Less WBS, More Project Focus

Fernando Portes, PMP

When project managers are occupied with overly detailed work breakdown structures, other critical activities such as communication, risk analysis and problem solving are bound to be neglected. Based on success with a simpler approach to scheduling, a project management veteran recommends seven improvements to common WBS practices.

In 2008, I was hired to manage the start up of a $240 million facility for a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical organization. The construction and commissioning and qualification (C&Q) of the project had been managed by two other organizations, which had created a combined master schedule with more than 14,000 activities. My task was to integrate the work of sevens teams into the plans. On Day One, I informed the client that the project plan would be less detailed, and that all schedule activities would be presented in a poster size (24”x32”) Gantt chart.

All projects have schedules that detail the activities — work breakdown structure (WBS) — that will be executed to complete them. The details that are included in these schedules vary significantly among projects, organizations and industries. The most common cases are those in which project managers define the WBS in minute details, including complete lists of all activities that the project will execute. The less frequent cases are projects in which activities are …

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