenge for the PM: you must guide and remind everyone that we first must identify what it is we are creating before we can decide what tasks and work activities need to be performed. This back and forth then refocusing the group is normal.
Do Your Project WBS Homework.
Become familiar with the major components, as in deliverables for the project. Review the original scope (project/product) statement and related project justification information to identifying any and all criteria for project success. Do this before the first WBS work session. It is this type of information you will need to keep in mind, and at hand, to aid you in leading and facilitating the group in WBS development.
Many projects have common elements to them. Building projects have common elements to them. Software projects have common elements to them. Even, new product development and research projects have common elements to them. If you’ve never participated in a project similar to the one you are about to undertake, take some time to research previous projects and glean from them some of the common, or what seem to be rudimentary elements quite likely to exist in your project. If you can’t find other past projects to study, talk informally with some of the subject matter experts in the business and get familiar with the fundamentals relating to the type of project you are to manage. Another source for WBS basic elements is via an internet search; especially searching through the project management resources websites such as: PMI, local PMI chapters, PM Lessons Learned Site, http://pmlessonslearned.com/
Work Packages: “A deliverable at the lowest level of the work breakdown structure.” More on Work Packages and Work Authorization in an upcoming article, soon.
At the lowest level of the WBS is the actual named work to perform, as in the tasks and activities necessary to create the deliverables and sub-deliverables or elements. These represent work items that can be grouped into work packages. With work packages, a PM can determine associated material, resources, and personnel costs and time needed to perform the work. This assignment of costs and time allows the PM to perform a bottom-up identification of all project/product materials, resources, costs and time required to complete the entire project. Furthermore, the cumulative data establishes the project performance measure baseline. All the individual work packages and their cumulative values assigned to each deliverable, provide the information needed to develop a project schedule, as well as serving the purpose of measuring the rate of work completed against the baseline, over the duration of the project.
WBS Dictionary and the Design and Specifications Document (DSD).
A WBS dictionary provides the detailed information regarding the major deliverables, subordinate/element deliverables (or sub-deliverables), down through the lowest level of work. These are essentially mini-scope definitions. However, in complex projects involving many and detailed requirements, it is more effective to give general requirement definitions and refer the reader to the Design and Specifications Document (DSD), or some variation of a DSD, for all the exact details required to satisfy the customer/client/sponsor and achieve project goals and objectives. Don’t forget to identify in the WBS dictionary the responsible party or owner of the deliverable and work activity. Usually, it will be either a project team member or a functional manager.
Code of Accounts
Every deliverable, and down through to every unit of work, must have an accounting code. Sometimes these account codes are based on the WBS identifier, such as: a primary project account number [Project ABC123-1.1; or Project ABC123-220.127.116.11]. The collective group of account codes is called a “Code of Accounts” and allows the PM to assign a cost and time projection to each and every work item and resource in the project. The accumulated totals of the work packages/tasks identify cost and time for sub-deliverables and the primary deliverables. The total of all the WBS deliverables and costs associated with the PBS provide the foundation for the full project cost and schedule projections as well as the baseline for project performance measures. Also, the codes should have a reference to the activity owner for accountability purposes.
WBS versus PBS
Confusion abounds as to a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) versus a Project Breakdown Structure (PBS). The purpose of a PBS is to reflect the elements and activities performed by the PM, project coordinator, administration, sponsor, and stakeholders to manage, communicate, coordinate, and supervise the project, to include approval and decision points. The WBS, on the other hand, reflects the actual content, structure, and work that must be performed in order to create the product or service output of the project. Thus, the WBS and the PBS are not the same thing, and yet, they interrelate on many points, for example: The PBS will depict test and evaluation plan development that must be included in and listed as a work/task in the WBS; the PBS may include “control points” for quality reviews and milestone reporting requirements that will also have to be reflects on the WBS.
All too often the WBS is, in error, organized around PMI’s project lifecycle process groups of Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control, and Close-Out, or the attempt is to structure the WBS by the PMI ten knowledge areas: Project Integration Management, Project Scope Management, Project Time Management, Project Quality Management, Project Human Resource Management, Project Communications Management, Project Risk Management, Project Procurement Management and Project Stakeholder Management. (Page 61 and Table 3-1 of the PMBOK) PMI’s ten Knowledge Areas are tools in planning, managing, controlling and tracking performance. They are not tools used to breakdown the product or service.
For Part Two of this article on the Work Breakdown Structure and techniques for developing a WBS using an Organizational Chart, Mind Mapping, or Ishikawa Diagramming go to my Yahoo Voices homepage.
Also, please check out the article on Project Breakdown Structure (PBS) along with many other project management topics at my Yahoo Voices homepage.
Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, © 2013, Published by Project Management Institute, Inc., 14 Campus Boulevard, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Page 61