Work breakdown structures

This short article was stimulated by a post in one of the LinkedIn discussion groups I belong to.

  1. "Work packages" are only the lowest level of the WBS from the buyer's perspective in a contracting environment. When planning your own work, you need to go deeper. How deep depends on the domain.

  2. Any deliverable can be described as an activity (by adding a verb), and any activity can be described as a deliverable (by removing the verb). Don't worry about the distinction until you have the decomposition done, then use verbs at the lowest level. Unless you're the buyer. Then see item #1 above.

  3. Decomposition happens phase-by-phase during the project life-cycle. You can't develop a complete WBS for the whole of a non-trivial project at the start ... unless your project is actually a sub-project where someone else has given you the detail you need. The most obvious example of this is the construction work in the build environment.

  4. When you are confident that you can estimate cost and duration, you have enough detail. The cost and duration estimates are not part of the WBS. They are just an intellectual test.

  5. Every lower level must be both necessary and sufficient for the item above it. If something is missing ... add it. If something is not needed ... either delete it or move it.

Every item occurs once and only once. A WBS is not a Bill-of-Materials.


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