Have you looked at a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and said, “Does this tell me the amount of work the program will require, and more importantly, who will need to be involved”?

If you have a program, you will benefit greatly from the WBS, not that this is the only place but more on that in a later article.

The effort required to deliver the project's objective can be wide ranging, the WBS, done well, will identify all the work products that the scope mandates. The WBS is so significant, that The Project Management Institute has Practice Standard. The WBS is used to:1

  1. To define the details of the project scope
  2. Provides a framework on which the project plan, and progress reporting is based
  3. Identify all stakeholders and evoke the all the work required to deliver the scope
  4. Provides the framework for the decomposition of the work to meet the objective

We should not under appreciate the value of a common lexicon, which the WBS can help us develop through this approach.

We may think we know what somebody means when they make a statement. However, this is seldom true, our experiences and biases, we have written about biases in an earlier article.  

Building a WBS provides structure for our conversations with team members. The WBS will delineate the work products in a way that will clarify assignment of the work products.

This delineation and breakdown also facilitating the estimating process. It is easier to estimate several small blocks rather than one large block without understanding the entirety of the work required.

Base Understanding

A process for exploring and decomposing the project scope will be a fundamental to evoking and recording the entirety of the work to meet the project objectives.

From experience, budgets and delivery dates are busted due to missing portions of scope, discovered at that inopportune moment, when it is too late to respond proactive, and what remains is reactive options.

Scurrying like rats to find a way to get that last piece of cheese. Nothing like going back to the executive staff to ask for an increase in the project budget, while we tap dance why this increase is necessary.

"A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a visual, hierarchical, and deliverable-oriented deconstruction of a project.2

Figure 1. MIL-HDBK-881 Department of Defense (as seen on WBS Planner)

Program management is the management of different but related projects. When you have multiple projects connected to each other, you group them together and manage them as a whole “program.3

Figure 2. Example of Software Development Project (as seen on WBS Planner)

Figure 4 Planned project WBS spending date.

Benefits

From experience, scope is a significant source of failure, or more specifically, more the lack of scope understanding, which leads to scope control issues as we learn things late. Sometimes this learning happens late because we are learning, and there is not much we can do about that.

This is the reason for agile approaches. However, in our experience, we blame these failures as new, or who could have seen this was part of the scope, as consequence insufficient exploration or diligence in uncovering and vetting the scope. This atomization of the scope makes estimating as well as spending associated with dates, which will provide the base for any Earned Value Management efforts we plan for the project (see figure 4).

If you would like to explore more examples of work breakdown structures are found at WBS planner. This tool can help in the exploration other examples and help you develop your or your company’s own approach. If your organization builds similar things, that is the work products are similar, it is possible to reuse the WBS from one project or program to another.

This is a double-edged sword, if we are not thinking through the work, we might miss something. We do not want the WBS effort to turn into a checklist approach.

A program can benefit of the WBS in partitioning the work products across the various projects and team members. Effectively done, the WBS helps delineate the work. There are some things to consider in either case.

With any program or project the bottom line is the bottom line. Organizations base a lot of the decision to move forward on Return of Investment. The selection of resources and tools are critical to this evaluation, and this includes the estimates of what is required to accomplish the program objectives.

The WBS helps us estimate the cost in hours, time, capital investment and expertise required to successfully conclude.

1 [ Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structure, Project Management Institute, 2019 ]

2 What Is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) In Project Management? (projectmanager.com/work-breakdown-structure)

[ Program Management: Definition, Roles, Responsibilities & Resources (workamajig.com)]