I choose to emphasize the importance of having a WBS by giving this section an own page because this is one very important cornerstone in Project Management. Please take your time to read through this article and you are most welcome to give me feedback/comments/questions.
A proper Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) will dramatically increase your possibilities of delivering a successful project and it is a very valuable instrument to set the scope and to use when communicating internal as well as external. The WBS is one of the most important techiniques/tools for you as a Project Manager and the importance of creating a WBS should not and can not be underlined enough. It will assist you in your role as leader of the project and make you to sleep well at night. A well defined WBS will provide you, your project team and your stakeholders with a clear vision about the work needed to complete the project.
When talking to other project managers I often get the impression that they not see the benefit of going through the needed process to create the WBS. I strongly recommend every project manager to create a WBS in the beginning of the project…try it…it will simply your life!
Why do a WBS?
Scope. The WBS is very good to use when determing, defninf and communicating the scope and deliverables of the project. All stakeholders will be able to see and understand the scope and deliverables easily.
Managealbe pieces. The WBS will give you a possibility to break down tasks into smaller pieces and in that way also make it easier for you to follow up and manage the work.
Reporting and follow up. The structure in the WBS will create a framework for reporting and follow up.
Foundation. The WBS is a foundation in your project mgt processes and the information in the WBS will act as input to other Project Management Processes, such as planning and risk mgt.
Communication. The WBS is excellent to communicate both internal and external and will create basis for understanding between you and stakeholders and project members.
Successrate.It is identified that a project without a proper WBS lacks the correct pre-condition to succeed.
WBS in a nutshell…
As stated above the WBS is essential for the success of the project and you are able to start defining the WBS as soon as you have basic information and undestanding of the objectives of the project. Any project is more manageable if you break it down into smaller components. Smaller components are easier to define and assign to specific resources and smaller components also means that it is easier to be specific and detailed in the definition of the component.
The WBS consits of a top node, parent-tasks and child-taks. The WBS should represent 100% of the scope of the project and child-tasks to the parent-task should represent 100% of the parent-task. If you are familiar with object-orietation will recognise the structure.
Focus on deliverables
One of the risks when creating a WBS is that you could end up with identifying all needed actions to complete the project and this will end up with a, most likely, large and un-manageable WBS. You should instead focus of capturing the deliverables in the project. So, what are a Deliverable?
I argue that a Deliverable is unique product or result that must be completed to be able to perform the project. A Deliverable can be internal or external.
To focus on the deliverables instead of actitivities will give you better possibilities to;
- Communicate to stakeholders and team members.
- To create a base for control and follow up of the project.
- Have more accurate estimation of tasks, risks and timelines.
- Be sure that you have identified as much as possible of the work in the project.
An exampel of a WBS
This is a simplified exampel of a WBS and it is not created to show all the needed activities and deliverables when you build a house.
Exampel of WBS when building a House.
The Top Node (1. House) is the first level in this WBS. Please note that you can have the level below as level 1 as well. If you manage a program that consists of multiple projects it is although recommended that you define the top level as level 1. For project one you could then use WBS Identifier 1 and for Project Two WBS Identifier 2 etc… The top node should always symbolise 100% of the work in the WBS and the in the project. First level is numbered x.
The second level of a WBS consists of the first level of breakdown. In this exampel we have identified three major parts for building a house; 1.1. Foundation, 1.2 Walls, 1.3 Roof. If your vision of the project is clearly defined this level are reasonable easy to identify. Second level is numbered x.x.
Third level continues to break down the sub-parts even further. At this level you will start to identify specific deliverables that are possible to follow up and measure. Third level in this exampel consists among other part of 1.2.1 Construct Walls and 1.2.2 Raise Walls. Third level is numbered x.x.x.
In the fourth level you continue to break down the third level into smaller components. The number of levels is depending of the complexity of th work within your specific project. We have unusual requirements for the walls in our exampel which increases the complexity. This makes it feasable to include a fourth level. Fourth level is numbered x.x.x.x.
The success of the project is dependent of the WBS and how You use it to manage and control the project.
A well constructed WBS is constructed in such a way that it fullfills the requirements for it’s own existans in the project. A WBS should and must be consistant through out all the levels indenpendently of if it is a WBS of a Program, Portfolio or a Project.
There are a number of attributes that will decide the quality of the WBS;
- The WBS have all the deliverables in hierarchical structure.
- Each level of the WBS contains 100% of the parent-level.
- The WBS defines the scope of the project and focus on the Deliverables.
- The WBS is able to to clarify the scope to any stakeholders and project members.
- The WBS contains work packages that enables the definition of tasks to complete the work package.
- The WBS has at least two levels.
- Project members that will perform the work are involved when creating the WBS.
- The WBS is continously updated according to the change management procedures in the project before and after the baseline of the project.
- The WBS is build in a graphical, tabular or textual way which makes it easy to see the different levels.
- Use nouns and adjectives if possible.
- All the work packages are coded in a hierarchical way.
- Defines all (100%) internal, external and interim deliverables necessary to complete the scope of the project.
If your WBS have all of the above attributes it should be considered a well defined WBS. The above stated attributes are important if you aim to have a WBS that will support you in the best way.
When constructing the WBS you should think of the following aspects:
Level of breakdown. Each project is different and you need to find a suitable level of decomposition for your specific project and there are no hard rules for how many levels you should have. A large and complex project will although most likely have more levels than a small and straight forward project. The size of the deliverables should not be too small so they cause too much follow up and administration but on the other hand not too large which makes it more difficult to manage them and follow up them. My personal rule of thumb is that a deliverable on the lowest level not should be larger than 80 hours of manwork, but as stated, this is different from project to project and also depends on the experience in the project management and in the team.
Accountability. A proper designed WBS will make it possble for you as a project manager to easily assign the deliverables to individual team members, sub-contractors or other orgnisations. The WBS is a great support when writing the assignment descriptions.
Structure. The structure of the WBS give you as a project manager an easy overview of the different parts of the project. If possible the structure also should be reflecting the organisation of the project.
Control. A proper designed WBS gives you the correct level of follow up on each individual deliverable which enables you to measure performance and be proactive in your decisions instead of reactive. An efficiant and correct tracking in a project is key for success, especially if the project is of a larger nature.
Communication. The WBS is a great tool when communicating the scope and work in the project. A well designed WBS will make it easy for all stakeholders to see an appriciate the scope, work and complexity of a project.
How to create the WBS…
Steps to create a WBS together with the project-team or other stakeholders;
1. Start with repeating the vision and goals of the project. This will make all the participants focus on the objective of the project.
2. Breif the group about what you would like to achieve with the excercise and show them another example of a WBS. It is also good to define and agree what a deliverable is and to inform them about that this not is an exercise that aims to solve problems or tasks or that they at this point in time not need to worry about the order of the deliverables. (people are by nature focusing on solving problems directly when they are identified but this should not be done in a WBS-workshop)
3. Split the team into groups of two or three.
4. Give them 5-20 minutes, depending on the size and complexity of the project, to discuss and and identify deliverables. Have the write one deliverable on ayellow sticker.
5. Group the yellow stickers on a brownpaper on the wall. Remove duplicates and try to organise the deliverables into groups. Give each group a parent and name the parent accordingly. This is the first time you will see different parts (parent and sub-deliverables) in the project.
6. Continue by identifying key actions/task to accomplish is deliverables, but do not get stuck into details or start solving problems.
It is better to use a brownpaper instead doing it the whyteboard when it is easier to bring the brownpaper with you instead of the whyteboard. Please note that it is wise to tejp the wellow stickers to the brownpaper, they tend to fall of after a while.
You should at this point have a first draft of your WBS.
Next step is to clean up the WBS and put it into an electronic format. Microsoft Powerpoint is suitable to use for a small WBS and a large WBS is better constructed in Microsoft Visio or similiar program.