Project Management

Don’t Fear the WBS

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of the Microsoft Project Made Easy series. For more project management advice, visit the website TacticalProjectManagement.com.

In your IT projects, how often do you use a work breakdown structure? I’m not referring to adding the WBS ID column in Microsoft Project’s Gantt Chart view. I’m referring to creating the hierarchical project decomposition that depicts the project’s key deliverables. During my past 14 years delivering systems implementations, I frequently jumped right into the project schedule and used the Microsoft Project indent feature to build out the hierarchy of activities. Sound familiar to anyone?
 
A formal WBS is typically used for projects that have a tangible outcome such as an automobile, building or other physical product. It is typically comprised of multiple levels with the end deliverable at the highest level. The product is further decomposed into specific deliverables and sub-deliverables that integrate cost accounts with work packages. The lowest level of the work breakdown structure contains actual work activities that are entered into Microsoft Project (Figure 1).
 
 
Figure 1: Product WBS
 
In government contracts, the WBS is a key deliverable used by the program office and performing suppliers to monitor and control work. Across large programs and projects, the WBS is one of the key deliverables examined when looking to optimize the project schedule. In commercial systems lifecycle projects, the end product is the …

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