Do you find your projects end up overrunning their deadlines? Or is burnout compromising your team’s efforts to deliver quality work on?
Underestimating the scope of a project can lead to reduced profitability and even client churn.
Complex projects can become exponentially more challenging to manage at scale. That’s why we recommend using the work breakdown structure (WBS) when planning your projects. Professional project managers swear by the WBS, since it breaks down projects into smaller and more easily manageable parts. It’s also much easier to accurately estimate the amount of time you’ll need if you’re managing your projects on a task-by-task basis.
And the best way to do it right is to use proven tools and methods to help you achieve the perfect outcome in less time.
#1. Think about outcomes before actions
A work breakdown structure is divided into two main parts – outcomes and actions. A common mistake is focusing on actions from the outset, when you should really be looking at what you want to achieve.
For this, we can take a cue from the world of software development – the user story.
A user story is a sentence briefly describing, in human-readable language, a feature or function in a system from an end user’s perspective (i.e.: your client). It explains the who, what, and why of that function. Here’s an example:
As a restaurant owner, I want to implement an online ordering platform so I can provide home deliveries to my customers.
But while user stories are normally asso ciated with software development, a similar thinking can apply in any situation. By clearly identifying the outcome and the purpose of that desired outcome, you can break down the project into individual parts.
Let’s say you’re building a bicycle. That’s the first level. But a bicycle consists of two primary components – the wheels and the frame. These parts, or outcomes, can then be broken down into smaller components: the frame set becomes the frame and seat, while the wheels become the front and rear wheel. Once you get to the lowest level of the structure, you can add activity points to each one – for example, to weld a frame or order a bicycle seat.
This will help you identify each deliverable and plan your projects more accurately.
#2. Visualise the structure of your projects
People are visual creatures, and the brain doesn’t work like a machine. That’s why trying to work from a written list of tasks in a spreadsheet-like format is often far from efficient. With a visualised overview of your project and its constituent tasks, you’ll be able to easily identify all the details without losing context.
Visualising your workflows can help streamline projects of any level of complexity. You may be surprised, for example, by just how much work goes into creating the simplest everyday objects. Even the smallest projects tend to consist of multiple deliverables. It’s easy to lose context if all you have is a list of things to do.
With our bicycle example, the bicycle is only the first level of the WBS. The frame set is on the second level, while the frame, handlebar, fork, and seat are among the third. With a visualised overview of the workflow, team members will know where they stand and what their priorities and responsibilities are.
#3. Follow the 100% rule of work breakdown structures
The WBS describes the entire project broken down into smaller tasks (preferably the smallest possible). In many situations, one task depends on another. You can’t for example, assemble the bicycle if you don’t have all the core components. Those components might be something as simple, yet crucial, as a particular screw or fastening.
The 100% rule stipulates that each task must be completed in full before moving to the next one. This should apply even if it’s possible, in practice, to start working on something else. By focussing on and completing one task at a time from the outset, you’ll be better able to identify the scope of the project and avoid losing focus on the way.
#4. Share your projects with your clients
Transparency is key to running any modern business. It’s essential that your client has realistic expectations, hence it’s a good idea to share your WBS with them. This will also help clarify everything you need from the client in a structured and easily understandable way. Even more importantly, it will help you justify how much you’re charging for the project, since it gives a clear overview of the extent of work involved.
With our platform, you can even invite your client as a guest, so they can see your visualised WBS in a beautiful and user-friendly presentation.
#5. Describe your deliverables clearly
This one might seem obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to get wrong. Make sure you and your client clearly understand what each deliverable means and includes. You should write a brief summary of each deliverable and a longer one for more complex tasks. Using bullet points to highlight key features can also help, but it’s best to assign one task to one feature anyway.
Here’s an example: Let’s imagine you’re moving to a new house, and you want a carpet in the bedroom. In this case, the WBS might look like this – house – bedroom – carpet. So, you order the new carpet, but then you find it rolled up in the corner of the room when you want to move in the furniture. Your expectation was that the carpet would already be laid out, but the supplier might not have expected to do anything more than just deliver it.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Think about the outcomes you want to achieve before breaking them down into tasks
- Visualise your projects with a project management tool
- Chain your tasks together to ensure they’re completed in order
- Share the project overview with your client
- Describe all deliverables clearer.
LogicalPlan is a project-management tool that lets you visualise your workflows and keep all team members on the same page during remote meetings. Try it for free today.