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March 4, 2021

How to create a WBS to improve project performance?

By Brian McHale

Every business needs someone to delegate tasks and ensure that things get done by a given deadline, or that things are at least together enough for a team to make adjustments if necessary.

Using project management techniques is a game-changer when it comes to getting things done in tight deadlines.

Strictly speaking, project management involves the following steps for an ongoing or one-time undertaking:

  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Implementation
  • Organization
  • Quality control.

 

Why Project Management is Important?

Project management allows you​ to identify and achieve the goals and objectives that help to move your company forward in its endeavours.

A project is “temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources”.

Managing projects allows you to achieve your goals by detailing the steps to:

  • Track tasks
  • Communicate and delegate your needs to your team, and give your client/partner timely updates
  • Save time simply looking for the next to-do list, thus improving efficiency
  • Prevent last-minute emergencies caused by not adhering to the plan.

 

What If I’m Not Familiar With Project Management?

That’s fine! Not all organizations have a designated project manager.

There are still many strategies you can employ if the task falls on you.

Here are some of our best tips for people who find themselves in the unforeseen circumstance of having to manage a project:

Define the project. Have a conversation about what the project is. Ask the following questions about:

  • Your client’s objectives? What end result do they expect?
  • The parameters or key performance indicators (KPIs) will they use to measure whether or not you are succeeding at meeting the established objective?
  • Their budget and timeframe?
  • The project’s scope?

Document these conversations and make sure that everything is clear before you move on to the next step: a work breakdown structure.

Brainstorm with your stakeholders and team members.

This creates ownership, allows for buy-in, and helps everyone contribute ideas.

If you work in a large company, then perhaps limit a brainstorm session to only one or two representatives from a given department or select only a few key members.

An entire team of people will be required to complete the project.

It’s only fair to consult with diverse enough array of people to come up with a great plan.

 

What is a Work Breakdown Structure?

There are many ways to engage in project management, but we’ve found that a work breakdown structure (WBS) is one of the most helpful.

We’ve created a free WBS Breakdown Structure Excel template you can use to better organize your projects, help your team stay on task, and ensure communication across the board.

A WBS is a visual way to keep track of a project and track easily track its progress.

One of the benefits of this system is that it allows you to reverse engineer your process if need be, allowing you and your team to correct any steps.

The WBS Breakdown Structure is often used with a visual aid called the Gantt chart, which allows you to list tasks, steps, start, end dates, and more parameters in rows, while also keeping track of dates visually in columns.

You can customize the chart slightly with colors as needed, and you will end up with a step-ladder like visual after completing all tasks.

Free Action Plan Template in Excel

Click to download our Free Action Plan Template in Excel to begin simplifying your project management.

Organizing a Work Breakdown Structure

The great thing about a WBS is that you can use resources such as our template, and then work to organize them in ways that have been used by project managers for years now.

No need to reinvent the wheel! Typically, there are four levels.

  • The top level. What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the project?
  • Main deliverables (tasks that help you along with your goal) and phases of the project, also called a controls account.
  • Tasks that help you get to your main deliverables, often referred to as the work package.
  • Activities. This is a breakdown of steps needed to help you along with the work package.

There are also different kinds of WBS.

  • Phase-based. This type of WBS outlines the top level (final deliverables, or end results) first. It then lists the five phases of completing a project.
    • Start
    • Planning
    • Implementation
    • Control
    • Project End
  • Deliverable-based. Looks at the project’s scope and expected deliverables.
  • Time-phased. Long-term projects are broken down into phases.
  • Verb-based. A list of actions that helps you complete project deliverables.
  • Noun-based. Looks at all components of a project and lists these.

 

Why is a Work Breakdown Structure Important?

Creating a WBS is important because it allows you and your client to assess the resources, time, and objectives once more. Why is this important?

  • Clients have many dream projects, but resources, time, and energy are finite.
  • A work breakdown structure helps you both get a transparent process together and visualize the task breakdown required to achieve all goals.
  • You’ll be able to prioritize tasks and also find ways to complete the project using the most efficient methods, hopefully saving both time and money. This is called finding the critical path.

The WBS also exposes other issues, such as:

  • Timeline issues. You may need longer to complete the project than previously estimated.
  • Budget deficits. The scope of the projects and desired outcomes may require your client to invest a bit more than previously thought.
  • Labor issues. The project at hand may be harder to complete than previously understood.

These finding deserve a second conversation so you make any adjustments, such as creating a new timeline, budget, or list of resources.

Clarify all of these issues before committing to the project so you can prevent future problems such as:

  • Late deadlines
  • Going over budget
  • Constant unreasonable changes that weren’t previously discussed

 

What to Include in Your WBS

A WBS can be customized to your needs, but most good ones include things such as:

  • A glossary/dictionary. This is a separate document of all phases and expectations in the project. It allows everyone involved to fully understand what is going on at all times.
  • Status. This allows everyone to see the status of a given task. (In-Progress, Late, Completed, etc).
  • Task owner, or the name of the person/department in charge of completing the given task.
  • Description and number of the task. Giving your tasks a name, number, and description communicates expectations and lets people easily identify every step.
  • Dependency. Some things can only be completed after other tasks are done with. This is where you keep track of interdependent or multi-step tasks.
  • Task cost. Keep track of all costs of your tasks in dollar value. This prevents you from going over your budget.
  • Estimates, Start, and End Times/Dates. Assign start and end times for each task and include an estimation of how long you think the task should take.

Remember: you should review this portion of your plan with your team and stakeholders.

Do not propose a project with only a first-draft WBS.

Allow a few voices to guide you as to whether your current plan needs adjusting.

This lets you come up with a realistic plan everyone can adhere to, and allows space to communicate whether or not proposed timelines and expectations are realistic to pursue.

 

Why is it Important to Break Down Tasks?

Our WBS Excel Template allows you to break projects down and visualize them with ease. We’ve included:

  • Assignee features to help you delegate work.
  • A flagged column that can help you review areas that require some polishing.
  • An area that allows you to create a charter.
  • Tools to help you manage stakeholders, scope of the project, and work packages.

After downloading this, the rest is up to you and what works for your team! Our template is free after you sign up with your email.

Free Action Plan Template in Excel

Click to download our Free Action Plan Template in Excel to begin simplifying your project management.

When Should I Use the WBS Template?

The planning phase is the perfect time to use our WBS template because you and your stakeholders will have already chosen your goals and objectives.

The WBS will create a roadmap so you can bring your project to fruition.

Our template will help you:

  • Assess what you know. Yes, unforeseen circumstances can and will arise, but listing what you know you need will help you make educated guesses about the completion time you may need, and the costs of executing your tasks.
  • Break work down into bite-sized pieces. Big projects need to broken down into smaller steps so you, your team, and your stakeholders can realistically see them through and celebrate accomplishments.
  • Understand your project. Visualizing each task helps you know how many people you need to complete it, decide how much it should cost, and allot the appropriate resources to it.
  • Increase the likelihood of getting a yes. There are many ways to write proposals, but stakeholders and clients love seeing detailed plans that answer any of their questions and leave room for any contingencies. Our WBS template cant put you on the road toward success.

 

Who is Included in the WBS Template?

Technically, everyone.

Project managers are certainly the ones who lead conversations on deliverables, estimates, adjustments, and schedule planning, but every team member involved in the project will eventually have to use and adhere to the WBS. Heres is what the team might look like:

  • Project Manager. Not every organization has someone with this specific title, but there’s always a person who has to lead a given project, and that may be you. Your job is to talk to managers, stakeholders, and team members who will partake in the project so you can all plan how the project will be carried out
  • Experts. These are the people who are best qualified to give you estimates and realistic viewpoints of what they might need in order to accomplish their part of the project
  • Team members. These are the people who will fulfill each assignment. Since they start from scratch, team members are often the ones to notice and report any obstacles that arise and may require any adjustments in your plan or structure.

 

The 100% Rule: How our WBS Template Can Help

Our WBS template can also help you apply the prized 100% rule.

In project management speak, the 100% rule means that you will only include items needed to complete the task, and exclude anything that is unrelated to it.

Application of this rule is important because:

  • You can’t schedule or provide a timeline estimation for a project until you’ve created a plan
  • The 100% rule makes sure you focus on outcomes. There will be setbacks, items that are finished early, and your methods for completing the project may have to change. All that matters is that you achieve the results you need, which generally won’t affect your proposed WBS
  • A WBS only helps you start planning. You must list any planned outcomes before creating a schedule list or breaking down tasks. The 100% rule forces you and your team to clearly define your outcomes, because the WBS won’t work properly without clarity and accuracy.

 

What Kinds of Industries Use a WBS?

Almost any industry or job type can use a WBS, and our Excel Template allows you to change and customize your WBS to your liking.

However, project management in general is associated with:

  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • IT
  • Event-planning
  • Marketing

Finally, you can definitely use software in your project management strategy or stick to paper and pencil project management tools.

Our WBS structure template is one of the many options available and integrates seamlessly with Microsoft 365, and was created for you to use when it serves your goals.

Happy planning!

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