A key part of a good construction project plan is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS – Construction Projects specifies the work assignment for every crew member, subcontractor, architect, and outside consulting engineer working on the project. It also specifies the deliverables the customer will get. That definition is in the form of an objective measure like, “maintain 72° degrees temperature during operating hours.”
WBS – Construction Projects: Step One
You begin by defining the scope and major deliverables of the project. Then you breakdown each of those deliverables into smaller deliverables until you get to the level of an individual assignment to a crew member or subcontractor. As you work through this breakdown process, you are specifying the end result you want from each assignment, not what you want them to do.
As an example, you wouldn’t describe everything that a framing contractor is supposed to do. Instead, the WBS would specify that the subcontractor is to frame the project according to plan and pass the local municipality’s rough framing inspection. The acceptance criteria of that deliverable is crystal-clear. With every assignment in the construction project WBS specified as a deliverable, you have clearly defined the work assignment for everyone working on the project. The assignments or tasks in the WBS define exactly what a “good job” is for each of those work assignments and how it will be measured. WBS Work Breakdown Structure Main Page
WBS – Construction Projects: Step Two
Second, the work breakdown structure is also based on the construction methodology that will be used on the project. As an example, the WBS of a waterfall construction project will be very different from a project that uses a design-build methodology. In a waterfall methodology project, all the planning is completed before you start construction work. In a design-build methodology project, you begin construction work before all the plans are finished. And an agile methodology project will look very different from the first two types. Here you complete the components iteratively with a great deal of customer interaction and input at each step.
WBS – Construction Projects: Step Three
Third, the construction project WBS has to specify the testing and quality control procedures and acceptance criteria you will use at various checkpoints in the project. Some of these checkpoints may be the testing of materials, other checkpoints may be the governmental comparison of what you have built to the approved plan.
WBS – Construction Projects: Summary
The aim of the WBS is to
- give crews and subcontractors clear assignments that are deliverables
- communicate the construction methodology you’ll use to produce the deliverables
- specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing
- provide checkpoints on progress.
This sample construction project lecture is from our Construction Project Basics course. It covers how to develop the work breakdown structure (WBS) for smaller commercial and residential construction 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 crews and subcontractors on those deliverables. It also provides a good basis for you, the project manager, to track project progress and do variance analysis.
To learn more about designing a good WBS for construction projects, consider taking one of our online construction project management courses. You’ll learn at your pace with an expert construction project manager as your coach.
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