Project Management

Make Work Breakdown Structure easier with the materials you use


Almost all project schedules are built using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). When you're building a complex schedule, you don’t sit down and identify fall of the activities starting with the first one and ending with the lastYou probably first enter your high-level work, then come back later and start filling in the detailed work. This is basically the WBS technique.

If the project manager is the only person creating the schedule, it's very likely that the WBS will be created at the same time the work is entered into your project management scheduling tool. However, in many cases the project manager doesn't know enough to lay out the entire schedule from scratch. In this case, a small group of people may be required to complete the WBS.

When you're creating a WBS in a group setting, it may be best to use Post It notes and a blank wall to create the first draft of their Work Breakdown Structure.

This technique is very easy. After you get the appropriate people into the same room (project team members and clients who have the expertise to build the WBS), you start to build it. You can start off by writing the names of the major deliverables on Post IT notes, one deliverable per sheet. Make sure the attendees agree on the major deliverables to begin with. If any of the deliverables are very large, you can create new notes that describe the deliverable at the lower level of individual work products. These work products are arranged under the higher-level deliverable.

The deliverable needs to be identified at a level low enough that you understand what it takes to build it. In general, two levels should be enough to identify your deliverables. One level is typical.

Next, for each deliverable, describe the activities that must take place to complete it. Each activity goes on a separate note. These activities are arranged under the specific deliverable they refer to. If you have a sense for the order that the activities need to be completed, you can arrange the notes sequentially. However, this isn't vital at this point. The important thing is to identify all the work.

Look at the activities that are required to build each deliverable (or work product) and estimate the work associated with each activity. If the effort associated with an activity is larger than 80 hours (or whatever high-level threshold you set), you would break that activity into a set of smaller activities. Each of these activities is represented by new Post It notes under the higher-level activity (which now becomes a summary activity).

Continue with this process until the work required to complete all of the deliverables are defined, as best you know at that point. Some simple deliverables may take one or two levels of work breakdown. Others may take three, four, or more.

The advantage of this approach is that your team can actually see the work and they can help ensure all the work is identified to complete the project. The Post It notes also give you the ability to easily move things around. If you add an activity and then decide to remove it, you just pick up the sticky sheet. Likewise, if a deliverable or group of activities is in the wrong place, you just move the sticky sheets to where they need to be.

When you're all done, you can enter the detailed work activities into your workplan management tool. Remember that the WBS is not the same as the schedule. The WBS is only the technique you use to understand the work at a low level. When the WBS is completed you can continue to build your schedule by sequencing the activities, assigning resources, estimating costs and duration, etc.

9 comments
juanmflores
juanmflores

It's an excellent idea to get the appropriate people into the same room, but I think that we can use a software project-oriented and a projector or big screen to create the WBS. Using the software you can easily create levels and enter, move, and cut activities. Once the WBS is completed, it will be into the appropriate software in order to continue with the activities scheduling and the resources assignments.

dawndrummond
dawndrummond

A software tool that can aid the Post It note concept is MindManager. This tool can automate the brainstorming which can be easily imported into Microsoft Project. MindManager allows the deliverables or activities to be move around before finalized. Check it out!

rich_soby
rich_soby

There is a new tool out that does exactly this. It is called Mind Manager (www.mindjet.com). It allows quick capture of points, sub points, attachments (to allow docs, pics etc to be a part of the 'package') for requirements, details etc. It can be color coded, prioritized and quickly re-organized But the most valuable part is it integrates with all MS products. You can export the 'map' direct to Project to build a schedule (you can assign resources in map which transition to project), to Power Point to make presentations, word to make project documents I have used this tool to present to users, developers and others who will say "what about XXXX????" and quickly capture that and add it to the 'knowns' of the project. There is a trial download to try it However watch out.....it is addictive - one of those tools that can be used for so much - project WBS planning, building policies and procedures, JAD sessions, facilitation sessions, and more - see their map collection for ideas

deborah.hutchings
deborah.hutchings

I have done this for a very large programme and colour coded post-it's to depict different targets, dependancies etc and left it on the wall as 'all' group members could actually follow the journey to completion and new 'exactly' what the critical path was! When they came across obstacles and issues they were able to quickly highlight to management the options. if you can afford to keep a room seperate for this prupose it is the best project investment/tool I've known.

altaee
altaee

Can someone give an WBS example in IT networking, managment or administration.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Mind mapping is an old and established tool. Certainly, it is at least 40 years old (the semantic network theories of the 1960's) but there are indications that it was used by the late Roman philosophers (3rd Century A.D) which would tend to imply the Greeks used it also. (Just to be silly, Google lists 21,800,000 entries and 8 alternative searches for mind mapping). I suggest that you do it manually before you start using computer tools to accomplish it. It is especially useful when facilitating JADs or Project Meetings with creative types (e.g. marketing). Because it is a non-linear documentation technique it allows these types to pop-up ideas at any point in the process. It is also quite useful during brainstorming sessions. I've even found it useful when taking notes if the presenter has his/her own organization style. You'll find most drawing tools have a mind-mapping facility e.g. Visio, MindManager, VisualMind, FreeMind etc. The Wikipedia citation lists 9 open source tools and another 9 freeware tools (and I can't be bothered counting the number of commercial tools). As I mentioned, even Visio has a mind mapping template.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

A War-room. They've been suggested for at least 20 years now .... and yes they are useful for many reasons.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

A very simple (and silly) example in management ... 0 Fire a (specific) person 1. Record of issues 1.1 Identify potential problem areas 1.2 Arrange assignments which emphasise PAs 1.3 Ensure failures 1.3.1 Suggest (bad) solutions 1.3.2 Push for implementation of (bad) solutions 1.4 Record results if bad (ignore if good) 2. Approvals 2.1 My Boss Agrees 2.1.1 Drop hints regarding problems 2.1.2 Seek feedback regarding performance 2.1.3 Suggest termination may be necessary 2.2 My Boss's Boss Agrees 2.2.1 Drop hints regarding problems 2.2.2 Seek feedback regarding performance 2.2.3 Suggest termination may be necessary 2.3 His/Her Customers Agree 2.3.1 Drop hints regarding problems 2.3.2 Seek feedback regarding performance 2.3.3 Suggest termination may be necessary 3. Termination 3.1 Meet with HR 3.2 Meet with (ex-)Employee 4. Termination paperwork 4.1 Internal Paperwork 4.1.1 Meet with HR 4.1.2 Complete Paperwork 4.2 External Paperwork 4.2.1 Meet with HR 4.2.2 Meet with Payroll 4.2.3 Complete Paperwork 5. Celebration 5.1 Public 5.1.1 Arrange Celebration 5.1.1.1 Tell smallest team 5.1.1.2 Big Boss won't be happy with anyone attending rumour 5.1.1.2.1 Mention in passing to 3 biggest mouths in department 5.1.1.2.2 Monitor spread of rumour 5.1.1.3 Book MacDonalds 5.1.2 Arrange Gift 5.1.2.1 Buy card 5.1.2.2 Distribute card 5.1.2.3 Lose card for 1 week 5.1.2.4 Find card 5.1.2.5 Buy something useless 5.2 Private 5.2.1 Mouton Rothschild 5.2.1.1 Buy Champagne 5.2.1.2 Drink Champagne 5.2.1.3 Get Drunk Does that help?

PM_Chick
PM_Chick

Mind Mapping is old news, mind pmapping software isn't that new either, but this tool seems to do a pretty good job. I have to admit that once a person knows how to mind map, using Visio or another software they already own would be most economical. They do a great job too. I think I'll stick with paper and pencil for now.

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