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Preparation Guides for Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Checklists for Preparing Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Methods for Structuring Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Why Do Plans Fail?

23.1 Preparation Guides for Work Breakdown Structure (WBS):

We have already discussed the preparation guides for the Statement of Work (SOW). Similarly

there are several preparation guides for the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). These are as


Firstly, develop the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) structure by subdividing the total

effort into discrete and logical sub elements. Usually a program subdivides into projects,

major systems, major subsystems, and various lower levels until a manageable -size

element level is reached. Wide variations may occur, depending upon the type of effort

(e.g., major systems development, support services, etc.). Include more than one cost center

and more than one contractor if this reflects the actual situation.

It is important to check the proposed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and the

contemplated efforts for completeness, compatibility, and continuity.

Determine that the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) satisfies both functional

(engineering/ manufacturing/ test) and program/project (hardware, services, etc.)

requirements, including recurring and nonrecurring costs.

Remember to check to determine if the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) provides for

logical subdivision of all project work.

Establish assignment of responsibilities for all identified effort to specific organizations.

Finally, check the proposed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) against the reporting

requirements of the organizations involved.

23.2 Checklists for Preparing Work Breakdown Structure (WBS):

In addition to the preparation guides, there are also checklists that can be used in the preparation

of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS):

Focus to develop a preliminary Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to not lower than the top

three levels for solicitation purposes (or lower if deemed necessary for some special


Remember to assure that the contractor is required to extend the preliminary Work

Breakdown Structure (WBS) in response to the solicitation, to identify and structure all

contractor work to be compatible with his organization and management system.

Following negotiations, the Contract Work Breakdown Structure (CWBS) included in the

contract should not normally extend lower than the third level.

It is essential to assure that the negotiated Contract Work Breakdown Structure (CWBS)

structure is compatible with reporting requirements.

Assure that the negotiated Contract Work Breakdown Structure (CWBS) is compatible with

the contractor's organization and management system.


Review the Contract Work Breakdown Structure (CWBS) elements to ensure correlation

with the following:

  • The specification tree
  • Contract line items
  • End-items of the contract
  • Data items required
  • Work statement tasks
  • Configuration management requirements

• Also, define Contract Work Breakdown Structure (CWBS) elements down to the level

where such definitions are meaningful and necessary for management purposes (WBS


Clearly specify reporting requirements for selected Contract Work Breakdown Structure

(CWBS) elements if variations from standard reporting requirements are desired.

Always assure that the Contract Work Breakdown Structure (CWBS) covers measurable

effort, level of effort, apportioned effort, and subcontracts, if applicable.

Lastly, Assure that the total costs at a particular level will equal the sum of the costs of the

constituent elements at the next lower level.

In case of simple projects, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) can be constructed as a "tree

diagram" or according to the logic flow. The tree diagram can follow the work or even the

organizational structure of the company (i.e., division, department, section, unit). The second

method is to create a logic flow and cluster certain elements to represent tasks and projects. In

the tree method, lower-level functional units may be assigned to one, and only one.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Elements

23.3 Methods for Structuring Work Breakdown Structure (WBS):

It is seen that a tendency exists today to develop guidelines, policies, and procedures for project

management, but not for the development of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Since it

must have flexibility built into it, the tendency is to avoid limiting the way the Work

Breakdown Structure (WBS) must be developed. Some companies have been marginally

successful in developing a "generic" methodology for levels 1, 2, and 3 of the Work Breakdown

Structure (WBS). In other words, the top three levels of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

are the same for all projects. The differences appear in levels 4, 5, and 6.

The following table 23.1 shows the three most common methods for structuring the Work

Breakdown Structure (WBS):

Three Common Methods for Structuring the WBS

As the table shows, the flow method breaks the work down into systems and major subsystems.

This method is well suited for projects less than two years in length. For longer-duration

projects, we use the life-cycle method, which is similar to the flow method. The organization

method is used for projects that may be repetitive or require very little integration between

functional units.

23.4 Why Do Plans Fail?

Planning is not perfect, no matter how hard we try, and sometimes plans fail. Typical reasons

why plans fail include:

  • Corporate goals are not understood at the lower organizational levels.
  • Plans encompass too much in too little time.
  • Financial estimates are poor.
  • Plans are based on insufficient data.
  • No attempt is made to systematize the planning process.
  • Planning is performed by a planning group.
  • No one knows the ultimate objective.
  • No one knows the staffing requirements.
  • No one knows the major milestone dates, including written reports.
  • Project estimates are best guesses, and are not based on standards or history.
  • Not enough time is given for proper estimating.
  • No one bothers to see if there would be personnel available with the necessary skills.
  • People are not working toward the same specifications.
  • People are consistently shuffled in and out of the project with little regard for schedule.

Now the question arises, why do these situations occur, and who should be blamed? If corporate

goals are not understood, it is because corporate executives are negligent in providing the

necessary strategic information and feedback. If a plan fails because of extreme optimism, then

the responsibility lies with both the project and line managers for not assessing risk. Project

managers should ask the line managers if the estimates are optimistic or pessimistic, and expect

an honest answer. Erroneous financial estimates are the responsibility of the line manager. If the

project fails because of a poor definition of the requirements, then the project manager is totally

at fault.

It is important that the project managers must be willing to accept failure. Sometimes, a

situation occurs that can lead to failure, and the problem rests with either upper-level

management or some other group. As an example, consider the major utility company with a

planning group that prepares budgets (with the help of functional groups) and selects projects to

be completed within a given time period. A project manager on one such project discovered that

the project should have started ''last month" in order to meet the completion date. In cases like

this, project managers will not become dedicated to the projects unless they are active members

during the planning and know what assumptions and constraints were considered in

development of the plan.

In some cases, sometimes, the project manager is part of the planning group and as part of

feasibility study is asked to prepare, with the assistance of functional managers, a schedule and

cost summary for a project that will occur three years downstream, if it is approved at all.

Suppose that three years downstream the project is approved. How does the project manager get

functional managers to accept the schedule and cost summary that they themselves prepared

three years before? It cannot be done, because technology may have changed, people may be

working higher or lower on the learning curve, and salary and raw material escalation factors

are inaccurate.

Small mistake accumulate to cause big damage. Sometimes project plans fail because simple

details are forgotten or overlooked. Examples of this might be:

Neglecting to tell a line manager early enough that the prototype is not ready and that

rescheduling is necessary.

Neglecting to see if the line manager can still provide additional employees for the next two

weeks because it was possible to do so six months ago.

In addition to this, sometimes plans fail because the project manager "bites off more than he can

chew," and then something happens, such as his becoming ill. Even if the project manager is

effective at doing a lot of the work, overburdening is unnecessary. Many projects have failed

because the project manager was the only one who knew what was going on and then got sick.

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