The work breakdown structure is the heart of a successful WBS – Information Technology project plan. The work breakdown structure (WBS) defines the deliverables in objectively measurable terms, like retrieve 6 months of customer history in 4 seconds. It fits the systems developmental methodology you will use in the project, like Agile, Waterfall, Iterative, etc. It defines the users’ expectations about exactly what business result(s) they will get. The WBS must cover the three components of successful implementation. It covers not only 1.)what the analysts and programmers will do but also 2.) the users’ process changes and 3.) the user training.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step One
First, the WBS tells everyone what’s expected of them. You and the users start by breaking down the project scope into 4 to 7 major deliverables. Then you break down each of those major deliverables into smaller deliverables. You continue the process all the way down to tasks you will assign to the team members, information system staff and user staff. Yes, it includes assignments for the development staff and the users because both groups will complete tasks to deliver the project scope. To do this decomposition, you define every task in the work breakdown structure with acceptance criteria that is usually a metric. Those are the specific measures the user will apply when deciding whether to accept the deliverable. The WBS allows the sponsor and user management to track the progress of the project because every entry in the WBS is unambiguous; they are measurable. WBS Work Breakdown Structure Main Page
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Two
Second, on an IT project the WBS also communicates the systems development methodology you’ll use on the project to produce the required deliverables. If you and the project sponsor have decided to use an Agile methodology, the WBS will include multiple iterations of each deliverable. It will include time for the user to evaluate the result and change the specifications after each iteration. On the other hand, the classic Waterfall project development would include very detailed front end planning followed by execution of the plan. So an IT project WBS done with a Waterfall methodology is very different from a WBS for an Agile systems development effort or any of the other IT methodologies.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Three
Third, regardless of the methodology, a correctly developed WBS is not a list of activities or “to dos.” It is a list of acceptance criteria that define what a good job is on each of the WBS entries. As an example, if one or more programmers will write the code for a payroll data entry screen, you might define the acceptance criteria for that effort with a WBS entry like, “Payroll clerks can create new employee payroll records using the new GUI in less than three minutes 90% of the time.” That tells both the programmers and the users involved what they’re going to get from this new GUI. When you define your WBS entries this way, you have the discussion and debate about the deliverable’s acceptance criteria before you even start work.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Four
Fourth, the WBS needs to specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing. Some testing tasks should include the number of transactions that you will test. That ensures that adequate time is estimated for the complete testing procedure. That includes any external testing of the software during its development or prior to acceptance. The tasks should also appear in the WBS so enough hours of work are allocated to the process and the resulting schedule for adequate testing and quality control.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Five
Fifth, if you know which team members will be doing the work on your project, it is a good practice to give them an opportunity to talk about the acceptance criteria for the deliverables they will be producing. Allowing team members to take part in defining the WBS entries and their acceptance criteria gives you two benefits. First, it sets up the estimating process so your team members become familiar with the tasks they’ll be asked to estimate. Second, this participation also gives you, the project manager, the benefit of the team members’ experience with similar projects. That’s an opportunity for you to identify problems very early in the planning process.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Summary
The aim of the WBS is to
- give clear assignments to system analysts, programmers and users
- communicate the systems development methodology you’ll use to produce the deliverables
- state the acceptance criteria on each of the deliverables and provide checkpoints on progress
- specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing
- set up the estimating and early problem solving processes
This sample IT project lecture from our IT Project Basics course focuses on developing the work breakdown structure for IT systems development projects. The focus is on creating a project plan and work breakdown structure that are tools for making clear, measurable assignments and tracking the progress of the deliverables.
To learn more about designing a good WBS for IT projects, consider our project management courses. You learn with an expert project manager as your coach.
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