WBS: A Building Block of Sound Project Management

PMI NC Piedmont Triad Chapter, and Kim H. Pries

The work breakdown structure is fundamental to project execution. When we expend insufficient time and develop inadequate detail on the WBS, the project will yield poor results and we can expect to see last-minute identification of critical elements. Not only do some essential items occur late in the process, but we can also expect to see cost overruns, schedule overruns, poor quality at delivery and erosion of project tracking ability—where we do not know where we are at any given time because our roadmap is defective (or missing).

The WBS should not to be confused with other structured lists (for example, items such as product material breakdowns and bills of materials). A WBS may resemble a BOM in that it is hierarchical; that is, systems decompose into subsystems and subsystems into components.

General description
The first step in generating a WBS is to divide the program/project into cost centers. This “cost center” terminology comes from the U.S. Department of Defense, because a government agency like DoD does not have profit centers per se.

A WBS should be created as early as feasible during program/project development. Each cost center’s delivery will be broken down into manageable portions of work to ease planning and improve control of cost, schedule and technical content as well as quality. The WBS can be developed for each project …

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