Work Breakdown Structure Was Shallow – Project Management Mistake # 7 (#7 in the series 15 Deadly Project Management Mistakes Government Agencies Make Which Cost Them Revenue, Time & Efficiency)
By Keith Mathis – PM Expert Live
Any successful project must have a detailed work breakdown structure (WBS). We can define a WBS as the breaking down of a project into smaller pieces for the purpose of tracking budget, time, and responsibility. Many projects struggle due to the WBS being created in a very shallow and superficial way. What this means is that the project has not been broken down into small enough units of time, budget, or structure to be able to accomplish the goals.
Some projects are broken down with a limited amount of structure. This means that an individual or team has broken down the project, but they have not gone deep enough into setting up the design and plan for accomplishing its objectives. It is not uncommon to see this demonstrated when you have inexperienced individuals. Some cases show this as an evidence of a team under a great deal of pressure to produce a plan, but they have violated the foundation of core competencies of standardized project management.
Limited breakdown of the project leaves a great deal of gaps open for interpretation by the project team. These gaps can create work stoppage or more time delays due to lack of planning in moving the project forward. It is best for a project to have a detailed breakdown with all the individual activities and tasks documented to assist in tracking those units of time and budget.
Refusal to plan the project with enough detail
Limitations in planning a WBS is normally demonstrated when a project planning sheet only goes two or three levels in depth of the plan. If the main components of the project are broken down followed with only one or two levels, then it is possible the project is going to be hit with unforeseen time delays as well as budget over extensions. Normally, in a project plan you will have the main components of a project followed by major tasks or activities, followed by minor tasks or activities, and then, finally, subtasks bring up the remainder of the project. You will notice an example of the breakdown in the following diagram.
- Major Task
- Minor task
- Sub task
- Sub-sub task
- Sub task
- Minor task
- Major Task
This diagram points out at least four levels to a project plan in dissecting its breakdown. Unless a project manager or its team can breakdown a project into multiple levels, they will constantly be finding gaps in the timeline as well as budget.
Assumptions are forgotten or limited in focus
Every project has a certain level of assumptions built into the planning process. These assumptions are connected to the way past projects have been planned or have been run. Assumptions can best be defined as those foundational views considered taking place if you are going to complete a project successfully. For example, it is assumed that if a customer wants a project, they are going to meet budgetary requirements and give input into the goals or core objectives they desire the project to achieve. Unless the customer is willing to do this, there is no way that a project can be achieved. This is a simple example of our assumption. There are also assumptions such as human resource allotment, budgetary allotment, time, tools and equipment provided, as well as communication and feedback in order for a project to move forward.
In conclusion, it is necessary to have all of these components working together in order to create a WBS that is effective, correct, and timely. Unless a WBS is able to be broken down into small, measurable pieces and detailed with realistic assumptions, the project cannot be successful.
Dr. Keith Mathis, founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds. He offers 33 Project Management courses, is a Project Management Professional, is certified by the Project Management Institute and will customize every training session to your individual company’s needs. The Mathis Group also sponsors www.pmexpertlive.com, which is a powerful project management resource with free reports, podcasts, videos, and a monthly newsletter. He also offers customized management training and coaching on any subject with prolific communication and professionalism.