Be honest – how many times have you started in on a project with only a vague idea of where it was going to lead? How did that work for you? Did you end up having all the resources you needed in the end, or did you have to scramble part-way to make things work?
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a tool project managers use to formally establish all the work that will be needed to do a project. It is an important part of the planning phase of a project, which we discussed in a previous blog post. Specifically, the WBS is used to define the activities for the project. Once you have the WBS, you can look at what resources you’ll need and develop a schedule.
There are three compelling reasons why we recommend you create a WBS for your projects:
Start with a clear statement of the project scope. “A good scope statement includes the following information:
The best people to have in the room when you create your WBS are the people who will be doing the work, and possibly some external stakeholders. You’ll need a blank wall and a lot of sticky notes.
Here is an example of what a WBS may look like once you’re finished.
Watch out for these when you create your WBS:
This can be difficult to dial in. There needs to be enough detail that the person or team knows what is expected of them, but general enough that the person or team has the authority to decide the best way to achieve the deliverable.
The WBS defines deliverables, i.e. what is meant to be accomplished. It is not a place to prescribe actual tasks.
The WBS simply breaks down deliverables into workable chunks. Certainly, it can be used to develop a schedule, as well as to identify needed resources. However, the WBS itself is simply a breakdown of work.
No plan is ever written into stone. Changes happen. However, the WBS should be considered as a formal document which should be respected. Any changes should be documented and approved by the project manager, who can make sure that everyone affected by a change, knows about it.
A Work Breakdown Structure is a valuable tool to organize projects, to make sure that all of the needed work gets done, to ensure a high-quality result.
To learn more about applying the Work Breakdown Structure to your own projects, as well as many other aspects of project management, come to our upcoming seminar, taught by certified Project Management Professionals. The seminar cost includes up to 20 hours of individual one-on-one coaching at your location, a $5,000 value.
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