Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Components of the Work Breakdown Structure

Did you ever have so much to do that it was difficult to know where to start? What strategies did you use to complete your work? Did you break things down into manageable components?

A work breakdown structure (WBS) breaks down a project into manageable components. It is a chart that outlines project phases and organizes and define the scope of the project.

A WBS breaks down your project so that it is easy to identify the resources you need to complete each phase and task. When combined, these resources form a project resource list.

A WBS has several components. A code of accounts is one component of the WBS. It is a numerical identifier that is assigned to each item in the WBS. This identifier indicates to which level of the WBS hierarchy the task belongs. This identifier is also a quick indicator of which WBS level you are currently working on. It also makes it possible for you to see how your task is linked to others at each level. Looking at these other levels may help you understand how your task fits into the big picture.

Work packages are another component of a WBS. Work packages are the lowest-level items and show the division of project labor into workable units. Each unit can then be given to an individual or group to accomplish.

How do you know what degree of detail you need for the work package level of a WBS? A general guide is to make each work package small enough so that you can use it as a separate work element for estimating purposes. All of the work packages should have a consistent level of detail and control. If the level of detail varies between work packages, your plan will be distorted and confusing. If your work package needs further detail, it can be sub-divided into a list of work activities or tasks.

The WBS contains a great deal of information within its simple chart form. There is another element of the WBS that helps explain all of this information. This element is called a WBS dictionary, and it explains the nature of the work done in each of the WBS items. A WBS dictionary is a document that includes information concerning each phase and sub-phase of the WBS.

Information concerning the phases and sub-phases of a project can include planning information such as, schedule dates, cost budgets, and staff assignments.

The WBS dictionary is most often used on large projects and is compiled by team members after the WBS hierarchy has been determined. Planning teams can then refer to it when they are developing their detailed plans. This ensures that they are organizing their work into the WBS hierarchy correctly.

MercuryRising is an IT company with many series of ongoing projects. Lisa is a project manager handling approximately five series of Internet courses for a total of 42 courses. She must ensure that these courses are completed on time and within budget. To do this, she uses a WBS dictionary. Lisa needs a WBS dictionary so she can quickly see who is assigned to which course, the final date each is due to the client, and how much each course is costing her in resources.

A sample of what she might find in her WBS dictionary is:
Course: Interview Skills
Writer: Jane Scott
Course deadline: June 16
Project Cost: $3,000
The Work Breakdown Structure—with its code of accounts, work packages, and dictionary—is an important tool for breaking down and tracking the progress of your project. Once you finish each work package, you can move up the WBS hierarchy until the project is completed. This helps you plan the resources you need and monitor their use throughout your project.

1 comment:

Zil said...

Thank you so much. Your articles have been very useful to me.