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Defining the Work Breakdown Structure Through Planned Outcomes

written by: eschulze • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 7/21/2013

One way to define a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is through planned outcomes. Planned outcomes are always a challenge for project managers. The planned outcomes must describe to the project team, stakeholders, customers and end-users the hierarchical nature of the work to be performed.

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    Begin With Your Team

    MPj04393450000[1] Constructing a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) includes defining planned outcomes in different levels and totaling their value to the project at no more and no less than 100 percent. To define planned outcomes, feature-driven software products are available that assist in capturing outcomes from key project elements.

    Planned actions are not planned outcomes. It is important to understand the difference. Action items are hard to contain in a WBS. Planned outcomes are a result of the actions. Generally, if you focus on actions, either too many or too few of them will be included. The project components generally roll up to total 100 percent of the project. It is difficult to assign 100 percent to the action, but if that is not done, the parent item does not roll up completely into the elements of the WBS. Including planned actions will overwhelm the WBS, which should be a broad outline that includes the planned outcomes needed to complete the project.

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    Planned Outcomes

    By focusing on the planned outcomes rather than the action, you can focus on what needs to be completed 100 percent and can easily roll the outcome into the parent item, keeping the hierarchy consistent in your project. The outcomes cannot be overlapped within the Work Breakdown Structure. Laying out the planned outcomes in a WBS prior to the project and cross checking each element for duplication ensures you will have the necessary building blocks for a well thought-out plan.

    The level of detail in the designing of the WBS can be found in progressive elaboration. This removes the threat of focusing too broadly or with too much detail. Progressive elaboration allows planned outcomes to be refined before work begins.This fails to work when the project reaches the point at which planned outcomes can no longer be defined and the only items remaining are actions.

    The WBS needs to be thoughtfully balanced. Elements need to be concisely grouped, and outcomes needed to be clearly defined in the project.

    Want to learn more about work breakdown structures? Read Ann Gordon's three-part series, Work Breakdown Structure: Pitfalls to Avoid.