Public or Private?

When and where to correct bad employee behavior

criticism-image

Recently, someone at my place of work sent an email to the entire organization. The email was well-intentioned, but it wasn’t work related. In fact, the subject matter could technically be considered an endorsement of a political candidate by the sender. A couple of other people responded to the email, some in favor of what the original person wrote, other against, and in each case replying to the entire organization. Over two hundred employees were, in a sense, spammed.

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #7

WBS's Are Constructed of Work Packages

wbs-tips

At the lowest level of a WBS tree are individual work packages (WP). When first planning a project you don’t have to identify every single one of these, but you will have to by the time you’re ready to baseline your project. Progressive elaboration is the key to tackling this job of identifying WPs. The purpose of breaking down the WBS into WPs is that you will use these to produce realistic cost estimates and schedule activities for the project. You have to break the work down to this level of granularity to create these things, but it makes no sense to go further than this. The sweet spot the lies between too little and too much detail is something that is different on every project–and something that every project manager has to determine.


Did you find this post useful? Sign up here for our free email list to help ensure more like it are created. Thanks!

You can also email me directly at Mark@TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #6

Recognizing that Perfect is the Enemy of Good Enough

wbs-tips

While a well structured WBS is what you’re aiming for, the truth is that its organization doesn’t have to be 100% perfect; much more important is content than structure. Like many things in project management, laying out and structuring a WBS is a balancing act: it’s important to spend enough time up front to get to something that won’t have to be changed later, but the honest truth is that things will indeed likely change. Try to build in simplicity and flexibility in the WBS organization to accommodate these future changes. It’s also useful to utilize methods like Progressive Elaboration; i.e., worry about the big picture items during the first pass through the WBS creation, get those things nailed down, and then fill in details in each successive iteration.


Did you find this post useful? Sign up here for our free email list to help ensure more like it are created. Thanks!

You can also email me directly at Mark@TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #5

Organize your WBS to align with your contracting strategies.

wbs-tips

After you have collected all of your individual scope elements, you should begin organizing these into logical groupings and categories. On my current project, we used butcher paper and note cards to shuffle and move things around on a big table and whiteboard. (Another method is to use so-called “mind-mapping” software to capture content. I’ve personally used products like coggle.it and MindNode for this purpose on small and large projects alike with very good success.) 

During the initial layout, management should give the engineering team almost complete carte blanche to sort and organize, but they should be given some over-arching guidance; namely, when grouping items together, ask your team to think in terms of contracting strategies. How you’re going to subdivide the procurements on a project should align as closely with your WBS as possible; you should strive to avoid components in a single procurement package spanning multiple major branches in a WBS tree.

Way back at the start of my current project, we were a small team, and the plan was to stay “lean” for a while and try to leverage involvement from industry and partner institutions. This meant larger than typical contracted sub-packages for combined design and fabrication for many of the subsystems. Even if we assumed we were going to self-perform a task in-house, we acted as if we were going to subcontract out that package when organizing the WBS; this kept us focused on ensuring discrete, standalone and self-contained “contract” packages for which we could readily write SOWs, specs, acceptance criteria, and interface control documents, as well as estimating cost and schedule.


Did you find this post useful? Sign up here for our free email list to help ensure more like it are created. Thanks!

You can also email me directly at Mark@TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #4

Don't reinvent the wheel.... or an entirely brand new WBS.

wbs-tips

One of your most powerful tools as a project manager is the ability to “R&D”, or Rip-off and Duplicate from other, previous projects that are similar to yours. When it comes to capturing all the scope on a new project, look around and see if you can use a WBS from a similar project as a starting point, both for identifying scope as well as organizing it.

You can also copy templates that are used in your specific industry or field. The obvious benefit in doing this is it gives you a leg up, or starting point in the process. Potential downsides, however, include a) all projects by definition are unique, so the WBS for one project won’t map fully to another; and b) organizational and content problems get carried over from project to the next, essentially “in-breeding” errors and omissions. You should definitely consider R&D’ing from other, similar projects, but remember to be judicious about it. Treat it as a starting point, then make it your own.


Did you find this post useful? Sign up here for our free email list to help ensure more like it are created. Thanks!

You can also email me directly at Mark@TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #3

Take the time to define was is NOT included in your work scope

wbs-tips

In addition to ensuring 100% of the project is contained in the WBS, it is just as important to exclude items that are not true work scope. A well constructed WBS should include exactly 100% of the project work scope—no more, no less. On my current project, a number of items were ultimately excluded because they more correctly belonged to other areas and teams within our institution.

Taking the time to define—and document—what is not included in your project then allows you to convey this to your stakeholders. This, in turn, means that they won’t be surprised at the end of the project when you deliver X and they were expecting Y. It also allows you to properly budget and schedule the work you and your team have to perform during the course of the project.


Did you find this post useful? Sign up here for our free email list to help ensure more like it are created. Thanks!

You can also email me directly at Mark@TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #2

Early Brainstorming of Scope—Independent of Structure

wbs-tips

Early on my current project, we held a series of WBS brainstorming sessions with the most experienced engineering and science members of our team. We did this at a retreat, away from our normal work location, so that we could focus and work uninterrupted. We started by creating individual lists of delivered elements and subsystems of the new telescope. We used dry erase white-boards, big sheets of “butcher paper,” and lots of yellow sticky notes and index cards to capture this information in real-time. Another beneficial tool other projects have used successfully is mind mapping software. The immediate focus should be on listing and capturing everything, not sorting and categorizing them; i.e., identifying all elements of work scope at this point was significantly more important than deciding with absolute certainty where those elements should reside in relation to each other in the WBS.


Did you find this post useful? Sign up here for our free email list to help ensure more like it are created. Thanks!

You can also email me directly at Mark@TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #1

A WBS Should Include 100% of Project Scope

wbs-tips

While the layout of a WBS doesn’t need to be perfect, the content does. In other words, you absolutely have to account for 100% of the work scope of a project. You must strive to not leave anything out. If you do miss something that is discovered later, you’ll have to ask for additional money and/or time to perform that missing scope, you will have to draw upon contingency reserves to pay for it, and/or you’ll have to sacrifice other, lesser important work scope to pay for the newly discovered scope. None of these are good options.

One way to find the entirety of project scope is via the application of Progressive Elaboration. Hit the higher-level WBS elements first. Review to ensure you have all the big-picture scope accounted for, then drop down a level and subdivide and breakdown the scope. Rinse and repeat at each progressively lower level of the WBS until you get to the work package level. Visualize how a subsystem comes together; what are its constituent components, and what is and isn’t included. Start big and decompose.


Did you find this post useful? Sign up here for our free email list to help ensure more like it are created. Thanks!

You can also email me directly at Mark@TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com

The Four Major Phases of an Engineering Project

Knowing what stage your project is in will help you focus your efforts correctly

Most projects transition through a series of distinct stages or phases from the time they start, through execution, and ultimately close-out. There are a number of different and equally valid ways to label these phases, but for consistency, we’re going to use the Project Management Institute (PMI) method as a basis. We won’t be following it precisely, but close enough that it will make sense for those with PMI backgrounds.

Four Phases

An Introduction to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)

Create a WBS to help organize your project into manageable pieces

Many new project managers (and some experienced ones, too) struggle with the concept of a work breakdown structure, or WBS. They put the wrong types of things into their WBS. Or they put too many elements in it, or too few. Or they treat it as a schedule, or a plan, or a chronological listing of actions that have to be performed. Or perhaps they eschew the need for a WBS altogether. Fortunately, all of these are correctable mistakes.

A simplified Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for the construction of an office building. This is just a partial WBS, and are many missing elements in this example, such as procurement of land, permitting, outfitting and furnishing, etc.

A simplified Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for the construction of an office building. This is just a partial WBS, and are many missing elements in this example, such as procurement of land, permitting, outfitting and furnishing, etc.