8 posts categorized "Work Breakdown Structures"


Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 3

IStock_000009248870X_web This is another post in a discussion on how to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting, and thus good resource management, in your project management software tool.

In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).

In part 2, we discussed the key of accurately capturing when the work will be performed.

In this post, I want to discuss what may seem like a nuance, but is actually very important.  That is the importance of estimating the effort that will be expended on a task / project.  Many organizations simply collect the duration.  The duration is the amount of calendar time that is required to complete a particular task or project.  The effort is the amount of actual, dedicated work that is needed to complete the task or project within the duration period.  For example, "Creating a Design Document" may take 5 days (the duration) to complete, but John has other things he will be doing during those 5 days.  Over the course of those 5 days, John will be working for 12 hours (the effort) on "Creating a Design Document".

Why is this important?  Because when it comes to resource utilization, the effort is all important.  That is a fundamental building block.  How much time will a resource need to expend on the task?  The duration will not cut it.  You have to know the effort.  And there is no magic shortcut.  It is not as simple as saying "ok, let's start tracking effort."  It takes time and discipline to produce good estimates.

For some tips on how produce good effort estimates, let me turn to an old blog post by Tom Mochal in TechRepublic.  Included in his recommended steps are the following:

  • Create the initial estimate for each activity (task) in the project (this implies that you need to break down your project into these activities / tasks.
  • Add specialist hours (hours from experts, specialists, indispensable folks that will inevitably be needed).
  • Consider adding rework hours (most likely the task will not be 100% correct the first time).
  • Add project management time (time to do the project management).
  • Add contingency hours (to factor in the uncertainty of your estimate).

I would also add that you need to start tracking historical records of how long things actually take.  That allows you over time to gradually improve your effort estimates and assumptions.

It may be a big step to perform these steps right away.  In that case, start small and gradually add more maturity to your estimating process as people become more comfortable.

Of course, it can be difficult to follow the steps above all the time.  We are bombarded by imposed deadlines from stakeholders, management, clients, and others.  But as I said, there is no magic shortcut.  If you indeed want accurate resource utilization, you will have to go through the "effort".



Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting: Part 1

Many organizations want to know how their resources are utilized.  In fact, this can be critical to organizations that rely on proper resource utilization, such as a consulting group, a professional services organization, or an IT group overburdened with project requests.  In my experience, accurate resource utilization is hard.  It is not easy, it takes discipline, and it involves more than many organizations realize.

This is the first post in a series to help you achieve accurate resource utilization reporting in your project management software tools to support proper resource management.  In this first post, I will cover the first key step that is necessary.

Let me cover one point before that.  When I am using the term "resources", I am referring to people.  How is the organization using its people?  I understand that "resources" is a broader term and can encompass things like materials, money, or machinery.  We are going to focus on "people resources", as they have the most impact on the most organizations.

With that out of the way, the first key step to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting is to capture all of the work.  In other words, you cannot accurately determine how much work a resource has on their plate at a given point in time if you have not captured all of that work.  In concept it seems easy, but in reality it is not.  There are some considerations that play into this.  This means that you must:

  1. Develop a good work breakdown structure (wbs) for every project.  You have to capture all of the work that will truly be needed for every single project out there.  And it needs to be detailed and accurate.  In other words, if your work breakdown structure includes a line item for "Implement Product at Client", that's probably not going to cut it.  You need to have enough detail to accurately know how many hours it is going to take to do this.  Read my previous post for tips on how to do this.
  2. Capture non-project work.  Most people do not devote 100% of their time to project work.  They have some day-to-day operational or maintenance tasks.  This is part of their workload as well.  They attend meetings.  They go to training.  These have to be captured.  There are generally a couple of ways of handling this type of work.  You could capture all of this work, just as you have done for your project work.  Or you could estimate the % of time each day that people spend on these things.  For example, you could estimate that 40% of a person's day is consumed by non-project work.  This gets into the topic of capacity which I will expand on in a future post.

A quick note.  Do you have to have a good, detailed work breakdown structure with estimates?  No, you don't.  But the accuracy and detail of your reporting will correlate with that.  The less detail and accuracy in the work estimates that you have captured, the less detail and accuracy you will have in your reporting of resource utilization.  You will have to decide the right balance.



3 Things Every Person Should Know

IStock_000004021750XSmall We strive to make project management software easy to use, even if the person using the software is not a certified, fancy-titled project manager.  However, I believe there are certain things that everyone who is using project management software for scheduling should know in order to use these tools effectively.  Here are three things that I think everyone should know.

1.  Dependencies

There are many people that have used a tool like Microsoft Project and understand how to setup a dependency.  There are also many people that do not have a clue what a dependency is or (more so) how to properly use them.  This is essential to make a project management software scheduling tool, such as a Gantt chart, work for you and not the other way around.  A fair number of people open up a tool like that and start manually entering start and finish dates.  If you want your project management software implementation to be successful, and for people to gain value out of it instead of being frustrated by it, provide some basic training on dependencies and scheduling.

2.  Work Breakdown Structures

Work breakdown structures (wbs) are so fundamental to planning a project that it is essential for everyone to understand them.  You may not actually go out there and go through a work breakdown structure phase in your project planning, but your schedule will still be built on one.  You need to understand how to breakout work, the difference between summary and detail tasks (or parent / child tasks), and their implications.  This will make it far easier for you to understand what is going on.

3.  Duration and Effort

You should also know the difference between duration and effort (sometimes referred to as work).  I would not say that everyone needs to be an expert at this, but everyone needs to at least have a fundamental understanding of these.  If you do not, there is no way that you can do effective resource assignments and resource planning of any kind.

Make sure that you have at least a basic understanding of these.  If you are tasking people with using project management software tools (at least anything that tracks a schedule), make sure they understand these as well.  You will not get the value out of it unless they do.

What else would you add to this list?


Another Reason to Build a Good Work Breakdown Structure

I have not forgotten part two of using Excel for issue tracking in project management.  But I wanted to briefly forward another reason to build a good WBS, with whatever tools you have.

Glen Alleman writes a project management blog called Herding Cats.  I have recently been following his posts.  He comes from a different perspective from some of us.  Specifically he comes from a more defense / government sector perspective where project management has to be more formalized because of the complexity and budgets of the projects.  Many of us are more informal in our project management approaches.  We have some things to learn and put in practice that work.

In Glen's post, The WBS is Our Friend, he writes how the WBS can be used as a tool to know when a project is "DONE".  Read it and you have another reason to not skip or short-change the WBS process.


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: https://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?


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?



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.


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.



Common Work Breakdown Structure Mistakes

I came across a video on common work breakdown structure mistakes by Dick Bellows.  He provides some good advice on how not to setup a work breakdown structure as well as advice on how to do it correctly.  I must say that the setting for the video is certainly different from your typical dull instructor setting.  Check it out as doing the work breakdown structure well is one of those foundational elements of making any project management software tool function well.

By the way, if you don't know what a work breakdown structure is, here is both a simple and more complicated definition.





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