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About Work Breakdown Structures ...

WBS in Project Management stands for "Work Breakdown Structure". This professional sounding term simply describes what should be common sense when planning a project: think about what needs to be done !

I have been reading a statement by a project manager recently saying that deliverables are more important than activities. And: beware of too much detail when planing and micro-management.

While I would agree that deliverables are more important than "how" you create those (a fundamential statement in the Agile Manifesto: "Working software over comprehensive documentation") I also would say that a project manager actually needs to worry about the "How" - at least to some extent. The art of project planning of course always is to choose the right level of detail.

A WBS itself actually focuses on the "how": that's why it is called W ( "Work" ) Breakdown Structure. A WBS should describe the tasks and activities to accomplish something. I also agree: beware of too much detail ! But this is true as well: beware of too less detail. I simply have seen too many projects starting where almost nothing has been planned.

To describe deliverables ( and that's probably the first thing you do in an early phase of the project planning when you identify the components to build ) a P ("Product" ) Breakdown Structure (PBS) should be used. Once you know the components you might want to go into some detail to describe the tasks needed to create those components ( deliverables ). Deliverables of course also can be features of components ( thus a level deeper in the PBS ).

PBS and WBS can be combined: you would have components and features on the higher levels and tasks defined with a reasonable amount of detail on lower levels.
If later on you have transformed your overall WBS to a gantt chart this would give you the benefit to see the progress for components and features in a high level status report.

Mindmapping by the way is a great technique to initially create a PBS and then add the WBS - hopefully with involvement of as many team members as possible.

2 blog comments below

Interesting article. I can agree with the logic in it. I’ve seen a manager spend almost the complete day in a conference room talking about the up coming project while myself and the other staff were working on it. In the end the new person that he was planning with left so one has to wonder what value that day had. Think that falls under too much attention to detail and zero deliverables.
Bluedoll on Thu Feb 21, 2013 2:02 pm
Question I would have: whom did he actually talk to ? What was the agenda and purpose of the meeting ?
Running lousy meetings is another great opportunity besides lousy project management to waste the work power of a team.
amagard on Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:23 pm

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