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Work Breakdown Structure

All projects (large and small) require a WBS. It is a required element in project management. A WBS shows the complete scope of the project broken down into manageable deliverables. A project will take longer than the scheduled time if a WBS is not available. Project managers may also miss out on certain important activities without the WBS. Thus, without a WBS, the project can be negatively impacted.

Most project managers make a list of activities as actionables. This may result in overlooking some deliverables. Additionally, a list can be cumbersome and does not allow the project manager to clearly break down a large project into small appropriate pieces. People do not get an understanding of the project by looking at the list. A list is created by one individual. Looking at the list, people do not know who has created the list. These are some of the major drawbacks of creating a list of activities.

A WBS has enormous advantages using a WBS, no actionable is missed. A project manager can easily break down the work into work packages, and the WBS shows how the work packages are drilled down. A WBS is created with input from stakeholders and the team. This automatically helps in seeking their buy-in and thus leads an improvement in their performance. Creation of WBS is a process that allows the team to walk through the project in their minds and thus improve the project plan. Thus, the execution of the project is much easier and less risky. The involvement of people increase and all feel that the project is more achievable. A WBS shows a complete hierarchy of the project, making it easier to see how one deliverable relates to another.

Most commonly, the project title goes at the top of the WBS. The first level is typically the same as the project lifecycle (for example, for the project WBS described here, method for integrating energy, develop rugged and robust casing, develop a long life, high capacity storage system, develop a light system, develop an inexpensive product and do not reinvent the basic components). The later levels break the project into smaller pieces. Such decomposition continues until the project manager reaches the level appropriate to manage the project. It is important to note that the WBS is NOT a corporate organizational structure though it looks like one. It has a different function that allows you to break down a seemingly overwhelming project into pieces you can plan, organize, manage and control. The creation of WBS is a top-down effort. It involves decomposing the deliverables, and the work required to produce them, into smaller pieces called work packages.

Following are the rules to be followed for creating a WBS:

  • A team is involved in creating a WBS

  • The first level is completed before proceeding any further in creating the WBS

  • Each level of WBS is a sub-level (a smaller piece) of the level above

  • The entire project can be understood by looking at all the levels of a WBS

  • WBS does not include deliverables other than the project

A deliverable is considerable to be a work package when:

  • It can be estimated (both realistically and confidently)

  • It can be completed quickly

  • It can be completed without interruption (without the need for more information)

WBS levels are numbered at a later stage. Work packages are distinguished in the WBS using the identification numbers assigned after completion of the WBS. This is an example of using a numbering system for WBS. In the exam, you will see the term control account. For some projects, the costs are not managed at a work package level. Instead, they are managed at a higher level in WBS, called the control account.

As the planning process progresses, the team breaks down the work packages from the WBS into activities that are required to produce the work packages. The further breakdown of WBS into an activity list is done as a part of the time management process of Define Activities. The team uses the project scope statement, WBS, and the WBS dictionary to help define which activities are required to produce the deliverables. The foundation of any project is WBS. After creation of WBS, everything that occurs in planning is related to WBS.

WBS Dictionary

For each work package, a WBS dictionary provides a description of work to be done. Benefits of WBS dictionary include avoiding scope creep and providing a clear description of the deliverable.

A WBS dictionary can have multiple uses:

It informs when work package is going to start, thus acting as a work authorization system. Schedule milestone, acceptance criteria and other information about the work package are included in a WBS dictionary. It can be used as a control mechanism of what work is done. The stakeholders have an increased understanding of the efforts involved in a work package with a WBS dictionary. 


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