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Why Use a Work Breakdown Structure
In order for a serving of steak to be consumed, it has to be cut into bite-size pieces. Similar is the case with a project. For a project to be carried out from start to finish, the total quantum of work has to be broken down into independent activities or tasks. It is this breaking down of the project into workable portions that forms a structure known as the Work Breakdown Structure, in project management terms.
Ideally a Work Breakdown Structure, or the WBS as it is abbreviated, follows a downward or backward pattern from the end result of the project to its lowest levels of tasks. The lowest level in the WBS is a group of tasks known as ‘work packages’. Tasks which are linked above a level are known as parent tasks, while one or more tasks linked to a parent task are known as children tasks. There is a parent-child relationship with tasks and only when all the children tasks are completed can the parent tasks begin.
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How Is a WBS Planned?
The WBS is planned by the process known as requirements gathering. This is none other than the collection of necessary information and data which may be both technical and operational and based upon a set of management techniques. It is input collected from all stakeholders and is of utmost importance, as it will help outline the scope of the project and every form of deliverables down to the lowest level of work packages. Every detail that is not outlined in the Work Breakdown Structure ultimately is outside the scope of the project. Requirements gathering for a WBS hence takes center stage at the onset of the project and is a major part of the conceptualize and planning phases.
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Requirements Gathering Techniques
Requirements gathering for a WBS is based on techniques regularly used in business requirements gathering. Some of the most prominent of them are listed here.
- Brainstorming: This is a form of information gathering via groups of members. It may be a single session or a series of meetings that involves different groups of stakeholders or the same members through many brainstorming sessions. In this technique, members that are involved put forth their ideas, suggestions, critical views, apprehensions, fears and expectations of the projects. It is an important part of the earliest phases of the project lifecycle as it will help identify major and minor project risks thus guiding the creation of the WBS with necessary changes that have to be made.
- Document Analysis: Document Analysis involves analysis of existing documents of similar projects. Completed, similar projects are helpful as they have already been tried and tested and contain information that can be of vital importance during the creation of the WBS. Usually completed projects have documents of recorded issues and the approaches taken in regards to risks which can act as warning signals for the new project, thus making stakeholders think about the alternatives for the project.
- Delphi Technique: This technique is similar to Brainstorming, except that members are anonymous to each other. Each member is not allowed to or able to know what the contributions of the other members are. This method is used when collecting information from stakeholders that are not able to attend meetings in person, when information gathered has to be classified or when looking for unique or original input. In this case, the Delphi - WBS requirements gathering technique may be via letters, email, telephone or similar media.
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- Checklists: These are a set of predetermined points of interest that act as guidelines for drafting the WBS. Checklists can be created by way of stakeholder analysis, analyzing the steps involved in the project, while defining the scope or as per suggestions from team members. It can also be points noted down from a previous project.
- SWOT Analysis: SWOT Analysis is an important technique as it takes into account the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of the project. It is a major technique used to identify risks, and when used alongside the WBS, it helps in the proposal of alternative or optional steps that can be taken should a risk be encountered during the project. As work not defined in the WBS is outside the project scope, any identified risk can help create relevant work packages of the WBS that will help sustain, protect or save the project.
- Focus Groups: Focus groups generally involve the project management team and customers or end users of the product or service. Customers can provide helpful feedback on what is expected from the project, and hence information gathered can contribute to the WBS. This feedback gives support to the scope as it defines the reasons for carrying out the project, which in turn leads to the outlining of work packages in the WBS.
- Surveys: Surveys are a powerful way of gathering information. Surveys when conducted at the outset of a project can provide detailed and more information than brainstorming sessions. This can be used for a large number of members who are able to provide input and feedback.
- JAD: Requirements Workshops, also known as Joint Application Design sessions are workshops conducted for the sole use of brainstorming, feedback, surveys and specific, streamlined data collection. More effective than brainstorming, this method is done when specific areas of the WBS are challenged and a more streamlined approach has to be followed.