Why you should create a Work Breakdown Structure for Project Management
Managing a project, more often than not, is a fairly complex endeavor. For that reason, an array of methodologies and techniques have been developed to facilitate taming the chaos that comes along. Creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is at the foundation of it all. What it means, as the name suggests, is simply to break the structure of work that needs to be done from the most overarching objective down to the smallest chunk of deliverables. Deliverables do not mean specific tasks and activities that are involved, it’s what the customer or stakeholder will get once the project is complete. Best practice, however, suggests not to go beyond 3–4 levels down. The value of breaking it down, besides getting a clearer picture of tasks, may not be obvious at first, which is why I want to bring up 5 major benefits of creating a WBS.
But first, let’s come up with an imaginary project to use as a demonstration. Let’s say I want to start a business selling some product online. This is no piece of cake, so I am going to break it all down into smaller bites to get more manageable components.
Now that we have our WBS ready, let me show you how the benefits mentioned before can be applied in my project. I’ll be using probably the best project management plugin for JIRA — BigPicture — to implement those into my project. Make sure to click on images below to see animated GIF’s of my actions inside JIRA and BigPicture.
Or in other words, see how one thing leads to another. This is where brainstorming and expert judgment need to be used to identify predecessors, successors, and blockers to understand tasks sequencing. Not only does it have a direct impact on project’s schedule but also resource allocation.
In my demo project’s case, I cannot hire a developer without posting a job offer first. See how easily I can link those issues in BigPicture to create dependency.
Scheduling project’s timeline
Every deliverable on the WBS needs to have an estimated amount of time required to bring its outcome to fruition. A project manager, as much as a very competent person, does not necessarily has the ability to correctly assess this value which means that more often than not, he has to pick the brain of specific field’s experts. It already gives an insight on how many resources a deliverable has to have allocated for a particular timeframe.
In my case, I went up to a fellow developer to ask him how long a website development would take and entered appropriate values.
WBS allows to identify skills and competencies required to complete a deliverable. Not only does it clarify the roles but also lets easily assign responsibilities to teams.
My demo project will need a designer to draw mock ups and graphic designs for my online store. In BigPicture I can also check his workload and adjust it accordingly.
Breaking objectives down into smaller pieces allow for better progress tracking. It is much easier to control mobile designs development than an objective of building a whole website. Each task is measurable and the big picture objective is made of those components making it easier to check the percent completion.
How does WBS help with identifying risks? Well, once you break down the scope of work, establish dependencies, estimate delivery time and allocate resources you will find that some of those parameters are harder to define than others. This creates uncertainty and poses risks to the timeliness or scope definition of a project.
Here, in BigPicture, I identify a risk where my negotiation with the creative agency may take longer than planned which might have impact on my budget and timeline.
Creating a WBS makes complex projects more manageable. If a PM is capable of better project monitoring, the team members are more likely to commit to their tasks. There’s also increased accountability and push for performance. In essence, a WBS is a framework for better project planning and execution and one should not ignore its value when starting a project.