Tag Archives: Work Breakdown Structure

Use YOUR WBS to Build Team Strength

Use YOUR WBS to Build Team StrengthWe Build Strength (WBS). I realize you know that from a traditional project management perspective the correct words behind the acronym WBS are work breakdown structure. Now since you are going to follow best practices and create a WBS as you plan your project; why not consider using it as a team building exercise?

Team building exercises can be really fun and exotic. You can go learn how to country western dance to build your synergy as a team. You can expand your comfort zone by going sky diving or learning to race cars. Not every project team has the time or money for adventure. You can (and should) use regular project activities as team building events.

Consider the creation of the work breakdown structure (WBS). You know that you should not sit in your office constructing the WBS by yourself. Let the people who are doing the work define the work. Let them see how their deliverables begin to translate to assignable activities. This is an excellent opportunity for building trust and relationships through teamwork. Here are the steps you can take to engage your team in the creation of the WBS.

1.??? Invite the appropriate participants. This means someone from each group participating in the project. (Hint: It is not a bad idea for your key sponsor to observe parts of this activity so that they too gain an understanding of how the work gets defined.)
Note: This could be a very long work session or a series of work sessions. Schedule these sessions with an awareness of your team members availability and other work commitments.

2.??? Review the scope. If this is the first time the team is hearing the formal scope, this will result in lively discussion. Encourage questions and ?what-if? scenarios. If you discourage your team from openly discussing the scope, you have just shut down communications.

3.??? Ask individuals to work together to identify the key deliverables. Use the ?sticky note? or tear sheet approach. This means give the team post-it notes or similar pieces of paper that can be written and moved around. This allows the team to write deliverables (and next activities) on paper and position them at various locations on the proposed WBS.

4.??? Once the deliverables seem firm, have the team work on the lower levels. Have the group or groups that own each deliverable (or a portion thereof) use the ?sticky note? or tear sheet approach to break the work down. Encourage detail. You want the end result to be assignable and measurable work.

5.??? Make sure that good notes are taken during this session. What we construct during one meeting makes perfect sense at the time. Later, details may be forgotten.

6.??? Take some time away from the WBS and then revisit it. Walk through it again and make sure it still makes sense. Have team members present their sections to the rest of the team for review and discussion. This helps build an understanding of the entire work effort.

Now you have built a traditional work breakdown structure that the team understands and through your work together you have a built a stronger team. That is how you use your WBS to build team strength!

Work Breakdown Structure Training From Dick Billows

In line with my previous post about supporting other project management trainers who do good work, I bring you Dick Billows.

This video on the Work Breakdown Structure shows that his approach is in line with my philosophy.? It is in line with the training I provide through WBS Coach and pmStudent e-Learning.? I haven’t experienced his training first-hand, but based on this video I can tell the information you would get from Dick is going to be quality.

So watch this short video from Dick and check out his links below the video if you are interested in training.? Regardless of whether you choose my training or Dick’s, or anyone else’s, be sure you are getting trained by someone who knows what they are talking about and presents the training to you in a way that works for you.


Scheduling as Premature Elaboration: You?re Doing It Wrong

Scheduling is what project management is all about, right?

Among the plethora of project management tools available, what aspect is most widely promoted?

Jumping right into MS Project or any other scheduling tool is a mistake.

Projects like this are built on very unstable footing, and it’s likely they will fall apart in some way.

It’s just not safe.

If you haven’t fully developed a good Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)/PBS, requirements, and Basis of Estimates (BOE) before you start scheduling (and subsequently estimating costs and setting a budget), you’ve done it wrong.

So please, don’t open up a scheduling tool the moment you start a new project.? For me, there is a general order of operations to acheive project planning which is built on a sturdy foundation.? I don’t care if it’s waterfall, agile, whatever.? There are pieces between steps that go back and forth a bit before moving forward, but in general:

  1. Why – (business case, charter)
  2. What – (charter, WBS, requirements, use cases/user stories)
  3. How/Who – (ConOps, Trade Studies, Design, Basis of Estimates)
  4. When – (schedule, prioritized backlog)
  5. Iterate – (progressive elaboration, sprint cycle)

[All wrapped inside a Project Management Plan/Approach, based on proven system engineering/industry practices,? and supported by risk and configuration management.]

Note that MS Project or other scheduling tools don’t enter the picture until Step #4.? I have never heard a convincing argument as to why anyone would think of scheduling anything until you had a good grasp on the foundational prerequisites I list in steps 1-3 above.

So what do you think?? Does my take on this topic match up with your own, or are you mad at me now because I’m talking about you?? Either way, please leave a comment and let’s discuss what you think.

New Project Managers: How To Break It Down Into Manageable Parts

New project managers send me this question a lot, and I think some people struggle with this because they jump right to task definition with a leap directly over figuring out what to deliver first.

When you start a new project and need to break down the work into manageable pieces, how do you go about it and what are the things to watch out for?

In this video, I discuss the mindset I use when facilitating my teams through breaking down our work. ?If you want to learn more about my Work Breakdown Structure course, you find out more here.

Project management training for your ears

The audio book is now available.

Check out the product page and see if it’s for you. As always, you can email me anytime with questions.




P.S.? I shortened my email address to just “josh @ pmstudent.com” because my quirky last name was giving a lot of people trouble.

Free Report: Top 7 WBS Mistakes Project Managers Make

7-mistakes-imageThe Work Breakdown Structure is one of those tools in project management that in my experience gets used incorrectly quite a bit.? That might be due to how it gets glossed over in many textbooks, or how many people jump right into building one without understanding the fundamentals clearly.

It could also be due to illustrations in the PMBoK Guide text which display WBS Graphics that are completely wrong based on my experience.

Either way, I think it’s a big problem.

I just released a free report that relates heavily to my new training course, WBS Coach.? In the free report, I point out the top 7 mistakes I see other project managers make (and that I have made myself) and discuss them in detail.? There are other mistakes I’ve seen, but I hold myself back to just the top 7 for this report.

You can get access to the report here:


P.S.? My materials are not made for test preparation of any kind; they are designed to teach proper WBS techniques and fundamentals, as well as tool-specific video demonstrations, etc.? My method most closely aligns with the DoD standard but is scaled for any size project.? Where I disagree with PMI or other institutions I point it out specifically in the materials.

Project Communication

flickr photo by loop_oh

flickr photo by loop_oh

Effective project managers communicate about 90% of their time. There are no misunderstandings; there are only failures to communicate. Project managers communicate by using different mediums to convey a message. The message might be to an individual, a selective meeting with team leads, project sponsors, or the whole team collectively. It is truly critical for project managers to get the message across right the first time to avoid failures in the communication process.

There are three key components in projects known as the triple constraints, scope, schedule, and budget. During the planning process, it is the project manager?s primary responsibility to define the project scope using the work breakdown structure (WBS) to do so. The WBS consists of a hierarchical numbering system that accompanies a brief node description. The WBS is an aid to facilitate stakeholder communication. The WBS dictionary communicates the full details (inputs, outputs, assumptions) of each WBS work package at the level of which technical scope is controlled and delivered. Project managers and their teams decompose or subdividing the major project deliverables and project work into smaller, more manageable components. The technical scope baseline is fully communicated and configuration managed after completing the Project Plan, WBS, and WBS dictionary.

The detailed schedule proceeds semi-concurrently with the WBS dictionary activity. A detailed schedule reflects the technical scope and is created through a series of iterative processes that progressively elaborates the WBS into lower level sub-activities. Control accounts are established at the reporting level 3 of the WBS. Cost accounts are established at WBS level 4 of which technical scope is controlled and delivered as defined in the WBS dictionary. The schedule development processes are 1) activity definition, 2) activity duration estimation, 3) activity dependencies, 4) activity resource assignments, 5) critical path review, 6) resource loaded network (RLN) acceptance. These processes are conducted by the project technical experts in conjunction with project controls to ensure a bought into, agreeable, realistic, and formal plan. The project manager must accept the RLN before establishing the schedule baseline.

The RLN is fed into the earned value budget application such as, Deltek Cobra, to achieve costing and performance metrics. Up to this point, scope has been defined, communicated, progressively elaborated, and logically assigned resources to achieve results. During this process is when the WBS level 4 basis of estimating (BOE) rationale is captured of which technical scope is controlled and delivered. The primary function of a BOE is to capture the rationale behind the development of the WBS level 4 estimates e.g. specific tools and techniques used during the development of the time and cost estimates to produce the deliverables defined in the WBS dictionary. Cost metrics are collected by project controls and then applied to the time estimates provided by the technical experts in the RLN. Earned value performance measurement techniques encompass the RLN using 1) 0/100 for 160hrs or less sub-activities, 2) 50/50 for 160+hrs to max 320hrs sub-activities, 3) interim milestones for 320+hrs using ?steps? and corresponding finish dates to compute weighted % complete of sub-activities, 4) % complete for agile sprints that are substantiated by the overall deliverable requirements complete, and 5) LOE for level of effort sub-activates. Concluding these activities produces the initial project costs. Contingency reserve is then applied by technical experts and the project manager to critical path activities therefore producing the project budget and the cost baseline. Management reserve encompasses the cost baseline for high probability ? high impact risk events.

The project manager combines the technical baseline, schedule baseline, and cost baseline into one performance measurement baseline (PMB). The project manager uses the PMB to communicate project performance and acceptable baseline variance to all stakeholders. The PMB may demonstrate the way to project completion, but it is the project manager?s ability to understand that there are no misunderstandings; there are only failures to communicate that keep the project on track.