Why would you use a WBS?

ShissoStarting anything is hard.
You’re anxious about what you don’t know.  You’re aware that you could be missing something critical.  And you are smart enough to know that you don’t know everything.

When you’re planning a project, “missing something” can result in an issue that could impact your end date.

Along with that worry, you have the time pressure that is everywhere these days.  I don’t know about you, but when I am assigned to a project, the pressure is on:  you’re being asked to produce a schedule last week and you’ve barely wrapped your head around the scope.  This when the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) comes in remarkably handy.

I use the WBS to ask questions, such as…

1. What are the deliverables?

I can probably skim through a document and pick out the high level deliverables, but to flesh out what we need to do to deliver on the charter, I need to run through the process of creating a WBS. Whether I’m using Visio or sketching it out on a legal pad, the process forces me to think through the logic of what is being asked.

That’s not to say that I’m building the  WBS on my own.  I typically draft up a WBS and then send it to the team.  Then we walk through it during a team call – and everyone builds on it: removing, rewording or adding in deliverables.

At this point, I like to step back – and look at the entire structure and ask:

2. What are the Dependencies?
Where does Deliverable A link to Deliverable L and is anything missing?  When you and team walk through the structure, keep prompting for the items that are missing, and ask whether there are dependencies (internal or external) that you need to address.  This helps me flag all kinds of dependencies for the project:

  • Resources from each team
  • Deliverables that need to be in place or need to be done in parallel
  • External dependencies from external teams or vendors

Once we’ve fleshed out the majority of the WBS, I like to ask…

3. Are there any risks associated with these deliverables?
Are there risks associated with external deliverables? Any unseen risks between deliverables provided by different teams?  Risk is something that you need to address throughout your project, but I find it very helpful to use the WBS or the “bare bones” of your plan to begin to surface them.

I know that in the past that I’ve said I love closing on projects. Thanks to the WBS I have to admit that I’m starting to love the Start of the Project.  It’s the last perfect moment before reality closes in on your plans.  To learn more about how to use the WBS on your projects, I recommend a book I’ve reviewed in this blog before – check it out here.

Do you use the WBS routinely to develop your plans?  Let me know what experiences you’ve had.  Leave me a comment or send me a tweet. My id is jgodfrey.


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