Rethinking the (Work) Breakdown Structure – Part 2.4: Summarising the pivot points

by | Sep 10, 2021 | Breakdown Structures, Project Management Concepts | 0 comments

This post wasn’t planned. The last post wrapped up the 3-part series that unpacked our pivot points in more detail, after the headline post. I realised that the 4 posts contain a lot of material and had evolved a bit in the writing of them.

So, I thought it would be useful to summarise the pivot points towards better and more useful breakdown structures.

Here goes:

Part 2.1 – Cleaning the narrative

Purpose

  • To have better WBS’s, we need to pivot towards a unified, precise and repeatable set of guidelines.

Outline

  1. The WBS is about work
  2. Overloading the term work is confusing
  3. Does “Deliverables-oriented” actually mean anything useful

Key Concepts

  • Properties of trees
  • Overloading the meaning of the term “work”
  • Confusion over what is being broken down

Directions for improvement

  • More precise terminology definition
  • Better (deeper and pragmatic) guidelines

Part 2.2 – The Structure of Breakdown

Purpose

  • To create a clearer understanding of what we are breaking down in developing a WBS.

Outline

  1. Neither work nor deliverables have an inherent structure to break down.
  2. How can we determine this structure and use it to break down
  3. The “stuff” we’re breaking down has to be decomposable.

Key Concepts

  • Work is amorphous and has no inherent structure
  • Deliverables are the product of work and so also share this lack of inherent structure
  • The distinction between “decomposition” and “grouping”. The current narrative defines “approaches” of “top-down” and “bottom-up” respectively.
  • Multiple views of the available “stuff” that we need to use to input into the development processes: PMI’s 8 “types”, Rad’s 11 “types”
  • “Leading” and “lagging” structures, i.e. we decompose leading structures and we group using lagging structures

Directions for improvement

  • More precise guidance on the decomposition and grouping processes
  • Better definition on how to identify and use the structures that make up the WBS

Part 2.3 – Sourcing and Leveraging Better Tools and Concepts

Purpose

  • To leverage a broader range of knowledge and tools to help us do the “breakdown” in our day-to-day practice.

Outline

  1. The breakdown is not about estimation, it’s about problem-solving
  2. How Ontology can provide Cleaving Frames
  3. Helping to maximise “Natural breakdown” instead of arbitrary breakdown
  4. We can use patterns and Templates – with Care

Key Concepts

  • Decomposition is the key to problem-solving, which provides many tools and concepts
    • Cleaving Frameworks
    • Logic Trees
  • Ontology (information science sense)
    • Classification Systems
    • Ontology relations (e.g. “is-a” and “part-of”)
  • Arbitrary vs natural decomposition
  • Patterns and Templates

Directions for improvement

  • Wider and deeper inclusion of tools and concepts from a broader range of sources outside project management

The Bottom Line

There are many breakdown structures in project management and they are not uniform beasts or subject to the same treatment. They are not interchangeable.

There are many concepts and tools from multiple domains that can be used in breakdown structures.

Let’s make a start on our new directions,

Stay tuned.

 

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