Keep Asking What

Filed under Scope, Training | Posted by MMeloni

WBS stands for work breakdown structure, but it is tempting to call it what breakdown structure. The reason? The WBS shows what needs to happen in order for you and the team to provide the agreed-upon project scope. And too often it is easy to get caught up in when or how or who? All important questions. And a properly created WBS will help you to complete the analysis and discussions to answer these questions, but first – please pay attention to what.

Start with, what are the big things that must be created in order to successfully complete the project? And these big things are deliverables.  As you do this, consider how you are phrasing your deliverables. You can see in the table below that it is easier to think about what needs to happen in order for it to be true that something called Website Design has been created and completed. Compare Tool Selection versus Research Tools. The former is clearly stating that a tool has been selected. Research Tools can be more open-ended. It might result in a report, it might just end when the time and budget are expended.

Your goal is to work with your team to take the scope – whether it is a product or a service and to clearly identify the activities that need to happen to produce that scope. Good use of the “what” question, is to look at the Tool Selection deliverable and ask your team, “What makes it true that Tool Selection is completed?” You are not looking for steps or tasks, you are looking for the elements that must be in place or be completed on the way to Tool Selection. These are the sub-deliverables.

Your team might tell you that you need Tool Requirements and a Request for Proposal. Then you work with your team to determine, “What makes it true, that there are Tool Requirements?” What makes it true that there is a Request for Proposal. You keep asking “what” questions until there is nothing more to breakdown. Maybe for your team, Tool Requirements is enough. Or maybe not. It could be that there are Tool Technical Requirements and Tool Functional Requirements and that together these make it true that we have Tool Requirements. Keep going until you have a work package. A work package is something that you can hand off and assign to a person. And they will know what they need to do in order to complete their part of the work. Work packages can reside at different levels. Your WBS does not need to decompose to the same number of levels for each major deliverable. Once you have found the what, you are done.

For more help in creating your WBS, be sure to check out: