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10/06/2010

3 Benefits of Building a Good Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure, in simple terms, is breaking down the work of a project in bite size pieces.  Normally, people refer to this as identifying the tasks that have to be done in a project, but it really goes beyond this.  A common mistake that people make, especially when using a project management software tool, is to jump right to scheduling the project and skip a work breakdown structure phase.  That doesn't mean that they don't do it at all, but it does mean that they begin with a focus on the schedule, which means the work breakdown structure suffers.

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Here are three benefits to spending the time to build a really good work breakdown structure (wbs):

1.  You will be able to actually measure progress in the project.

A good wbs will give you the "bite size pieces" that you can objectively evaluate.  Is something done or not?  No more guessing.  Even better, this should reduce the instances where a project is "90% done on Friday", and "10%" done on Monday."

2.  You will reduce the likelihood that important work is missed and not planned.

Have you ever gotten 75% of the way through a project and realized that there is more work than was originally realized?  That is why following a good wbs process is so important.  It helps to identify those things up front.  Later, we'll discuss how to go about it, but just having dedicated time to the wbs will help (as opposed to skipping over it and putting your mental gear into scheduling mode).

3.  You can better estimate cost and resources.

If the wbs is good, the cost estimate will be good.  If the wbs is poor, the cost estimate will be poor.  You cannot have a good estimate of resource needs and costs without a good wbs.

Will a work breakdown structure be perfect?  No, especially the first time around.  However, if you dedicate some time to it, and perfect them over time (by doing things like improving them through lessons learned), this is one of those "low hanging fruits" where you can see some immediate value without a lot of additional effort.

 





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