By Dick Billows, PMP
The WBS or work breakdown structure is the centerpiece of every project. The WBS gives team members clarity on their project assignments, it allows everyone to track actual progress on tasks in the WBS and it allows us to identify problems. We also use the tasks in the WBS is the foundation for our estimating of work, cost and duration for that task. That is the project team begins to execute the plan and actual results are compared to the estimates for each WBS task and we can identify variances and target corrective action.
.Unfortunately, too many project managers recognize the importance of the WBS and think they can just make a list of all the tasks in the project and then start work. That approach yields projects that take much longer than they should and to also usually late because too many deliverables are not identified the initial planning. To develop strong WBS we need to begin by defining the scope and major deliverables and then decompose those to create our work breakdown structure or WBS
The work breakdown structure provides the foundation for project control and much more. But if we adopt a “to do” list approach we lose all the benefits. So consistently successful project managers define their WBS for each entry as a deliverable with acceptance criteria like, “98% of the supplies are on the shelves in alphabetical order.” This is the opposite of a “to do” list entry which might say cleanup the supply room. The “to do” list entry is open to many different interpretations. As a result, it creates a lousy performance expectation for team members and it’s a very wishy-washy checkpoint against which to measure progress. The deliverable of “98% of the supplies on the shelves in alphabetical order” creates a crystal clear expectation for the team member and provides an objectively measurable checkpoint for progress. When we couple a deliverable-based WBS with work estimates we have a superior tool for control and tracking. Read more