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Five tips to help you build the best work breakdown structure possible

Example of a hierarchical project work breakdown structure

A project’s work breakdown structure is one of the first, if not the first, deliverable of the project. It is a cornerstone piece of work that almost everything else on the project hangs from so getting this wrong can have disastrous consequences.

I’ve seen more than one project fail because the project manager has built the work breakdown structure on their own, with no input from anyone in the project team.

For best results, the work breakdown structure should be based on the project charter or scope document and should be a hierarchical breakdown of the deliverables of the project.

So how can you make sure you build the best project’s work breakdown structure (WBS) possible? Here’s five tips to get you started:

  1. Involve the entire project team. Getting the whole team together to develop the WBS is both a chance for a get-to-know-you session, and sets the tone for the entire project. It also means you’re getting the experts involved early.
  2. Don’t forget to include the test and support teams in the WBS meeting. Too often these critical functions are only involved at the very end, leading to overruns and delays.
  3. Make the initial meeting at least half a day. This gives everyone time to discuss the project in detail before getting into the nitty gritty of breaking the work down.
  4. Use different coloured sticky notes for the different work packages. This makes it easier to identify what belongs where. This is especially useful once the structure is finished
  5. Get the team to give you three estimates for every activity – the shortest, longest and best. This will make building the schedule, where estimates are required, much easier

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and you shouldn’t expect your work breakdown structure to be complete after the first workshop either. It usually takes at least about three sessions with the project team to get the WBS to a usable state.

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