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CPM/U4 Topic 7 Project Planning: Scoping, Work Break down Structure (WBS)

Project Planning is a discipline for stating how to complete a project within a certain timeframe, usually with defined stages, and with designated resources. One view of project planning divides the activity into:

  • Setting objectives
  • Identifying deliverables
  • Planning the schedule
  • Making supporting plans

Project planning is part of project management, which relates to the use of schedules such as Gantt charts to plan and subsequently report progress within the project environment.

The Project Scope is defined and the appropriate methods for completing the project are determined. Following this step, the durations for the various tasks necessary to complete the work are listed and grouped into a work breakdown structure. Project planning is often used to organize different areas of a project, including project plans, work loads and the management of teams and individuals. The logical dependencies between tasks are defined using an activity network diagram that enables identification of the critical path. Project planning is inherently uncertain as it must be done before the project is actually started. Therefore the duration of the tasks is often estimated through a weighted average of optimistic, normal, and pessimistic cases. The critical chain method adds “buffers” in the planning to anticipate potential delays in project execution. Float or slack time in the schedule can be calculated using project management software. Then the necessary resources can be estimated and costs for each activity can be allocated to each resource, giving the total project cost. At this stage, the project schedule may be optimized to achieve the appropriate balance between resource usage and project duration to comply with the project objectives. Once established and agreed, the project schedule becomes what is known as the baseline schedule. Progress will be measured against the baseline schedule throughout the life of the project. Analyzing progress compared to the baseline schedule is known as earned value management.

Work Break Down Structure (WBS)

A work-breakdown structure (WBS) in project management and systems engineering, is a deliverable-oriented breakdown of a project into smaller components. A work breakdown structure is a key project deliverable that organizes the team’s work into manageable sections. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the work-breakdown structure “A hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.”

A work-breakdown structure element may be a product, data, service, or any combination thereof. A WBS also provides the necessary framework for detailed cost estimating and control along with providing guidance for schedule development and control.

Why use a Work Breakdown Structure?

The work breakdown structure has a number of benefits in addition to defining and organizing the project work. A project budget can be allocated to the top levels of the work breakdown structure, and department budgets can be quickly calculated based on the each project’s work breakdown structure. By allocating time and cost estimates to specific sections of the work breakdown structure, a project schedule and budget can be quickly developed. As the project executes, specific sections of the work breakdown structure can be tracked to identify project cost performance and identify issues and problem areas in the project organization.

Project work breakdown structures can also be used to identify potential risks in a given project. If a work breakdown structure has a branch that is not well defined then it represents a scope definition risk. These risks should be tracked in a project log and reviewed as the project executes. By integrating the work breakdown structure with an organizational breakdown structure, the project manager can also identify communication points and formulate a communication plan across the project organization.

When a project is falling behind, referring the work breakdown structure will quickly identify the major deliverables impacted by a failing work package or late sub- deliverable. The work breakdown structure can also be color coded to represent sub- deliverable status. Assigning colors of red for late, yellow for at risk, green for on-target, and blue for completed deliverables is an effective way to produce a heat-map of project progress and draw management’s attention to key areas of the work breakdown structure.

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