Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Work Breakdown Structure Templates

Like a map that shows you the entire world at a glance, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a graphical representation of the entire work effort of a project. It is a deliverable-oriented grouping of project components that is used to:
  • organize and define the total scope of the project
  • confirm a common understanding of the project scope.
Often, you can use a previously developed WBS as a template, or pattern, for new projects because most projects will resemble one another. Patterning a project after a previous one will enable a project manager to save both time and money. The project manager needs to consider three factors when deciding whether a previous project's WBS can be a template for a new project.
  • Project life cycle. Organizations usually create a framework that all project managers follow when developing projects. This framework is known as a project life cycle. The project life cycle defines the beginning and the end of a project. Project life cycles are usually organization specific.
  • Project phase. A project life cycle is broken down into phases that make it easier for a project manager to manage a project. Each project phase contains related project activities, usually culminating in the completion of a major part of the product or service.
  • Project deliverable. Each project phase is broken down into deliverables, which helps the project manager to control the project. A project deliverable is any measurable, tangible, verifiable outcome, result, or item that must be produced to complete a project or part of a project.
Many companies use a framework for project development that begins when an idea for a project is accepted and ends when the product or service is delivered to consumers. This is considered the project's life cycle. The life cycle includes the following phases:
  • planning—understanding the proposed product or service
  • designing—creating a detailed plan
  • manufacturing—building the product or developing the service
  • testing—making sure that the project or service meets expectations.
If a past project and a new project share similar project life cycles and deliverables, the past project can serve as a WBS template for the new one. The more similarities that exist between the life cycles and deliverables of the old and new projects, the more appropriate the old WBS will be as a template for the new project.
To determine similarities in the two project life cycles, look at the project phases of the two projects. Are the phases the same or similar? Do the projects have the same number of phases? Are the phases in each project named differently but accomplish the same thing?

If the answer to any one of these questions is "no," you can't use the WBS from the past project as a template, and you don't need to do any further research. However, if the answer to all three questions is "yes," you can probably use the past project's WBS as a template for the new project.

If the project phases of two projects are similar enough that the WBS from the older project can be used as a template, the project manager should then look at each projects' deliverables to see if they are the same in number and similar in outcome. Although the deliverables may be project-specific, project managers can consider them similar as long as they are accomplishing similar tasks.

In summary, when comparing past projects to the current project to determine if you can use the WBS template from the previous project, you should look for similar life cycles, phases, phase outcomes, deliverables, and deliverable outcomes. If a previous and a new project have the same or similar project life cycles, phases, deliverables, and outcomes, save yourself time and money and reuse the WBS from the previous project.

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