Work Breakdown Structures [WBS] basics

Every project should operate according to basic management principles. These principles are tried and tested. Now there are various components involved in the management of every project.  Examples of such components are goals and objectives.  These for instance are discussed in detail at the earliest stages of the project and then are subjected to a much more specific examination and assessment in the stage or process known as the work breakdown structure.

The whole purpose of the WBS is to divide the project into smaller segments or tasks and thereby enable a much tighter control by management of each particular segment. The breaking down of the entire project is known as decomposition. It’s a hierarchical approach.  The size of the smaller segments, often known as tasks, is determined by what is possible. A smaller segment will continue to be broken down until it is no longer practical to continue. There can be several levels of decomposition.

At the beginning, the entire process starts with the end. This seemingly contradictory statement is easily explained. You set out the desired end product. You then work backwards through each of the required processes until you arrive at the beginning. You identify the needs such as materials, labor and costs required for each task and segregate them. This division of the project is the basis of how a WBS operates.

The main project has its own goals and objectives and so too does each task within the whole. The WBS creates smaller parts of the whole but each is treated as a separate project.

The basics of each broken down segment, task or mini project are as follows.

  • A description of the project/task
  • A description of what the project/task will produce
  • How long the project/task will last
  • How much the project/task will cost
  • How the project/task can be measured

A basic component of the WBS is that the person or people responsible for monitoring and assessing the quality of a single component is separate from and obviously not the same person or people who assess the overall finished product. This division of responsibility is fundamental to the overall success of the project.

The number of managers for the project are determined the number and scope of tasks produced by the WBS. The greater the breakdown of the project, then the greater will be the need for more managers and team members. A smaller project may require only one manager.

A WBS is the proven method to make each link in the chain as strong as it can be. The ability of the chain to break is greatly reduced using a well-structured and well-managed WBS.

Sample WBS

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Business professionals might care to try the following test. Is your WBS a list of things to do or rather a list of things to do which can be measured? There is a difference. Having simply a list of things to do means the list keeps changing. When a delay occurs, the list is re-written and keeps expanding.

A list of measureable tasks allows you to complete each requirement before proceeding. This saves time and money and helps make each task a perfect part of the entire project.


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