Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), the Basic Building Block for a Project Plan
Get the WBS right and you are set for project success. Get this wrong and you may be looking at poor project performance or simply looking for another job. One of the biggest mistakes that project managers make when developing a project plan is to not sit down with the team doing the work and guessing for them. Too many times I have seen managers at the early stage of the project who have sat down with only one person and have had him/her give estimates on the time required, only to face serious consequences later in finding out how off the estimates were.
The Simple Way to Create a WBS
Here is a simple yet effective way to create a WBS and get it right.
- Make a list of deliverables from the proposal, contract, and the scope statement.
- From the list of deliverables, create sub deliverables that can be used to manage the work being done. In PMI terminology these are called work packages that define the amount of work that can be tracked by the project manager. These are not activities and tasks.
- Sit with experts or knowledgeable staff from all areas of your project when creating the WBS. This means that for a software development project, the project manager should sit with at least four people: the UI designer, developer, tester and a software development manager who overseas the team. This is not too much. A 30-minute meeting with each person now will save the company in the long run.
- Ask questions such as what next? How long? Who with? Etc. in order to nail down as much detail as possible. This is not necessarily part of the WBS but ensures that you have all the relevant information that may have been missed when building the plan.
- Follow the 8/80 rule as a good rule of thumb that ensures that no task is less than 8 hours or more than 80 hours in the WBS. If a task is greater than 80 hours then it needs to be decomposed further into work packages.
A WBS is not the project plan or a Gantt chart for that matter, yet it is an important element and input to the project plan and leads to cost and time estimates. The accuracy of these estimates depend on the WBS which is why it is extremely important to get it right.