Feeling overwhelmed by the apparent size, challenge and complexity of your next project?
The start of the emotional roller coaster as project manager…
My reflex action - produce a Work Breakdown Structure, works for me every time!
Continue with your Work Breakdown Structure until you get to your FIRST 'verb'; like 'install stage light fittings', or 'hire media centre furniture', or 'train security staff'. Then STOP.
TIP! Also use some common sense: You want to stop immediately before a level of detail where the resulting activity/task will not take longer than a project reporting period, and can be estimated realistically in terms of 'time-to-complete'.
The WBS should only concern itself with tangible deliverables: Physical things that must be delivered in order to meet the project’s objectives.
Be prepared though! For huge complex projects, this last level of the WBS could be 10 or more below the top level. The tree diagram gets quite a visual challenge. You need a large piece of paper to see it all!
One Practical Method...
Large clear walls have served us well in the past. Instead of trying to fit your WBS onto a large piece of paper... think of the rework consequences if you decide something is in the wrong place.
...consider finding a flat wall clear of obstructions and windows.
Get some packs of coloured Post-Its, and use one Post-It for each element of your Work Breakdown Structure. If you need to juggle some elements around, you can, very easily! Post-It planning starts here.
Consider using a different colour Post-It for each vertical branch of a WBS. This helps visually when space starts to run out, and reduces the need to draw connecting lines all over the wall - which won't make you popular.
Should you require to mark joining-lines between Post-Its, whilst using a wall, decorator's lining paper serves well as a backdrop, or even Magic Whiteboard rolls.
Now you've spent some quality time creating your Work Breakdown Structure, it's time to move on and put the wall back to how you found it.
Don't throw away your Post-Its, WHATEVER YOU DO! The ones forming the most detailed level of each WBS branch, will be needed again, so keep them safely. Using the panoramic or standard camera functions of mobile phones or tablets allow you to “photocopy” the wall.
Organising your Work Breakdown Structure
Because of the immense size of the WBS for larger projects, it's usually not practical to produce a printed tree diagram WBS for the entire project, however it is important to document the WBS.
The most detailed levels of the WBS get used as the basis for the key activity list, higher levels of the Work Breakdown Structure often get used as summary reporting levels for the project.
How to document a WBS?
How do you document a massive tree diagram?
Print it on a large piece of paper?
Tried that! Not as successful as it may seem.
Even with A0 plotters this is impractical. Having tried all sorts of ways over the years, some Scheduling Software packages allow you to create a WBS tree diagram, yet from a practical perspective, it’s best left within the scheduling software, so long as you can view and navigate it. Here, the mobile phone “photocopy” also serves well as a timeless backup reference of the original.
Without a suitable software package, try using a good, old, reliable spreadsheet table or paper based equivalent. A brief outline of what it may look like is shown below.
The IMPORTANT thing: a record should exist of the project scope as defined at a point in time. This is needed to track change as part of the project management control process.
A couple of recommendations...
Producing the Work Breakdown Structure as a Group Exercise could form part of initial Team Building sessions, and brings a breadth and depth of experience from others who will be part of the project team - A GREAT BENEFIT! A Group Exercise is also a great opportunity to get the WBS completed efficiently and obtain needed buy-in from your closest team members. Getting the Work Breakdown Structure right allows you to better organise and delegate the subsequent project definition and planning activities, with clarity.
Facilitated WBS exercises are also worth consideration. The benefit of using an impartial experienced outsider who is able to challenge and guide the Group towards a suitable conclusion is very often overlooked. At the beginning of a project, the more experience you can draw upon the better your planning and definition will be, and the lower the level of risk; boosting the likelihood of a SUCCESSFUL project.