We need more detail but how do we get it?

I have observed many, many people when they start a work breakdown structure (WBS). The initial enthusiasm is tempered with the call from some; we need more detail. But, they soon come to a rapid halt unable to develop the WBS any further. As one person commented, “We seem to have hit the wall.” I have seen this happen frequently and the groups range from those on a training course to those in a project team on an actual project.

The result of their work is what I call an embryonic WBS – where it is not fully formed and to produce any type of schedule from it would be difficult. This is where I introduce them to a key question to help develop their WBS even further. That question is: ‘HOW’?

Let’s look at an example. Imagine you have to organise a conference, the WBS looks like this. For presentational purposes, I have given you a very simple example however, as we shall see, using the ‘HOW’ question really changes things.

Diagram 1: before asking the ‘HOW’ question.Diagram 5 on How question
If you focus on Book Hotel and ask the ‘HOW’ question you will see that this expands as shown below.

Diagram 2: After asking the ‘HOW’ question – hotel booking only

Diagram 6 on How question

We now have 10 activities where there were 2 and there are probably more. This approach gives project staff the a wide range of options including:

  • develop the WBS still further
  • produce a more realistic schedule
  • produce realistic estimates of time and costs
  • allocate responsibilities using the identified tasks

On virtually every training course I point people to the ‘HOW’ question. The result of them actioning this is the WBS suddenly grows and the course participants are often stunned by ‘What we have left out’. However, they also comment that that the additional information is essential; ‘Without it we cannot deliver effectively’ has been the frequent cry.

So, my question to you is ‘HOW’

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One Response to We need more detail but how do we get it?

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