With the documented scope statement defining the deliverables a project will produce, it's time to begin defining the work that will need to be performed to create those deliverables. The most valuable and effective tool used in this process is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
The WBS is a logical grouping of the deliverables, broken into manageable components. When complete, the WBS contains all of the work required to fulfill the scope of the project, and nothing more. The WBS:
There are no set criteria governing how the WBS must be produced, how much detail it contains, the number of components or branches required, or how many levels each branch should contain. There are, however, some stated best practices.
A WBS can be constructed in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:
As an example, we can construct the WBS for a project undertaken to build a house. The WBS can be constructed based upon the major components of the house as such.
We could also choose to construct the WBS for the same project based upon the phases of the project life cycle being followed.
In each of the above examples, only a partial WBS is being displayed. Regardless of the construction method, more detail would be required. Thus far, only some of the deliverables are identified.
When creating the WBS, the convention is to name deliverables using only a noun, and activities using a verb and a noun. In the first example, we have listed only deliverables, which are stated in a noun form: Blueprints, Project Management, Bath, etc.
In the second example however, note the work listed in the Close branch. The two elements here represent activities since they are stated in a verb-noun format:
When developing the WBS, it is beneficial to use a standard naming convention and format for all elements included. This allows for ease of report and delineation between deliverables and activities. It is also beneficial to use a consistent method of breaking down the components. For example, to be more consistent with the rest of the WBS, it would be better to display the deliverables to be produced in the Close Phase of the House project, rather than the activities to create them. These deliverables then can be further decomposed to show the activities required to produce them.
Why do we start with the deliverables? There are several reasons:
Since deliverables are broken down into smaller increments and then to the activities required to complete them, we can readily track and report the status of each deliverable. Being able to tell our customer that we are 90% complete with the frame and 45% complete with the kitchen is more meaningful than telling them that individual activities have been completed.
Developing the WBS can be an excellent team building exercise. Involving different stakeholders in the process provides them the opportunity to:
This often generates a greater commitment to the project and the project team. Engaging stakeholders results in a better defined and organized WBS than the project manager would likely produce on his or her own.
Several techniques can be used in defining the WBS, including:
There are two primary approaches used in constructing the WBS:
Jim Muller has been working as a Project/Program Manager for over 20 years. He has managed projects for IT/IT as well as on the business side. Projects ranged from $100 million IS development program, mergers and acquisitions, the launch of business products, and physical relocations of business units. Jim has also worked on the development of internal PM Methodologies, implemented a Project Management Office, and continually provided coaching and mentoring for project management staff. Jim has provided project management training for companies as well as teaching at the university level.