A Project Is The Pursuit of a Solution

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A Project Is The Pursuit Of A Solution

Cynthia A. Berg, Phd (ABD), PMP Glendale, Arizona, USA

Author Stephen Covey states, “begin with the end in mind.” And what is a project, except the pursuit of an end solution? The best way to conceptualize the end of a software project is to create a work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS is a hierarchical view, which shows the entire scope of the project broken down into deliverables*, much like an organization chart shows company divisions broken into departments and then work teams. The deliverables are then divided into smaller and smaller components until they get to the work package** level.

Include the team, sponsors, and other stakeholders when creating a WBS. This ensures that the work of the project is fully defined and represents the needs of all of the participants. Why include the team? Well, who knows the work that needs to be done better than the project team members who will actually do those tasks. Projects are doomed to fail when the project manager assumes that he/she alone knows how to list every facet of the work of the project.

While creating a WBS, the team has an opportunity to challenge the norms of “how we’ve always done it”. Plus, they are formulating a shared opinion on what constitutes the work of the project. This method ensures team members will have more buy-in for the effort. After all, it’s always more interesting to work on a project you helped to design.

How small should the activities of the WBS be broken down? That’s a trick question. There are no activities shown in the WBS, since it is only divided to the work package level. Once that work package is assigned to the department, group, vendor, or subcontractor who will complete it, it can be broken down further into the activities and milestones necessary to ensure it is done efficiently and with quality processes. Each assignee for a work package, the lowest level of work, should create their own smaller project plan portion that will flow back into the master schedule.

The WBS then becomes the backbone for all other planning, executing, monitoring, and controlling functions within the project. It also serves as a succinct communication tool for those both internal and external to the project. A graphic representation of a WBS is a picture of the project solution. Once that picture is completed; detailed planning, scheduling, and budgeting can begin. How can you plan, budget, and schedule before you have clearly defined the work of the project?

The WBS is also invaluable as a brainstorming tool. With a graphic representation that displays the entirety of the project, it’s easy to spot omissions, redundancies, or fertile pockets of work that could easily be enhanced to leverage the value of the project. To identify potential risks (both internal and external), look at each portion of the WBS.

A little time up front to get a clear work breakdown structure which is prepared, understood, and agreed upon among all stakeholders is a recipe for project excellence.

  • Deliverable – A product, result or capability to perform a service created through the work of a project.
    • Work package – The smallest portion of a deliverable including activities and schedule milestones. The goal is to be able to assign it to one person, group, or vendor.
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