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WBS Checklist (#8 in the series How to Plan and Organize a Project)
By Michael D. Taylor

When the first WBS is drafted, the project manager should use the following checklist to ensure that all aspects of a proper WBS have been considered.

  • The top element of the WBS is the overall deliverable of the project, and all stakeholders agree with it.
  • The first two levels of the WBS (the root node and Level 2) define a set of planned outcomes that collectively and exclusively represent 100% of the project scope.
  • The WBS elements are defined in terms of outcomes or results. (Outcomes are the desired ends of the project, and can be predicted accurately).
  • Each WBS element has an identification number assigned which identifies its relative position within the structure.
  • The WBS encompasses everything that will ultimately comprise the project deliverable, and all deliverables in the project are included.
  • Each WBS element contains the following four items:
    1. the scope of work, including any “deliverables,”
    2. the beginning and end dates for the scope of work,
    3. the budget for the scope of work,
    4. the name of the person responsible for the scope of work.
  • There is no overlap in scope definition between two elements of a WBS.
  • The WBS is not a project plan or a project schedule, and it is not a chronological listing.
  • The WBS is not an organizational hierarchy.
  • In the judgment of all parties involved, the WBS has been decomposed and it is no longer possible to define planned outcomes–the only details remaining are actions.
  • The WBS is not an exhaustive list of work. It is instead a comprehensive classification of project scope.
  • In the judgment of all parties involved, the WBS is neither over-simplified or overly complex. It provides an adequate graphical or outline form for viewing the overall scope of the project.

In planning a project, it is normal to find oneself momentarily overwhelmed and confused, when one begins to grasp the details and scope of even a modest size project. This results from one person trying to understand the details of work that will be performed by a number of people over a period of time. The way to get beyond being overwhelmed and confused is to break the project into pieces, organize the pieces in a logical way using a WBS, and then get help from the rest of your project team.

Psychologists say our brains can normally comprehend around seven to nine items simultaneously. A project with thousands or even dozens of tasks goes way over our ability to grasp all at once. The solution is to divide and conquer. The WBS helps break thousands of tasks into chunks that we can understand and assimilate. Preparing and understanding a WBS for your project is a big step towards managing and mastering its inherent complexity.

MICHAEL D. TAYLOR, M.S. in systems management, B.S. in electrical engineering, has more than 30 years of project, outsourcing, and engineering experience. He is principal of Systems Management Services, and has conducted project management training at the University of California, Santa Cruz Extension in their PPM Certificate program for over 13 years, and at companies such as Sun Microsystems, GTE, Siemens, TRW, Loral, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and Inprise. He also taught courses in the UCSC Extension Leadership and Management Program (LAMP), and was a guest speaker at the 2001 Santa Cruz Technology Symposium. His website is www.projectmgt.com.

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