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5 Things You Can Do With a Good Work Breakdown Structure?

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is one of those project management techniques that does not seem to invoke excitement or a lot of attention.  From my observations, many organizations skip this step in their process (or they think they are doing it but really are not).

Do you remember the jingle for Klondike ice cream bars, "what can you do with a klondike bar?"  I still remember that, probably because I loved Klondike bars (or any ice cream product for that matter).  Perhaps it would be good to ask, what can you do with a good WBS?  I mean, no one has the time or desire to go through these exercises just for the fun of it.

Here are 5 things you can do with a good WBS:

1.  You can schedule your project.

Seriously.  How do you schedule without a good WBS?  Do you ever wonder why your schedules are never accurate?  Could it be that you have a poor WBS?  If so, you can schedule, but it's just a guess.  How do you know that everything is included in your schedule if you have not taken the time to go through a good work breakdown process?

2.  You can accurately assess the project.

With a good WBS, you can confidently assess what is done, what is not done, and even when the project will finish.  Without it, you are guessing.

3.  You can begin to do Earned Value.

Earned value is a big word used more in larger projects, such as defense acquisitions.  We tend to shy away from it otherwise, but it is a good, objective measure of the quality and status of a project.  It is not that difficult to employ earned value principles to your own, more simple, projects.  Search the web on earned value and you will get a wealth of information.  Glen Alleman, who writes the Herding Cats blog, has written on the subject and has a couple of posts with links to great earned value "pocketbooks".  You can get them here:



4.  You can identify gaps.

A good work breakdown structure is a plan and a baseline.  You can use it to work with your stakeholders and team to identify gaps (what is missing), risks, and to verify that what is there meets expectations.

5.  You can do change management.

Change management involves managing changes to the project.  Changes are inevitable, but they need to be managed.  Change management often refers to changes to the project scope (i.e. we need a change the design of the widget).  But changes to the project scope imply changes to the WBS, which implies changes to the project schedule, etc.  You need a good WBS to start with to properly evaluate the changes.  Also, there may be a change requested to the WBS itself - i.e. we need to do extra testing passes.  You can evaluate the impact of these changes and even use the WBS as a baseline to implement a process of changes to the work that is going to be done.

From a tools perspective, there are many tools that you can use to create a WBS.  You can use Microsoft Project.  You can use the special work breakdown structure tool in EnterPlicity.  You can do it in a spreadsheet.  You can even use post-in notes on a whiteboard.  Here is a blog post I found on using that technique: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/project-management/?p=116 (although know your organization and team members...making everyone sit in a room for hours may not always be the best approach).  The point is that going through the process is probably more important than the tool you use to capture the output from the process.

I am sure there are many more benefits.  What did I miss?  What value have you gotten out of a good WBS?


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I used WBS in all my projects! How people work with out them a don't know!

"Failure is only a temporary change in direction to set you straight for your next success.
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

Software for that purpose: http://www.wbs-tool.net

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