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3 Tips to Building your Work Breakdown Structure

IStock_000003692489XSmall It is not unusual to hear the question "How do I Build my Work Breakdown Structure?"  That can mean many things, but usually it means how detailed does my work breakdown structure (WBS) need to get?  Or sometimes that means, what is the least amount of work breakdown effort that I can do and still have a good work breakdown?

Here are three tips to building a good work breakdown structure:



1.  Your WBS breaks out into tasks that are deliverables.

In other words, your tasks represent deliverables and these deliverables can be evaluated as completed or not completed.  Why is this important?  You cannot know the true status of your project if you do not know the objective status of the deliverables in your project.  And you cannot know the status of the deliverables if your WBS is not broken down enough to track them.  The draft specification document is completed or it is not completed.  The mock up is done or it is not.  The ad has been approved or it has not been approved.  I realize I am oversimplifying this a little bit (and not factoring in the quality of the work), but you get the idea.

2.  You can easily estimate the time (and cost) of each task.

It is much easier to estimate how long it will take to write a chapter then it is to estimate how long it will take to publish a book.  You need to break down the work into small enough pieces that you can estimate them.  Otherwise, all of your estimates are nothing but a grand guess.  Likewise, if you need to estimate and track costs in your organization, you need to have small enough pieces to accurately estimate the cost for each piece of work.

3.  The duration of each task is reasonable compared to the duration of the project.

If your project is going to take two weeks to complete, you cannot have a task that is one and a half weeks in duration.  Otherwise, you will not know the status of that project until it is almost complete.  Likewise, if you project is going to take a year to complete, you probably do not need a task that is 30 minutes in duration.  That just is not reasonable when you compare it to the duration of the project.

So how do you know if a duration is reasonable?  I cannot give you a magic formula, but I can ask you a question in return.  How long can you wait before finding out that your project is falling behind, and still have plenty of time to address it?  The purpose of doing this in the first place is to manage the project well, so set your task durations so that you can do that without getting carried away with unneeded detail.

What would you add to this list?



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Great tips for the WBS. I have also heard and seen in the past where some people use 8-hour work blocks as the smallest that you want to go on the WBS. But as Mark explains in the blog, it all depends on the project itself. If you are working on a 1 or 2 year project, you will definitely not want to break down to such granular level.

I personally use deliverables as my method of breaking down my WBS for my project planning. No matter how large or small a project is, in the end there are deliverables that need to take place and need to be completed in order for a project to come together. So that gives me a good way of not only breaking up the activities of the project, but also determining costs, schedules, etc.

Thanks for the tips!


Thanks for the comments Sergio. I agree on the use and value of deliverables.

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