Work Breakdown Schedule

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.co

The work breakdown schedule (WBS) is the spine of your project plan. The most important function is to communicate clear performance expectations about the project. For executives, the work breakdown schedule communicates exactly what they’re going to get from the project. That is what the business results will be. The WBS entries, from the scope down to the smallest team member’s task, are measurable deliverables.  Each clearly communicates a performance expectation with numbers so it is measurable.  As an example, the scope of a customer service project might be, “Less than 5% of customers have to contact customer service a second time about the same problem.”  That number is a measurable deliverable, it’s an acceptance criterion. Specifically, the project is successful if fewer than 5% of the customers have to call back about the same problem.  When you communicate that expectation to the executives, they know what they’re going to get from the project. As importantly, they know what they’re not going to get. It clearly tells them that the result will not be perfection. They will still have about 5% of the customers calling back about the same problem.  Main Work Breakdown Structure Page

Work Breakdown Schedule: Trade-offs

The work breakdown schedule is a tool for project managers to control expectations. It communicates to executives that they cannot change the project’s scope without compensating adjustments, called trade-offs, to the project’s duration and/or cost. Dealing with those trade-offs is a key to managing the expectations of sponsors and other executives. Consistently successful project managers use those trade-offs during the initial planning phase to communicate expectations about the project’s scope, time, cost and risk. The scope and major deliverables must be defined in measurable terms so the trade-offs can be quantified. If the scope isn’t defined in this manner, the project will have overruns and dissatisfied sponsors and executives.

Here’s a conversation with “Less than 5% of customers call back about the same problem” as a measurable scope:

An executive says, ” Oh you can do better than that; make it 3%.”

The project manager smiles and says, “We modeled that earlier. Remember?We have a 75% chance of hitting your 3% but it will cost $150,000 more and take 18 months longer.  Do you want to authorize that trade-off?”

The executive replies, “Where did those numbers come from?”

The PM says, “From the computer model we built of the project.  Is this what you want?”

The sponsor’s face turns beet red and he sputters “Of course not, I want 3% for the same budget and finish date.”

The PM says, “That’s not possible, sir. We could improve to 4% for much less. Is that of interest? ”

The sponsor demands, “You will deliver 3% for the same budget and finish date, or you will be looking for a job.”

The PM shakes his head sadly and says, “No one could pull off that miracle. So you’d better fire me now.”

The sponsor storms out.

The project manager handled this correctly, refusing to commit to a result he could not deliver but offering two results which he could deliver.

Work Breakdown Schedule: Deliverables

The work breakdown schedule also shows the executives how the project team is going to deliver the result. The project manager and sponsor decompose the overall scope deliverable into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. They also define each of those with measured acceptance criteria. Those deliverables are the best way to communicate how the project team will deliver the results defined by the scope. It also gives executives unambiguous checkpoints to measure the progress of the project after work begins. The project manager will also decompose the work breakdown schedule down to the level of individual assignmecomm21nts for the project team members.

Those lower level measured deliverables are the foundation for assigning work to the team members and tracking progress. You should define each task in the work breakdown schedule with a metric and link it to the scope through a network of deliverables. As stated above, you create that network by decomposing the scope into 4 – 7 high-level deliverables.  You continue to decompose the high-level deliverables into smaller deliverables, down to the level of deliverables that an individual will be accountable for producing. A work breakdown schedule developed this way gives the project sponsor, stakeholders and the project manager objectively defined checkpoints against which to measure progress. That is a powerful tool for keeping the project on track and for communicating to everyone that you, the project manager, know what’s going on. Using this technique, you can avoid the difficulties with defining and tracking team member assignments when the work breakdown schedule is merely a “to do” list.

Work Breakdown Schedule: Team Member Assignments and Estimates

If you do the work breakdown schedule correctly, every team member can look at it and know what a good job on their assignment is before they start work. The work breakdown schedule will also tell them how you will evaluate their deliverable when they finish producing it. Because your expectations are clear, a good work breakdown schedule is an excellent tool for developing accurate estimates with the project team members. That’s because they have less need to pad their estimates since the assignment is very clear. Team members pad their estimates because they are accustomed to receiving vague project assignments that change frequently. The usual process of making changes to their vague assignments doesn’t allow the team member to accurately estimate the required work and duration. So the team member prudently protects themselves by inflating the estimates they provide the project manager.

When the project manager develops a work breakdown schedule with measured deliverables, the problem of padding estimates largely goes away. That is particularly true if the project manager uses work packages and makes an agreement with the team members that when their assignment changes, the PM will reexamine their time and duration estimates. That sounds very simple but operating that way gives team members lots of confidence in the commitment process so the project manager gets better estimates from the team members.  Additionally,the work breakdown schedule is the tool the project manager uses to identify the skill set of the people they should assign to each of the entries in the WBS. Work Packages main page

WBS Project Management

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Reviewing the project’s work breakdown structure or WBS is the best way for an executive to predict the success of a new project. In this work breakdown structure review, it is relatively easy to answer five key project success questions:

  • Will the project team members clearly understand what the PM expects of them?
  • Will the project manager be able to identify problems early when they are small rather than after it is too late to fix them?
  • Will executives and the project sponsor be able to assess progress versus the plan?
  • Will the estimates of work, cost and duration be reasonably accurate?
  • Will the project manager be able to exercise tight control and spot problems early without micromanaging the team?

It is very efficient to assess the entire project planning process by reviewing the work breakdown structure before work starts. At that point, the PM can still make corrections and avoid dozens or hundreds of hours of wasted time. This is such an efficient insurance policy on new projects that we recommend all projects have a peer review of the WBS before they launch.   Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

WBS Project Management: Pre-launch Review

Right before the project launch is a stressful time for project managers and project sponsors. There is tremendous pressure to start work. But a few hours of delay for a WBS review and corrections can save many days of wasted time and head off project failure. Because of the pressure-filled environment, we recommend that this pre-launch WBS review be a mandatory part of the project management protocol. The review takes place at the end of the project planning process.

No matter how big or small the project is, the project manager is always suffering from near-sightedness during the planning process. It’s very hard for the project manager who created the WBS to see its flaws as well as its strengths. Because errors in the work breakdown structure are so costly and so difficult to correct later on, it is advantageous to have another project manager (who was not involved in the planning) evaluate the WBS.

WBS Project Management: Peer Review Steps

  1. You begin the review of the work breakdown structure for another PM’s new project by looking at the structure of the WBS. Look to see if the entries are organized into subheadings for each of the major deliverables of the project. If so, ask a couple of questions of the project manager who developed this WBS. Did the project sponsor and major stakeholders of the project sign off on the project scope and the major deliverables? If the project manager says no, they must go back to the drawing board. Clearly they can’t launch a project that has not been approved by the sponsor and stakeholders.comm23
  2. If the PM answered “yes” to the project sign off, the next items to examine are the entries in the WBS. This includes the high-level deliverables and the scope. Are they deliverables that describe an end result and the acceptance criteria that the sponsor will use to judge the work?  Deliverables should be stated like, “Customer history database is 99% accurate,” or “Average response time on the network is less than three seconds” or “Quality control has signed off on the product prototypes.”

The PM should define each of those deliverables with the acceptance criteria that are either metrics or a yes/no. In other words, they are objectively measurable. If every entry in the work breakdown structure does not meet this measurability criterion, the project should not be launched. The reason this is so critical is that properly defined deliverables tell the team members what’s expected of them.  Measurable deliverables also let the sponsor and executives track progress unambiguously.

3. Next you examine the size or average duration of each of the deliverables the team will produce. What you’re looking for is micromanagement where the project manager has defined a very large number of WBS entries that have a duration of an a few hours or days. If you see that kind of excessive detail, you know several problems will occur. First, the project manager will not be able to keep the project plan current because there is far too much detail. Second, with that level of micro detail it is likely that every one of these entries will change over the course of the project. And the project manager will not be able to keep it up to date. A project plan that’s three weeks out of date is the same as having no plan at all. An average task size that is about a week’s worth of work is reasonable for most projects. Some tasks will not require that much time and others will require several weeks of time. But on the average, you are looking for about a seven-day duration for each of the WBS entries.

4. The next item to check is the adequacy of the deliverable definitions for making duration and work estimates. This is a subjective area but you want deliverables that are defined with enough precision that the team member and project manager can make an accurate estimate of the work involved. If there is inadequate precision, the project manager will develop work packages for the assignments with weak definitions.

5. Finally, you need to examine the WBS to determine whether the project manager will be able to exercise tight control and spot problems early without micromanaging the team. Here you have to look a bit beyond the WBS and determine the requirements for the status report and the frequency of the project manager’s reports. The most important requirement is that the team members provide the PM with an estimate to completion each week. That is the key to project managers being able to identify problems early, when there is time to fix them.

When you are evaluating a work breakdown structure for another project manager, it’s always best to look at it from the perspective of all the different audiences who will use that work breakdown structure: the sponsor, stakeholders, vendors and team members. That analysis will give the PM helpful, well-rounded feedback.

Books by Dick Billows on WBS

Work Breakdown Structure Size

People have questions about the best size for the project work breakdown structure (WBS). The answer depends on the capabilities of the project team and the complexity of the project. That’s because those two issues affect the size of the assignments for the project team members.  The WBS for a very inexperienced project team will lean toward relatively small assignments (2-5 days) and results in a larger work breakdown structure. The other extreme is a project team of experienced professionals who are expert in their tasks. To avoid micromanaging these experts, you would make relatively large assignments (7-21 days) and, thus, have a much smaller work breakdown structure. Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

WBS Size Factor #1: Team Member Experience

In most projects, you’ll have a mix of your team members’ experience levels. So you will be designing assignments that range from a day or two for a rookie team member to several weeks for an experienced team member. You’ll also change the size of the assignments based on each team member’s performance. For example, let’s say a person whom you initially assessed as a rookie does very well and consistently produces high-quality deliverables on time. As a result of their performance, you may expand the size of their assignments to give them more freedom and decision-making latitude. You will spend less time evaluating their work because with bigger assignments they are producing deliverables less frequently.  Many people working on project teams value the expansion of their decision-making freedom with larger assignments. That is a great performance reward.

If you’re following project management best practices, you’re going to be getting status reports from each of your team members on a weekly basis. The size of their assignment doesn’t matter here.  When you give someone a large assignment, they’re still reporting on it every week. So you aren’t “in the dark” about the status of their assignment for weeks at a time.

WBS Size Factor #2: Project Deliverables

The WBS size doesn’t affect the production of project deliverables. You may choose to alter an assignment if the project stakeholders are particularly interested in inspecting one or more of an assignment’s deliverables. However, there are some very important things to avoid in terms of outside influences on the size of your work breakdown structure.

Some project sponsors are wrongly convinced that a big work breakdown structure will give them tight control over the project. This is incorrect on many levels. First, an enormous work breakdown structure takes many hours to update every week. It’s harder to get your team members to give you good status data when they have to report on 10 or 12 micro-tasks. It also takes you longer to enter data and update the schedule with actuals. The typical consequence of a monster-sized work breakdown structure is that the project manager can’t keep up and eventually the schedule is not updated every week. That is the same as not having a schedule.

The other consequence of a very large and very detailed work breakdown structure is it makes your project team members feel they are being micromanaged. They think you and the sponsor don’t trust them to make decisions and are constantly looking over their shoulders. If you’ve ever been micromanaged by someone who knows less about your task than you do, you realize how destructive micromanagement is. You wind up with a project team that takes no responsibility for the results they produce. They simply follow the micro-details in the work breakdown structure. You need to explain this to a project sponsor who wants a very detailed work breakdown structure because the negative consequences are serious.

More information on our lean project methodology

Create WBS

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.co

The WBS or work breakdown structure is not a “to do” list that you can assemble on the first day of a project. It’s a hierarchy of tasks that results from breaking down the sponsor’s major  project deliverables (the scope) into supporting deliverables the team has to produce.

Each of the deliverables in the WBS is a measurable business result, like “Customer hold time reduced to 20 seconds on average.”  It is not an activity like “Lower hold time.” That is ambiguous. How would a project team know when they were done? How would they know if they achieved the goal?

Creating the WBS with team members is always worth the time it takes. It’s a great opportunity to develop the team members’ commitment to the project deliverables and give them a sense of ownership. Unfortunately, on many projects, the team members don’t see their tasks until after the project manager has listed everything they must complete. So the team members don’t understand how their individual deliverables connect to the overall scope. And they don’t have a sense of ownership of their individual tasks and the project as a whole. Don’t make that mistake. Here’s how to create a WBS the right way.      Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

Create WBS: Begin With A Measurable Scope

The starting point for working with your team is after the project sponsor has approved the project’s scope and 4 to 7 major deliverables.  You should develop the work breakdown structure by working top-down from the scope. Do not assemble a list of the things people want in the project. That “to do” list approach yields projects that cost more and take longer than they should. That’s another mistake to avoid.

You and your team members should decompose the project scope by breaking it down into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. Each major deliverable is an entry in the WBS and is stated as a metric. That means it is measurable and has an acceptance criteria. You break each of the major deliverables into its component parts. They are the elements required to produce that deliverable. You work down each level of deliverables, subdividing them into smaller deliverables. You stop when you get down to the level of individual team member assignments. That’s how you develop the work breakdown structure top-down.

Create WBS: Brainstorming With the Team

When your team members participate in defining the deliverables with acceptance criteria they understand how the entire network of deliverables fits together. And they are committed to the project’s success because they participated in the process. Let’s dig deeper into the process of brainstorming with the team to break down a deliverable into its component parts. Let’s say you’re decomposing a measurable deliverable like, “Employees can retrieve items from the supply inventory in less than 180 seconds 90% of the time.” You and the team might identify the following supporting deliverables:

  • install new supply room map that lets 90% of the people locate the shelf with their item in less than 60 seconds
  • reorganize shelves so people can find their specific item in less than 45 seconds
  • automate the supply “signed out” process so people can record the item(s) they took in less than 1 minute and 15 seconds.

There may be many ways to go about achieving the high-level deliverable of reducing the time required to retrieve supplies. During the conversation with your team, you would allow people to suggest different ways of achieving that end result. But it’s a best practice to achieve consensus on the approach to each of the deliverables.

Create WBS: Archived or Expert Information

Another way to develop the work breakdown structure is to use work breakdown structures archived from previous projects.  You may not be able to use the prior project’s entire work breakdown structure.  But very often you and your team can find a section of a WBS that’s close enough to what you’re doing in the present project that you can copy the deliverables.

On larger projects that are more complex, you may bring in experts on certain kinds of deliverables like computer programs, remodeling of workspace and so on. You would use their expertise to help you and the team develop the deliverables for your project.

Create WBS: Sequencing and Assigning Resources

The sequence of tasks in the WBS  is controlled by predecessors. Predecessors  identify the relationship between tasks. They tell the team what tasks are linked to other tasks. For example, Task A must be completed before Task B can begin. Or Tasks C and D must begin at the same time.

Next you assign resources to each task in the WBS. The resources can be people, materials, or contractors. You get input from the team members on the amount of resources required for each task. Their input is invaluable if they have experience with the specific or similar tasks. When you calculate the duration of every task in the WBS you have completed your project schedule. After the project sponsor approves the schedule, you save that approved version as the baseline. As work begins, you keep track of the progress the team makes on each task compared to the baseline. That is the basis for your weekly status reporting.

Create WBS: Best Practices

The WBS is central to the entire process of planning, scheduling and tracking a project. The best practices for developing a work breakdown structure involve these steps:

  1. After the project sponsor defines the scope (overall objective), the project manager and team members begin creating the WBS. They decompose (break down) the scope into 4 to 7 major deliverables that are measurable.
  2. The project manager and team members break down each of the major deliverables into smaller deliverables. Each one is stated as an acceptance criteria metric.
  3. The project manager and team members sequence the deliverable tasks and assign resources to them.
  4. The project manager obtains the sponsor’s approval of the WBS plan and schedule before beginning work.

Work Breakdown Structure Tasks

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) tasks are the basis for the project manager’s assignments to the team members. They are used to estimate costs and the schedule (duration). It is also the framework for reporting the project’s status to the sponsor. The WBS is central to everything a project manager does and plays a major role in determining the project’s success. You build this network of tasks by breaking down the project scope and major deliverables. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) contains everything that the team must produce to deliver the project scope.  Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

Work Breakdown Structure Tasks – Questions

People always have questions about how to build the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). They often ask how big the WBS should be and how many tasks it should have. There is no magic number of tasks in a project. The number in your work breakdown structure depends on the capability of your team members. You need to consider a number of factors.

  • What is the correct duration for the assignments I’m going to make to my team?
  • How frequently do I want to receive status data and estimates to complete from my project team and vendors?
  • How often do I want to update the project schedule with current data?
  • How risky are the tasks in this project?

Work Breakdown Structure Tasks and Team Capabilities

As you can see from this list, you design the tasks in the Work Breakdown Structure to fit your management style and the capabilities of the project team members. In this article, we’ll consider the team member’s capabilities. If you have a project team made up of experienced professionals who have performed their tasks dozens of times, your work breakdown structure will have a small number of large tasks. The tasks will have longer durations because these experienced professionals can handle assignment durations of 7 to 21 days. you should give experienced professionals larger, more challenging assignments and the independence and decision-making freedom that go with it.

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

However, not every team is composed of project superstars. You’re going to have some people on your team who have some experience with projects and know their jobs but for whom a two-week assignment would be discouraging and maybe even intimidating. So for these people you’ll design task assignments that are about 5 to 7 day’s worth of work.  You’re still giving them responsibility for an important deliverable but you’ve broken it up into smaller pieces. That lets you track their work more frequently.  Frequent deliverables are a major factor in the accuracy of your status reports.  That’s because even before a deliverable is finished and accepted, your team members report how much work they’ve completed and how much work remains to be done.

Finally, you may have a team with new hires or people who have little experience with your company. Or they may have limited expertise in the technology of their task or no experience working on projects. With these people, you want to break the assignments into small pieces where they have a deliverable to produce every day or two. You would have a large work breakdown structure containing smaller tasks with short durations. That kind of Work Breakdown Structure works best with inexperienced people because you will be expecting several deliverables from them every week. This gives you the opportunity for frequent feedback on their work and coaching to improve their performance. With these newer team members, it is a valuable motivational technique to increase the size of their assignments as they demonstrate their ability to produce deliverables on time and within budget.

Designing your Work Breakdown Structure with these team member considerations also allocates your time properly. You don’t want or need to spend a much time reviewing the work of one of your experienced project superstars. That kind of micromanagement will irritate them and interfere with their feelings of independence and professionalism. That’s why you give them the biggest assignments with the longest duration. The people who need the most review of their deliverables will have the smaller assignments and shorter duration. That’s where you’ll spend most of your time.

Work Breakdown Structure Task Risks

The last consideration in the Work Breakdown Structure is the risk of each individual task. They can affect the risk of the project as a whole. If one or two of the high-level deliverables have a high risk of duration or cost overrun, you’ll break down those major deliverables into smaller pieces. Some examples are deliverables that have a high risk of changes in technology or the technology is uncertain and cost overruns are likely. When you break down those major deliverables into smaller pieces, you’ll get reports on them every day or two. That prevents big problems from surprising you when it’s too late to fix them.

You can learn how to create the Work Breakdown Structure in our online project management courses. We offer online project management courses in business, IT, construction, healthcare, and consulting. At the beginning of your course, you and your instructor will have a phone or video conference to design your program and what you want to learn. We make certain that your case studies, project plans, schedules and presentations fit your specialty. You can study whenever it fits your schedule and work at your own pace.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

 

What is WBS?

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

What is the WBS? The WBS or work breakdown structure  is a list of every task the team needs to complete in the project. After the project manager lists all the tasks, he or she links them with predecessor tasks that control the sequence of the tasks. Then the project manager assigns resources to each task in the WBS. The resources could be people,  contractors or materials. Next, the project manager calculates the duration of every task in the WBS. That completes the project schedule.

When the project sponsor approves the schedule, the project manager saves the approved version of the schedule in the software as the baseline. When work begins, the project manager keeps track of the progress of each task. That is the basis for status reporting and that’s how we use the WBS.  Main WBS – Work Breakdown Structure Page

What is WBS?: The Decomposed Project Scope

The WBS is not a list of the things people think must be done in project. That “to do” list approach to developing the work breakdown structure causes projects to cost more money and take longer than they should. You develop the WBS by working top-down from the scope. You start with the scope of the project that is defined by the project sponsor. Then you break it down into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. Each deliverable must be measurable, like a metric or an approval/sign-off. Then you take each of the major deliverables and break it into its components. Those are the elements that are required to produce that deliverable. On a very large project, you may work down another level or two and subdivide large deliverables into smaller ones. You continue until you get down to the level of individual assignments for team members.

What is WBS?: How to Create the WBS

The WBS is central to the entire process of planning, scheduling and tracking a project. The best practices for developing a WBS involve these steps:

  1. The sponsor of the project defines the scope or overall objective
  2. The project manager (you) define each of the major deliverables by its end result. As an example, “Clean up the file room” is not a clear deliverable because you can’t measure the end result. On the other hand, a deliverable like, “98% of the files on the shelves in alphabetical order,” does define the end result in measured terms.
  3. You take each of the major deliverables and break them down into smaller deliverables. You stop when the task is the right size for an individual project team member contractor.

What is WBS?: An Example

Now let’s see how you would take an assignment called “Fix the XYZ program schedule” assignment and create a WBS. First, you go through the process of identifying what you want your team member to give you when he or she completes this assignment. wbsGoing back over your conversations with the project sponsor, you could identify a number of characteristics they want to see in the schedule. They want the project to be finished in less than 250 days. They want to avoid using outside contractors. And they want to spend less than $325,000 on the project.

So you use those metrics to tell your team member exactly what you want. You tell them you want a schedule that completes the project in 250 days or less, doesn’t use outside contractors and has a budget of less than $325,000. Those are the success criteria for the assignment and that’s the deliverable you would define for the team member. A really awful assignment would have been to tell the team member you want the schedule revised to be shorter, cheaper and not use any outside contractors. If you do that, the odds of getting what you want are very poor. That’s because the team has to guess what you mean by faster, cheaper and no outside contractors.

At this point, you don’t know if this deliverable is actually achievable. You need to sit down with the team member and look at the current schedule. You need to give the team member a chance to think about whether the result is achievable. Then they need to think about how long it will take them to achieve the result. You would discuss the approach and the budget for doing the work. Then you would have a good entry for your work breakdown structure. Create WBS With Team Members

What is WBS?: Too Much Work?

You may be saying to yourself, “It is going to take me a lot of time to decide exactly what I want and how I’m going to measure it for every task in the WBS.” And you are right. It does take more time than compiling a “to do” list. However, remember how important the WBS is to your project success. It is the centerpiece of every project. You use the tasks in the WBS as the foundation for estimating the work, costs and duration. The WBS gives team members clear project assignments, allows everyone to track progress on their tasks and it allows you to identify problems. As the project team executes the plan, you compare their actual results to the estimates for each WBS task. That lets you quickly identify variances and design corrective action.

Unfortunately, too many project managers don’t recognize the importance of the WBS. They think they can just make a list of all the tasks in the project and then start work. That approach yields projects that take longer and cost more than they should. Those projects are late because the PM did not identify all deliverables during the initial planning. To develop a strong WBS, you begin planning by defining the scope and the major deliverables. Then you break them down into tasks that are team member assignments to create your WBS.  Work Breakdown Structure Size

What is WBS?: How Big is It?

Project managers often ask, “How many tasks should this project have?” or, “How much detail should I have in the WBS?” The mistake PMs often make is to list hundreds of tasks. work breakdownThey start by listing the first thing they can think of to do and stop when they can’t think of anything more. They may list tasks that will take as little as an hour to complete. The driving force behind this minutia is the fear of forgetting something. How Many Tasks in a WBS?

It’s easy for a PM to think that a project’s WBS should detail everything everyone should do on the project. PMs mistakenly think that will protect them from people forgetting or skipping an item because they are lazy, stupid or sloppy. The PM may also think it frees them from relying on the thinking or creativity of the team members. The team members can just put their heads down and follow the “To Do” list. The PM mistakenly thinks they have thought of everything. That’s an unrealistic expectation.

At the beginning of your 4pm.com course, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

Work Breakdown Structure WBS – Video

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Deliverables or a “To Do” List?

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

The work breakdown structure (WBS) provides the foundation on which a project manager works. The project manager uses the Work Breakdown Structure to control the project and the work of the team. The WBS also provides the checkpoints against which the project manager, the sponsor and the organization measure progress.

In the project management world, there are two ways to build the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The first way is to develop the WBS as if it were a “To Do” list. Just like the kind of list you’d make up before going to the grocery store or running errands. Now, there is nothing wrong with “To Do” lists. I make them up for myself all the time. The problem with “To Do” lists comes when you give one to somebody else.

How To Build a WBS in MS Project Software

Here’s an example. My “To Do” list for the workday includes an entry like “Fix XYZ’s program schedule.” That’s a fine reminder for me because I’ve been thinking about what client XYZ wants to do. That includes the politics of changing the program scope and the executives who have different opinions about that scope. But if I were to give that as an assignment to another one of our consultants, they would have absolutely no idea what it meant. They might have to spend days acquainting themselves with that client company and the new strategic program they are starting. That “To Do” would be a terrible assignment to give someone. I’m not creating a performance expectation. I’m not telling them what a good job is or how I will evaluate their work. Clearly, project managers ought to limit their use of “To Do” lists to personal reminders. For something like a project, which may affect your professional career and the success of your organization, you need a better tool. What Is WBS?

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Criteria

A professionally done Work Breakdown Structure WBS has to meet two criteria to be included in our work breakdown structure.

  • It has to tell the person doing the work what a good job is before they start, creating a clear performance expectation.
  • It has to be unambiguously measurable. You don’t want to require a meeting to decide whether the task is done. You and the executives need hard-edged measures of project progress that are not open to interpretation or word games.

Those two criteria sound simple but it is not easy to produce them. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult parts of the art of project management. You need to decide exactly what you want as the assignment’s end result and then convert that end result into a metric.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Example

Now let’s see how I would take that “Fix the XYZ program schedule” assignment and make it work. First, I would go through the process of identifying what I want our consultant to give me when he or she completed this assignment. wbsGoing back over my conversations with the client, I could identify a number of characteristics that they want to see in the schedule. They want the project to be finished in less than 250 days. They want to avoid using outside contractors. And they want to spend less than $325,000 on the project.

So I could use those metrics to tell our consultant exactly what I want. I would tell them I want a schedule that completes the program in 250 days or less, doesn’t use outside contractors and has a budget of less than $325,000. Those are the success criteria for the assignment and that’s the deliverable I would define for the team member. A really awful assignment would have been to tell the team member I want the schedule revised to be shorter, cheaper and not use any outside consultants. If I do that, what are my odds of getting what I want? They are very poor because the consultant has to guess what I mean by faster, cheaper and no outside consultants.

Now I don’t know whether this deliverable is actually achievable. I need to sit down with the staff member to whom I am giving the assignment and look at the current schedule. I need to give that staff member a chance to think about whether the result is achievable. Then they need to think about how long it will take them to achieve the result. We would discuss the approach and the budget for doing the work. Then I’d have a good entry for my work breakdown structure. Create WBS With Team Members

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Too Much Work?

You may be saying to yourself, “It is going to take me a lot of time to decide exactly what I want and how I’m going to measure it for every task in the work breakdown structure.” And you are right. It does take more time than a “To Do” list. However, remember how important the work breakdown structure is to your project success. It is the centerpiece of every project. You use the tasks in the WBS as the foundation for estimating work, costs and duration. The WBS gives team members clear project assignments, allows everyone to track progress on their tasks and it allows you to identify problems. As the project team executes the plan, you compare their actual results to the estimates for each WBS task. That lets you quickly identify variances and design corrective action.

Unfortunately, too many project managers don’t recognize the importance of the WBS. They think they can just make a list of all the tasks in the project and then start work. That approach yields projects that take longer than they should. These project are late because the PM did not identify all deliverables during the initial planning. To develop a strong WBS, you begin planning by defining the scope and the major deliverables. Then you break them down into tasks that are team member assignments to create your WBS.  Work Breakdown Structure Size

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: How Big?

Project managers often ask, “How many tasks should this project have?” or, “How much detail should I have in the WBS?” The mistake PMs often make is to list hundreds of tasks. work breakdownThey start by listing the first thing they can think of to do and stop when they can’t think of anything more. They may list tasks that will take as little as an hour to complete. The driving force behind this minutia is the fear of forgetting something. How Many Tasks in a WBS?

It’s easy for a PM to think that a project’s WBS should detail everything; everyone should do on the project. PMs mistakenly think that will protect them from people forgetting or skipping an item because they are lazy, stupid or sloppy. The PM may also think it frees them from relying on the thinking or creativity of the team members. The team members can just put their heads down and follow the “To Do” list. The PM mistakenly thinks they have thought of everything for them.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: “To Do” List

This “To Do” list approach may work for projects with one or two people but it falls apart when the project gets any bigger. The flaws come from a misunderstanding of:

  • How to exercise tight control on a project
  • How to spot and solve problems early
  • The pros and cons of micro-management.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: What is Tight Control?

Is tight control having no problems? Hardly. That happens only in project fantasyland. Tight control requires that:

  • You can identify problems early and fix them quickly and inexpensively
  • Every project team member knows what he or she is accountable for delivering.

Acceptance criteria tell team members what they are accountable for delivering. This is quite different from what they have to do. As an example, a “To Do” list might tell a team member to “clean up the file room.” That task is open to many different interpretations. It doesn’t define your performance expectation for the team member. It’s a very ineffective checkpoint against which to measure their progress.

The deliverable of “98% of the files are on the shelves in alphabetical order” creates a crystal clear expectation for the team member. It also provides the acceptance criteria and an objectively measurable checkpoint for progress. When you assign that deliverable, you have better control because the team member knows what is “good enough” and doesn’t have to guess. Then you combine deliverable-based WBS with work estimates to create a superior tool for control and tracking. When you can’t exercise tight control, you must check everyone’s work frequently and make all the decisions. That’s micromanagement.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Micromanagement Pros & Cons

Micromanagement is right for brand new employees who need to learn their jobs. It’s also necessary for known slackers or nincompoops on the team. However, few project teams are composed entirely of people who need all the decisions made for them. Micromanagement discourages problem solving or ownership of results. It makes team members dependent on you when you don’t allow them independent decision-making. Worst of all, it creates team members who have no accountability for their results. All they have to do is follow the “To Do” list of activities.  Problems Created by Micromanagement

Most of your project team members won’t thrive under micromanagement. Micromanagement stifles people who want independence and are willing to be accountable for their work. They are the best performers and you need to encourage their best work.

Micromanagement doesn’t work on projects that need complex judgments and creative thinking. On these projects, much of the work is cerebral. comm30So it’s impossible for you to specify everything they must do. More importantly, it’s stupid to try. Let’s say you have an experienced engineer performing a task like “design the payment input screen (GUI) for the billing system.” That relatively small task will require:

  • Meeting with users to gather information about requirements
  • Listing all the required information for the GUI
  • Thinking about how to arrange the data elements on the screen for data entry efficiency
  • Writing a layout document for the screen
  • Meeting with users to get approval of the rough design.

You could list all those activities and more in the WBS. But what if the engineer comes up with a great idea? Do you want the engineer to ignore it and follow the WBS ‘To Do” list? Of course not. You want the engineer to figure out the best way to do the design. So instead of the activities in the ‘To Do” list, you might assign deliverables like:

  • User management signs off on the GUI design and acceptance criteria
  • User management signs off that the GUI meets the acceptance criteria.

You let the engineer estimate how long those two deliverables will take. You’ll get a status report each week so you know how their work is progressing. Best of all, you designed an assignment that motivates the engineer to do his best work. Clear Performance Expectations

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Maintaining the “To Do” List

Remember how small the second WBS was for the engineer compared with the “To Do” list? That is typical. The “To Do” list approach yields large and detailed work breakdown structures that require lots of maintenance. Every time one of the micro-tasks changes you need to update the WBS. That can require entering dozens of changes each week. If each team member is reporting on 5 – 15 tasks per week, you’ll have a lot of data entry (even if you have clerical support to input all the status data).

The inevitable result is that tracking falls behind and so does updating the schedule. There are simply not enough hours to complete these maintenance tasks. Within a few weeks, you’ll stop updating the schedule because it takes too much time. This may sound like a stupid and improbable reaction but we see it frequently, even on large and important projects. The justification for stopping is, “No one is looking at all that detail anyway, so why should I spend the time to update it?”

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Deliverables-based WBS

Professionals who manage projects for a living and use the best practices in project management agree the WBS should be composed of deliverables (end results), not “To Do’s.” Assigning accountability for deliverables to team members yields a smaller WBS, easier reporting of progress (actuals) and less work to keep the schedule current. You also get team members’ ownership of the results when they are accountable for producing deliverables. Pre-launch Review of a WBS

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Summary

Your work breakdown structure -WBS is your design for making assignments, holding people accountable and monitoring process. When you do it properly, your schedule will be easy to keep current and your team members will be responsible for their deliverables.

You can learn to create a WBS the right way as part of our basic and advanced project management courses. You’ll learn how to break down the scope into deliverables for which you will hold people accountable.

At the beginning of your 4pm course, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
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WBS – Healthcare Projects

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

A key part of a good healthcare project plan is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS for Healthcare Projects specifies the work assignment for every person working on the project.  It also specifies the deliverables the customer or sponsor will get. And it provides checkpoints for the organization’s management to track the project’s performance.

WBS – Healthcare Projects: Step One

Creating a good WBS – Healthcare Projects starts with defining the scope and major deliverables of the project with administrators, physicians and other caregivers.  Then you decompose or breakdown each of those deliverables into smaller deliverables until you get to the level of an individual assignment. When you break down the project scope into deliverables, you specify the end result you want from each assignment. That is not a list of what you want the assigned team member to do. As an example, you would not describe everything an ICU nurse on your team must do to create a new procedure. Instead, you would state that the ICU nurse must deliver a set of procedures that pass inspection by the state Department of Health. That is a measurable deliverable with an acceptance criteria that is crystal clear. When you define every assignment in the healthcare project WBS as a measurable deliverable, you clearly define the work assignments for every caregiver, technician, administrator and any outside consultants working on the project. The assignments or tasks in your WBS define exactly what a good job is for each assignment and how you will measure it.  WBS – Work Breakdown Structure – Main Page

 

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

WBS – Healthcare Projects: Step Two

The WBS also shows the methodology you will use on the project to produce the required deliverables. The WBS of a project that uses a waterfall methodology will be very different from a project that uses a design-build methodology. In the waterfall methodology project, you will complete very detailed front end planning before the team starts work. On a project that uses a design-build methodology, the team will begin work on the deliverables before all the plans are finished. If you use an agile methodology for the project, you will complete the deliverables iteratively with a great deal of interaction with the caregivers and administrators at every step. The WBS will include time for them to assess the results and change the specifications. That project’s WBS will look very different from a WBS using one of the other methodologies.Healthcare Project WBS

WBS – Healthcare Projects: Step Three

The healthcare project WBS must specify the testing and quality control procedures you will utilize at various checkpoints in the project. Some of the checkpoints may be the testing of equipment against manufacturer or regulator specifications. Other checkpoints may be a governmental comparison of what you have developed to the approved regulations and requirements.

WBS – Healthcare Projects: Step Four

If you know who will be working on your project, it is a good practice to give the team members an opportunity to talk about the acceptance criteria for the deliverables they will be producing. Allowing team members to take part in defining the healthcare project 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, their participation also gives you the benefit of the team members’ experience with similar projects. That’s an opportunity for you and the team to identify problems very early in the process.

WBS – Healthcare Projects: Summary

The aim of the WBS is to

  • give team members clear assignments that are deliverables
  • communicate the methodology you’ll use to produce the deliverables
  • specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing
  • provide management with checkpoints for tracking progress.

This sample lecture from our Healthcare Project Basics course focuses on developing a healthcare project WBS. The goal of the WBS is to give crystal-clear assignments to people working on the project and give management clear checkpoints on progress. 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 healthcare projects, consider taking one of our online healthcare project management courses. You’ll learn at your pace with an expert healthcare project manager as your coach.

Free Project Article & Video Lecture Monthly


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WBS – Business & Operations Projects – Video

A critical part of your project plan is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS for Business & Operations Projects is a lot more than a long list of tasks. It comes from a definition of the project scope which is the business benefit that the project will deliver. The project scope is stated as a metric, an acceptance criteria, and so is every component of the work breakdown structure. Those components are the deliverables, everything that’s required to deliver the business benefit. The aim of the WBS is to give crystal-clear assignments to people working on projects and give management clear checkpoints on progress. Every successful business and operations project also includes process changes in their organization. The WBS has to include the training that will increase the capability of the users. Finally, the WBS is structured with the particular methodology that the project will employ (waterfall, agile, iterative).  Main WBS – Work Breakdown Structure – Page

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step One

The WBS is a decomposition of the project scope. You start by breaking down the 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. To do this decomposition, you must define every task in the work breakdown structure with acceptance criteria. Those are the specific measures the customer or user will apply when deciding whether to accept the deliverable. An example of an acceptance criteria in a project for improving efficiency might be, “Project team members can complete their weekly timesheet in less than two minutes 90% of the time.” That defines a specific end result that you, as the project manager, will use in specifying user requirements and measuring team member performance.

WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step Two

The WBS – Business & Operations Projects will show the methodology you will 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 in the creation of each deliverable. It would include time for the user to assess the result and change the specifications after each iteration. On the other hand, the classic waterfall project plan would include very detailed front end planning followed by execution of the plan.

WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step Three

The WBS needs to specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing. Some testing tasks should include the number of transactions or samples that you will test. That ensures adequate time is estimated for the complete testing procedure. That includes any external testing of the deliverables during development or prior to acceptance. They should appear in the work breakdown structure to ensure enough hours of work for adequate testing and quality control are included in the schedule.

WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step Four

Finally, 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, their participation also gives you the benefit of the team members’ experience with similar projects. That’s an opportunity for you and the team members to identify problems very early in the process.

WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Summary

The aim of the WBS is to

  • give team members clear assignments that are deliverables
  • communicate the project methodology you’ll use to produce the deliverables
  • specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing
  • provide management with checkpoints on progress.

 

This sample lecture is from our online Project Management Basics course. It focuses on creating the work breakdown structure for small business projects. The focus is on creating a project plan and work breakdown structure that are tools for making clear, measurable assignments and tracking the team’s progress on those deliverables.

To learn more about designing a good WBS for Business & Operations projects, consider taking one of our online project management courses. You’ll learn at your pace with an expert project manager as your coach.

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WBS – Construction Projects – Video

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.”

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

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.

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

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 ThreeWBS - Construction Projects

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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