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Work Breakdown Structures: Thinking Inside the Box

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a commonly used tool for managing projects of all sizes. Offering a graphical image of your process and deliverables, a WBS has many advantages.

Whether you are a business or project owner, understanding the function of a WBS optimizes the benefits of the tool for you. Project managers often rely on a WBS to store knowledge and create a path toward an objective—the deliverable. Principle points about a WBS include:

  • Form: A work breakdown structure usually takes the form of a hierarchical tree composed of lines and boxes. As a map of the project, a WBS illustrates the scope of the project and breaks down tasks into manageable pieces. Thoughtful work spent creating the WBS helps clients, team members, and stakeholders envision and understand the project. A well-prepared WBS depicts 100% of the defined project.
  • Resource estimates: AWBS allows you to make resource, time, and budget projections. Extra time spent preparing the WBS pays off down the line. As the project rolls out, the WBS gives the project manager and others a strong tracking and management tool. Because work activity and tasks are modeled to the lowest level, the WBS provides progress markers and creates accountability.
  • WBS as deliverable: The effort spent creating the WBS is, by itself, a product. Creative discussion to refine the WBS engages the vision and energy of each participant. In addition to capturing the architecture of the project, the WBS becomes an organizational focal point for moving forward.

A WBS can be created on a conference room white board with cards or through the use of WBS software templates. Concerns that arise when using or creating a WBS include:

  • Too little time spent creating the WBS
  • Confusing the WBS as a task checklist, instead of a structured path toward deliverables
  • Tasks that are too finely-grained
  • Failing to recognize the WBS as an iterative tool

Defining scope and project elements, a WBS is a useful management tool for any size project, in any industry. If you have questions about using a WBS, or about project management services, talk to us at PMCI.

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