A work breakdown structure (WBS) is the process of breaking down each deliverable within a project. The WBS details all the work that is to be done by the project team that is required to meet the project goals and successfully deliver the customer's product or service. In the WBS, all deliverables (products or services) are broken down to the smallest possible units to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
Why you need it for our project
This detailed view of the project provides teams with the information they need to be able to zoom in on the work required by each individual for all tasks. Without the WBS, it is likely that requirements will be missed, and further likely that the deliverables and maybe even the entire project will miss the mark.
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High-level steps to completing a WBS
- The project manager and team needs to document and provide detail about all of the deliverables identified and agreed to in the project scope. It is important that all stakeholders understand and approve each final deliverable to make sure resources and time are not wasted down the road. A deliverable can be as complex as a new software that is being developed and implemented or something as simple a client report.
- The project team should brainstorm how best to break down each deliverable. The easiest way to do this is through whiteboarding or using Post-it notes. This allows team members to see things visually, interact, and share their feedback. This step may take some time, however, it is a necessary and worthwhile step. If time is an issue, then deliverables can be broken down in more than one session. Deliverables are broken down into what is known as components. If the deliverable is a client report, then there could be multiple components in the report such as the various sections like financials, executive summary, assumptions, business analysis and so forth.
- Each component is then further broken down into its smallest unit called work packages, which are then assigned as tasks to individuals to complete and prioritized. In the case of the component being the business assumptions, individuals would be tasked with providing each of the inputs that go into compiling these assumptions.
- It's important that each task and its status is monitored and traced back to their components and deliverables to make sure there are no gaps that will negatively impact the final deliverables.
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Three advantages of the WBS
The work breakdown structure offers many benefits to help teams remain focused on required tasks and deliverables. Here are the key benefits:
- It increases clarity around roles and responsibilities. Since the WBS breaks out and assigns all tasks to individuals, it clarifies who is responsible for which aspect of work and includes due dates for each deliverable. Team members gain a clear understanding of how their work contributes to meeting each deliverable and ultimately the overall project goals.
- It helps ensure all tasks are completed properly and on time. The WBS is the dissection of deliverables down to their smallest unit, making it more likely that no task is lost in the process. This breakdown process reduces ambiguity and confusion around what each team member is required to do, and when they need to have their work completed. Ultimately this also saves time, making better use of each individual's workday and reducing waste.
- It enables tracking of all activities. As each task is identified, detailed, scheduled, and assigned to meet a specific goal, there is an identifiable baseline to which that all work can be traced back. The ability to track activities increases the chances that the project can progress as expected to deliver the client the best product or service within scope.
Ultimately, because the WBS is a process that takes a project and breaks it down into small manageable and measurable tasks, teams stand a greater chance of being victorious throughout project execution.
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Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contributor and co-host of the "technically speaking" segment on the Price of Business Talk Radio. She has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada. To find out more about Moira, go to www.leadhershipgroup.com.