Project  Work Breakdown Structure is the epitome of what a project manager stands for; relationships between organizations; deliverables; work products.

What’s more, it defines the universe that a project manager is responsible for bringing into existence. It is the finite representation of a temporary endeavor with unique outputs that establishes the marching orders for a project manager to follow.

You now understand why a project manager tears up with joy whenever they come across a well-put-together WBS. It’s one of the first documents that bring a project to life and gets people in alignment as to what needs to be done to bring a project to closure. It would be hard to imagine how to project plan without such a useful document. But, did you know there are things you can do to further maximize the effectiveness of this useful document? The following are 5 things you can do to learn how to project plan with a high-quality WBS.

1. Review and Start with a WBS from a Similar Project

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time a new project comes in the door.  If your company has been doing project work for some time now, you will be surprised at the similarities that one project has to the next project. I worked in a web development shop for a number of years. The early projects were disparate and unique and it did feel like we were starting from scratch each time a new client needed their website updated. However, over time we began to realize that we could leverage the similarities between the projects and use one as the starting point for another. We learned how to project plan as a continuation from one project to the next.

Over time the WBS we used ended up being about 80% the same and 20% different for each client. The differences were primarily on the interface, front-end, and display of the website while the actual functionality and back-end utilities used to manage the site were the same.  The WBS was customized for each client so they felt as if was designed exclusively for them (of which it was) and allowed us to save time when it came to how to plan a project and get started in actual development sooner.

You will still want to carefully review the final WBS to make sure it captures all the nuances and unique aspects of what the project entails. There may be some elements that need to be added or some pieces that can be taken away. The result should be a well-thought out and thorough representation of the project.

2. Involve the Project People That Do the Work

There’s no better advice to make sure you’ve captured everything in your WBS than to include the people who are actually going to do the work. This sounds like common sense, but sometimes we may feel rushed as project managers and take on the responsibility of putting together a WBS in a silo. If you want to know how to project plan with a high-quality WBS then you must include those who will actually be doing the work. Ask for the input. Make sure you get from them what must be included in the project from their perspective, what can be taken out of the project, and what items will require further discussion.

Besides ending up with a much better WBS this also has the extra benefit of having people involved in the project planning process from the beginning. This results in two outcomes. The first is that if the project goes well, they have had a part to play in that success and morale is boosted. The second is that if a project does not go quite as well, they have also had a part to play in its less than stellar results. This reduces an “I told you so but you didn’t listen to me” mindset and gets people to focus more on the solution rather than the problems.

3. It’s OK to Make Assumptions on Your WBS

This is one of those rare areas that it’s OK to make an assumption without facing the dreaded and cliché’ result. You may not be entirely sure of whether to include a particular deliverable, feature, function, product, or however else your WBS is organized. This is one case when you can make the assumption that it should be included in the WBS. It’s better to have more included than less and have people try and figure out what’s missing. The conversation will typically look like this when you include something that should not have been included…”didn’t you know that we don’t need that included in the WBS?  I thought that would have been obvious!” Of which you politely respond “thank you, I’ll go ahead and take that”. That’s a much easier conversation to have that “why didn’t you include that in the WBS? That will take months to complete and puts our final project schedule at risk!”

4.Keep your WBS Up-to-Date

Do you drink milk that is out-of-date or eat food that is expired? No way! Guess what? Nobody uses a WBS that is out-of-date either. It’s just as repulsive as spoiled milk or rotten food. Well, maybe not that much, but you get the point. If you want people to take your WBS seriously when it comes to how plan a project, then you need to keep it up-to-date. There are constant changes on a project. Deliverables come and deliverables go. Phase 2 is introduced when people realize what was asked for in Phase 1 is next to impossible to complete. You need to capture and account for all of these changes in your WBS if you want it to be referenced and serve as the source of truth for what the final project looks like.

5. Your WBS is Not a Project Schedule

Something to keep in mind when it comes to how to plan a project using your WBS is that it is not a project schedule. There is no concept of time, contingencies, or interdependencies on your WBS.  The purpose of the WBS when it comes to how to plan a project is to make sure you have identified all the deliverables necessary to complete the project. You could find yourself lulled into trying to use the WBS as a schedule as well, especially in simpler projects.  For example, there are a number of different ways a WBS can be configured across the top line.

This could be by product, department, owner, or even potentially phase of a project. If you find yourself beginning to associate timelines or dependencies on the WBS then you need to take a step back and revisit how you are using the WBS and how to project plan. There is no doubt that the WBS is an extremely useful document when you need to know how to plan a project. Keep the 5 principles above in mind and you will find that this document will serve you and your project team extremely well.

You’ll need somewhere to start assigning activities and durations once you’ve created a high-quality WBS. Try  for 30 days and turn your WBS into a project schedule. You can use the Task Module to schedule tasks with the click of your mouse. Simply click on each taskbar and drag it onto another task, to link them together. Then assign resources to each task so that you know who has to complete which tasks, by which dates. You can create detailed project schedules in minutes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *