A Project Management site PMConnection, recently posted an article titled "The WBS is Over Rated." This article claims ...
But the WBS is nothing more than a tool. A tool to help you determine the activities that need to occur to complete the project.
The author makes a fundamental error in the reading of PMBOK, as well as failing to reference MIL STD 881 and other WBS guidelines.
The Work Breakdown Structure describes the break down of the DELIVERABLES of the project. The work effort associated with each of these deliverables or sub-deliverables is embedded in the Work Packages that DELIVER the DELIVERABLES of the WBS.
The activities needed to deliver these deliverables is also described in the Work Package in the form of tasks.
There is no project too small that can not take advantage of a WBS. In the article...
A simple brainstorming session with the team could allow you to determine all the project activities. In short, you will be performing Activity Definition without the need for a formal WBS.
The WBS is not the same as an Activity Definition. The activities to deliver the product is described in the network of tasks in the schedule. The WBS is the breakdown of the Product produced by that work.
Confusing Effort With Results
If as the author suggests the WBS is used to represent the activities, then the cardinal sin of project management and resulting failure will have been committed - confusing effort with results. It is the RESULT that the WBS should describe. It is the RESULT that the schedule should show. The work efforts described in the schedule should show "how" the "result" will be produced.
This is the basis of all DELIVERABLES BASED PLANNING. From formal approaches like IMP/IMS to simply good PM'ing in the form of a schedule showing how and when the deliverables will be delivered.
In the absence of a deliverables based plan, the efforts are considered "level of effort," with no ability to connect these efforts with results, no ability to establish a Performance Measurement Baseline, and no means to assess the performance of the project other than the passage of time and consumption of money.
This is a common mistake in some project management circles - possibly here.
MIL 881 states:
This term (WBS) is defined as:
- A product-oriented family tree composed of hardware, software, services, data, and facilities. The family tree results from systems engineering efforts during the acquisition of a defense materiel item.
- A WBS displays and defines the product, or products, to be developed and/or produced. It relates the elements of work to be accomplished to each other and to the end product.
- A WBS can be expressed down to any level of interest. However the top three levels are as far as any program or contract need go unless the items identified are high cost or high risk. Then, and only then, is it important to take the work breakdown structure to a lower level of definition.
Notice the focus on "Product," and the delivery of "Product."
In a follow on article on Contingency Reserve suggests that reserve (Management Reserve) be embedded in the schedule. In Federal Procurement contracts this is not allowed. MR must be separated from the Performance Measurement Baseline and is usually held by the Program Manager.
Embedding the MR as suggested is BAD project management practice. It distorts the BCWS is an Earned Value system and improperly exposes the planned reserves in the general case.