“Would you please help me print out this ‘WBS’? It won’t fit in one page. I have a status meeting with the Sponsor in 30 minutes!” a colleague of mine approached me and asked. “This is not a WBS! It is a Schedule in a form of hierarchal structure.” I said sarcastically when I saw her WBS. She listed all project deliverables, and listed all activities below each one. This is not what a WBS is intended to be used for. Does your sponsor or client need to know how you’re going to complete each deliverable? Do you really need to present a 100+ boxes on your WBS to get your sponsor agree on what’s included and what’s excluded in your project scope? Absolutely not.

The primary benefits of having a WBS in any successful project dictate the need to keep it simple. Firstly, a WBS depicts the boundaries of project scope. A client or a sponsor can easily sign off a well-structured WBS as it includes all project scope and excludes whatever out of scope. Secondly, it ensures that effort is not wasted on unnecessary or out-of-scope deliverables. That is, if the WBS lists a redundant Work Package, this would require extra resources, time, and cost. Finally, a good WBS can be used on a project dashboard to communicate scope (changes) without confusing stakeholders with scores of activities needed to complete deliverables. The latter point is actually the key to build a good WBS. A WBS does not include activities; it only lists deliverables down to the Work Package level. Leave listing activities to the Project Schedule. WBS is composed of tangible deliverables without activities whereas a Schedule describes all activities required to complete those deliverables outlined in the WBS.

From another perspective, a WBS represents the project lifecycle that is different from the PM Process Groups. WBS is not used to chart Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing of a project. These are process groups that describe how you manage a project from start to end but not what the project includes and what it excludes (scope). On the other hand, a project lifecycle describes the phases into which a project evolves to complete each of the agreed upon deliverables. Hence, one of the most commonly-used WBS’s is breaking down the project into phases, deliverables, sub-deliverables, and Work Packages that collectively constitutes the overall scope of the project.

If WBS represents the lifecycle, how should PM processes be represented as part of the project effort? Project Management is actually a phase in the WBS that has its own deliverables, sub-deliverables, and Work Packages. Taking a software development project as an example, the WBS shown in figure (1) is what is expected to represent the lifecycle and scope of the project (WBS in its initial structure for illustration purposes).

As shown in figure (1) the Analysis phase of the project consists of two deliverables: Glossary, and Requirements Specifications. The SRS deliverable consists of three sub-deliverables: Use Cases, Supplementary Specifications, and Reporting Requirements. The sub-deliverables can be broken down further into Work Packages (components that can be estimated for required time, resources, and cost). Use Cases, for instance, can be broken down into more specific use cases discussed with customer or user of the system under development.

Although WBS is progressively elaborated (built in increments as project progresses) a PM should make sure her WBS is complete and constitutes 100% of the agreed scope. All phases should make up the 100% completeness of the project. And all child deliverables under each phase should make up 100% of the parent phase, and so on. This is one way to ensure a WBS, so scope, completeness.

After a WBS is structured correctly, a project schedule can be established. From each deliverable or Work Package in the WBS PM with her team members can list the required activities to build each component. Time, resources, and cost are then allocated to each activity of the component after which a project schedule (e.g. MS Project Plan) is generated and schedule baseline is then set.

About Mohammed Barakat

Mohammed is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB), ASQ Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB), Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) -Project 2007 Managing Projects, and a Microsoft Office Master Instructor (MMI).