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Review Three Techniques to Create a Work Breakdown Structure

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this content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.08.11

Review Three Techniques to Create a Work Breakdown Structure

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the first step to create a schedule.The WBS helps break the project work into smaller pieces that help more easily understand the work. Here are three techniques that can help you understand the WBS for your project.1. Understand the difference between detail and summary activities

If you look at a WBS activity and determine that it needs to be broken down to another level, the original activity becomes known as a "summary" level. A summary activity represents a logical roll-up of the activities that are under it. On the other hand “detailed” activities are those that have not been broken down further. Once the detailed activities are under the summary activity are completed, the summary activity is also considered to be completed.

2. The top-level of the WBS can be the hardest to define

Sometimes people have a hard time getting a WBS started because they are not sure what to put at the very top and they are uncertain about how to break the work down from there. There are a number of options for defining the WBS at level 1 (under the top level 0).

  • It might make sense to place the major project deliverables directly at level 1, and break the deliverables into smaller components on the next level, if necessary.

  • Another option for level 1 is to describe the organizations that will be involved, such as Sales, Marketing, IT, etc. The next level should describe the deliverables that each organization will produce. 

  • A third option is to look at level 1 in terms of the project life cycle; for instance analysis, design, construct, etc. If that is the best logical way to look at level 1, then level 2 should describe the deliverables produced in each life cycle stage.

Although there are many ways that the WBS can be started, ultimately you want to uncover deliverables.

2. Identify top-level structure first, then deliverables, and then activities

After the top level (or maybe level 2), you start by writing the names of the major deliverables on Post-it notes - one deliverable per note. The deliverables are placed within the organization structure defined at level 1 - by organization, by phase, etc. If any of the deliverables are very large, you can create a lower level under that deliverable that describe the deliverable at a lower level. This lower level is a "work package". In general two levels should be enough to describe the deliverables and the work packages that make up the deliverable. A very complex deliverable might need three levels.

At this point you have a deliverable-based WBS. You can break the work down further into the detailed activities that are needed to actually build the deliverables. If you go to this kevel you have an activity-based WBS.

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