Project management is a complex skill/art to master. It is my endeavor to assist those new to the field to gain “hindsight” driven insight into what makes projects more successful.
Today we are going to discuss a reasonably technical element – Work Breakdown Structures (WBS).
The name is even daunting, but I can assure you that it is quite simple once you have grasped the concept, and the benefits are numerous and powerful.
So what is it?
What does it do?
How can it help me?
The way in which you should approach this is as follow:
- Can I break up my project into smaller (logical) pieces? E.g. if you bake a cake you can separate preparation, baking and decorating quite easily.
- Ok now if we look at these pieces, are there logical pieces inside of them? E.g. in preparation there are 2 other pieces – wet ingredients and dry ingredients that have to be mixed separately (depending on the recipe of course)
- Carry on until it stops making sense or all the pieces have been broken up into elements.
- If I ignore outside influences, what do I – and my team – have to do to achieve success in each of the lowest pieces? E.g. all the dry ingredients have to be mixed BEFORE the wet ingredients. As a general rule, you will now be in the task or actions level where stuff has to done by people.
- If it becomes clear that you may have missed a piece (measure the ingredients) simply add them in on the level that makes the most sense.
What has happened here is astonishing:
- You have actually planned the work that would be required to achieve the overall goal in a structure and logical manner
- You have determined what has to be done in some sequence (e.g. measure before mix)
- You can see where tasks can occur simultaneously (e.g. switch on the oven and gather ingredients)
- You know that there are dependencies (e.g. you cannot pour the dough into the baking pan before you have greased the pan.
- You have an idea of the time (work and duration), the number of resources (ingredients, equipment, and people) and sequence of events – I would call that a basic schedule with time and cost management capability.
- You know what can be measured – when, where, who… – I would call that a quality and milestone plan you may even want to base your communications plan on this…
I know this sounds like stuff you have heard of before, but if you do this early enough (it’s never too late) in your project, you will be able to isolate the areas that you and your team are not too clear about. You can now focus on these areas to gain the knowledge or information required to properly plan – I’m so sorry, would this be your risk log?
I promise you just knowing what you don’t know is justification enough to do the exercise.
Every document and tool (e.g. Project Charter, Scope of work, Schedule, Resources plan, Communications plan, Quality plan, Risk / Issue management plan, Cost management plan) now have a BACKBONE from which they can be developed.
If the WBS is used in developing your project management infrastructure, you will discover that you have an integrated management plan.
If that does not impress the boss??????
The most important benefit that the WBS provides a project team is – – – – UNDERSTANDING!
Now you and your team simply have to get up, show up and execute…
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