Work Breakdown Structure

Let's begin with a discussion of the vocabulary and processes that encompass project management. The project scope involves subdividing the major project deliverables into smaller, more manageable components. Often this includes the work breakdown structure (WBS). The project scope is a deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements that define the total scope of the project. The WBS is almost like a giant task list of what needs to get done to successfully complete the project. It is often used to help confirm a common understanding of what the project scope is. It has the ability to transform one large, unique, and sometimes mystifying job into many small, more manageable tasks.

The WBS helps to define deliverables and figure out the tasks that need to get done. The WBS is also a useful tool to help monitor the progress, verify the schedule estimates, and build project teams necessary to complete the project. It lists the tasks that need to get done in a prioritized, hierarchical structure in relation to what needs to get done in the overall project. Each task should be specific enough to be able to put a person's name next to it who will be able to execute the given activity.

Some of the items on the list will be open-ended tasks. Open-ended tasks include activities that we are familiar with doing, but don't have a specific deliverable or hard product being produced. Examples of open-ended activities that might appear in a WBS are things such as "research," "perform analysis," or "interview." Another type of task might be on the list to perform but need more clarification. "Database" might be listed, but what does that really mean? Does it mean sort the database? Clean the database? Load the database? Test the database? You can see that just putting the word "database" on the list could refer to numerous activities; therefore, a greater level of detail about the task needs to be achieved.

The WBS should include a plan for the project and output quality.

Be sure to take the time necessary to get the quality high enough to meet expectations. It is cheaper to design and produce a product correctly the first time than it is to go in after development is in process and fix it. Steve McConnell, in his book Rapid Development, pointed out that if a defect caused by incorrect requirements is fixed in the construction or maintenance phase, it can cost 50 to 200 times as much to fix as it would have in the requirements phase. Each hour spent on quality assurance activities such as design review saves 3 to 10 hours on downstream costs.

Product scope and project scope have different qualities. The product scope can remain constant throughout the process of the project, while the project scope can change and evolve and expand. The project may also focus on the creation and delivery of a service. If there is no detailed product description, then creating one should be the sole deliverable for a project. Defining what the project constraints are (costs, schedule, resources, material, etc.) won't have any meaning unless the product specification is complete. This makes sense because if the project team doesn't have a clear idea of the product specification, they don't know what they're building or what they're working toward.

Given that a product scope is understood, then, it is important to define what the deliverables are. What is being produced? Is it a product? A service? A new design? Fixing an old problem? It is critical that the team know what they are working toward and it helps to create boundaries and focus the team on the outcome.

Deliverables can be either end deliverables or intermediate deliverables. The end deliverable is what the final outcome of the project is expected to be. The intermediate deliverables are the small pieces of the puzzle that help the team get there. An intermediate deliverable, for example, could be the creation and description of a target market, when the end deliverable is the mass media advertising campaign for a product or service.

Setting project objectives is critical. They serve as quantifiable criteria that must be met in order for the project to be deemed successful. Project objectives should be specific and measurable so that they can provide the basis for agreement on the project. Measurability provides supporting detail that may be necessary to make a strong case for a particular outcome.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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