The Work Breakdown Structure: Lack Of A Good One Already Sets Your Project Up For Failure


Published on

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is often one of the most overlooked artifacts in any project but it's also the most important for project success. The schedule, budget, resource requirements, risks, and communication plan all are derived from the WBS. Many project failures--over-budget, poor quality, incorrect functionality, delayed schedule--can be traced back to a poor WBS. Failure to plan is planning to fail. How does your organization stack up?

Published in: Technology, Business
1 Like
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

The Work Breakdown Structure: Lack Of A Good One Already Sets Your Project Up For Failure

  1. 1. The Work Breakdown Structure - Lack of a Good One Sets Your Project Up For Failure Ed Kozak the trained eye, all too often the finishedThe Work Breakdown Structure, or version of a WBS isn’t worth the time, effort, or cost spent to put it together inWBS as it’s more commonly referred to,is one of the most valuable instruments the first place. Many a project managerthat a project team can have, yet who has been given a WBS prepared byparadoxically, it’s often the most someone else has had no choice but tooverlooked or poorly-constructed draft a new one from the very beginning.document in a project’s file. The WBS This very simple rule should be followedis the backbone of any project. It when creating a WBS, if you’re going tocontains information from which many do one (and as a project manager youimportant project tools are derived. For always should be the one drafting it)example, we derive the network diagram make sure it’s complete and properly putfrom the WBS and that enables us to together so it doesn’t have to be re-generate our project schedule. We must drafted from scratch. The four steps inrely on the WBS when developing our this paper along with some rules ofresource loading and constructing our thumb will help you create the strongestresource allocation matrix. We use the backbone for your project possible.WBS when performing a bottom-upestimation of the project budget and it’s Any WBS should be viewed as aused as an input for our risk roadmap, a set of directions that amanagement plan. Hence, the omission reasonably competent person at yourof a task from our WBS—whether from company could follow to manage thea complete misstep in identifying a piece lifecycle of the project from itsof the work to be performed or worse, initialization to its completion. It shouldand unfortunately more common, be descriptive, not vague; it should listbecause one of the authors of the WBS out the steps down to the smallest leveltook some short-cuts—can impact for another project manager (who mayschedule, cost, resource planning, and be very competent but not have the samerisk management. Unfortunately, many technical level of expertise as thepeople who create work breakdown drafter) to follow. If six steps areschedules, such as department managers, needed to complete a task then all sixproject managers, or the people that they must be listed and not two or three.delegate this duty to, do far worse than Anyone who assumes that “everyonemake simple mistakes of omission. To knows what steps are required to
  2. 2. complete the task” is setting the task— each phase or stage should have aand the project—up for failure. This is a deliverable associated with it.lazy mentality and it will createproblems for you—problems that have a Step 2: Select a deliverable. Using thefinancial repercussion. deliverable as a heading, name all of the tasks required to create the deliverable underneath that heading. Good practiceThe 4 Basic Steps is to make the heading a complete descriptive sentence. So, if a prototypeWhether you’re planning a three-week were to be a deliverable on your projector a three-year project, these four basic then you certainly don’t want to use thesteps will make the difference between a heading “Prototype” as the name of theWBS that will have to be re-drafted (or heading. Instead, use something morethe very likely probability that the descriptive like “Create Prototype ofproject will have some financial User Interface For Client Review”. Whyrepercussion) and one that’s being go through this effort? It is necessaryplanned for success. for the simple fact that many project managers start projects but don’t seeStep 1: List all major deliverables and them through to their end. A projectthe high-level tasks specifically manager might start planning a projectmentioned or gleaned from the scope but then something else enters thedescription. On a side note, the pipeline that needs his or her expertisedescription of the scope should be clear and so the initial project is handed off toenough to let everyone know—project another project manager to, project manager, and client (even Thus, the task heading should tell theif the client happens to be someone from future reader what exactly the tasksyour own company)—what is to be directly underneath it will be used toaccomplished in the project. It should accomplish. It terms of the WBS, thisdelineate both what is considered to be a descriptive heading is known as apart of the project and what is out of Summary Task. As an example,scope, that is, not considered to be part consider the development of a userof the project. It’s important to consider interface. Some tasks associated withintermediate deliverables as well as end creating a user interface might bedeliverables. Intermediate deliverables Interviewing the client to determineusually consist of prototypes, samples, what the look and the functionalityand reports but they can be anything might be, Creating a pictorial mock-upspecific to your company, your industry, of the interface in Paint or some otherand/or your client that will allow a graphics package for the user to see anddecision to be made or that will approve, and Creating a software versioncommunicate the status of the project. of the interface with limitedThe scope statement should also specify functionality. The portion of the WBSwhether the project will be performed in that specifies this might look like:phases or stages. List those out. Thisgives you more information because3.0 Create Prototype of User Interface For Client Review and ApprovalThe Work Breakdown Structure And Why It Should Be Mandatory For Any Project 2© Successful Projects For Leaders. No portion of this document may be copied or distributed withoutthe expressed written consent of the author.
  3. 3. 3.1 Conduct Client Interviews 3.2 Create User Interface Requirements Document 3.3 Secure Client Approval of User Interface Requirements Document 3.4 Create Rough Graphical Design 3.5 Secure Client Approval of Rough Design 3.6 Create Limited Functionality Interface 3.7 Secure Client Approval of User InterfaceOn a different note, you might be floor, the user would eyeing the color ofwondering why the interface at this point the car, sitting in the vehicle, checkinghas only limited functionality. Whatever for headroom, looking at the dashboardsoftware is going to be used, whether it and console, and checking the legroombe a commercial package that has been but not taking the car for a test drive yet.bought or something customized anddeveloped on the project, that software Step 3: Break down each task under thewill provide the functionality and it will Summary Task into the smaller tasks—take some effort to add or build that as many tasks as necessary for anotherfunctionality. At this point in the project project manager to fully follow thewe’re only concerned with the end- process. This not only provides the basisuser’s opinion of the look and feel of the for budget estimating but also a checklistinterface—are all of the buttons there for monitoring and controlling thethat the user needs to click on, do the project once it’s been started. Somedrop-down menus list all of the items were left out of the WBS abovenecessary elements, are all of the because I felt their place was at a lowerbuttons, photos, and other elements level. Let’s look at it again:positioned as the user envisioned? If theinterface were an auto on a showroom3.0 Create Prototype of User Interface For Client Review and Approval 3.1 Conduct Client Interviews 3.1.1 Determine Client Needs for Data Elements 3.12 Determine Client Needs for Logos, Compliance, Aesthetics, etc. 3.2 Create User Interface Requirements Document 3.3 Secure Client Approval of User Interface Requirements Document 3.3.1 Review User Interface Requirements Doc With Client 3.3.2 Make Necessary Revisions Conduct Follow-Up Reviews. 3.3.3 Provide Client With Screen Shots of User Interface Samples 3.3.4 Obtain Client Sign-Off On User Interface Requirements Doc. 3.4 Create Rough Graphical Design 3.5 Secure Client Approval of Rough Design 3.6 Create Limited Functionality Interface 3.7 Secure Client Approval of User InterfaceFor the sake of brevity of this paper, Create Limited Functionality Interface,sub-tasks (otherwise known as work but they certainly should be present inpackages) have been left out of Item 3.6, the WBS. Regarding Items 3.4 and 3.5,The Work Breakdown Structure And Why It Should Be Mandatory For Any Project 3© Successful Projects For Leaders. No portion of this document may be copied or distributed withoutthe expressed written consent of the author.
  4. 4. it would be pointless and a waste of time project team requires some piece of datato break then down to finer detail from the client is also an interface. So tobecause one doesn’t need to instruct (nor is the point where the team requiresmicro-manage) a skilled graphics person client or Management approval on somehow to create a rough design in some item in order to proceed. This simplegraphics package nor the project bookkeeping activity will ensure thatmanager how to obtain client approval. that task gets transferred to the project schedule as a task with a duration andStep 4: Rearrange the tasks and work not as a simple milestone. All too oftenpackages under each summary task so the simplest thing like waiting forthat there is a logical flow in them to approval can hold up a project and causeperform the summary task. Rearrange the schedule to slip. Making this a taskthe summary tasks so that there is a with a duration serves as a reminder tological flow in them to perform the the project manager to set theproject. Ensure that the task headings expectation that if approval isn’tare meaningful and that there is a received by its specified return date thenbalance between having enough tasks the schedule will (or might, whicheverand work packages to provide enough the case) be delayed. Lastly, be sure todetail without overkill. get a WBS from your subcontractors, no matter how much they might push back. Without one in place the projectCriteria For A Successful WBS manager will not be able to completely assess the project risk (e.g. is theAlways remember that a WBS must be subcontractors’ work well-planned outbroken out from the top down. Work or not?) nor properly track thepackages must add up to yield the task subcontractor’s progress during thethey’re under; tasks must add up to yield project.the summary task they’re under;summary tasks must add up to yield theproject results. Any activity that willincur a cost on the project must be listed It’s somewhat understandable that a WBS might be viewed by some projectin the WBS. This means that Project managers as a waste of time orManagement itself and all oversight something that’s an administrativeactivities must have their place in the assistant duty, after all, many projectWBS—oftentimes this is not the case. managers are technical and by natureSince the WBS is used to create the might view such duties asproject schedule remember to always “bookkeeping” duties that keep theminclude a work package to represent any from performing their technical jobs.interface. An interface is defined as any This attitude is completely wrong andactivity that results in the flow of should never be tolerated at anyinformation from one set of project organization. The WBS truly is thestakeholders to another. The point backbone of any project and the abilitywhere one task ends and another begins of the project to successfully stand on itsis an interface and this is represented by own depends on how well-crafted WBSthe successive listing of tasks in the is. With this single document havingWBS. However, a point where theThe Work Breakdown Structure And Why It Should Be Mandatory For Any Project 4© Successful Projects For Leaders. No portion of this document may be copied or distributed withoutthe expressed written consent of the author.
  5. 5. such an impact on cost, schedule, and A third benefit that Successful Projectsrisk one can see that a top-down For Leaders offers is their availability toapproach stressing the importance of be out-sourced by Organizations to servehaving an approved WBS in place prior as the Chief Projects Officer. In thisto the onset of any project and the need role, Successful Projects For Leadersto follow standardized guidelines to only develops standards and practicesconstruct it must be performed. directed at the effective execution of projects and the attainment of schedule, cost, scope, and quality objectives, butAbout the Author also communicates enterprise-level objectives to the respective projectEd Kozak, M.S., M.B.A., PMP is the groups in the most-appropriate way forPresident and CEO of Successful them to follow and communicatesProjects For Leaders, international project information to Management.experts in project management process This overcomes the problem common toimprovement. The staff of Successful many organizations that no connectionProjects For Leaders work with between Operations and project groupscompanies along three main points of exists and no structured, consistent, andfocus. First, they help companies meaningful flow of information betweenimprove their profitability by cutting these two groups occurs, allowingwasteful project costs (upwards to 50% Management to determine if efforts areor more) and improve their overall efficient and effective, if projects aremanagement of projects in order to still the best ones to support strategicreduce risk, schedule slippage, and objectives, whether there areunnecessary spending on product performance issues associated withrework. As a result their clients are able meeting exert more control over their projects;improve target schedule performance; Ed is an accomplished professional withmonitor and control cost performance has over twenty-three years experiencebetter; increase their success at hitting as a consultant, manager, executive,budget estimates; improve quality and facilitator, and instructor that includessatisfaction; and recognize the project/program manager experience insubstantial financial benefits that come the private and Government sectorsalong with that. managing multi-year, multi-million dollar programs for his clients in fieldsSecond, Successful Projects For Leaders such as IT, healthcare, research,is hired as project turnaround experts development, and manufacturing. Heand is brought in on critical projects that brings his expertise to managementare in the midst of schedule, budget, teams in strategic planning, process re-and/or quality issues or projects that are engineering, program managementhaving continual setbacks. They analyze offices, and project management and is athe problems, set a new budget and frequent conference speaker.schedule, and work with the incumbentproject management team to bring themto completion.The Work Breakdown Structure And Why It Should Be Mandatory For Any Project 5© Successful Projects For Leaders. No portion of this document may be copied or distributed withoutthe expressed written consent of the author.