How should you break down your project?
Steven Pressfield said, “A great trick that I learned having worked as a screenwriter for many years, the way screenwriters work, is they break the project down into three-act structure: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3. I think that is a great way to break down any project, whether it’s a new business or anything at all.”
Whether we are creating a Pixar movie, a building, a highway, or a service center, wise project managers break down their projects into pieces. As we do, we create a structure for the project that helps stakeholders understand the project.
Some people struggle with the challenges of creating large, complex systems, highways, and companies. How can we do this? The answer: one bite at a time. Breaking projects into pieces makes the impossible possible. In addition, the break down creates the vision.
Without this structure, people will likely be confused and make faulty assumptions. It’s like someone trying to put together a puzzle without the puzzle box top. Furthermore, team members may miss critical elements resulting in rework later in the project.
How do we break down each project?
As a part of the project scope management, we divide and subdivide project deliverables — any unique and verifiable product, result, or capability — into smaller, more manageable components. The lowest level is called a work package.
One of the most powerful tools for this exercise is the work breakdown structure (WBS) which is a hierarchical decomposition of the scope of work. The WBS may take different forms: an outline, an organizational chart, or a mindmap.
Tip: When creating the WBS, use nouns for your deliverables, not verbs. For example, a work package might be labeled: “XYZ Report” rather than “Create XYZ Report.”
We want to be sure the WBS includes all the product and project work, including the project management work. Notice that the initial deliverables-based WBS does not include predecessor or successor relationships — there is no network diagram.
Next, we break down the deliverables into activities. In project time/schedule management, we continue the decomposition process to identify the project activities — distinct, scheduled portions of work. What activities must be completed? How long will the activities take? Who will complete each activity?
Tip: Now, we use verbs for the activities such as:
The outputs of defining activities include:
On one of your upcoming projects, create a WBS with your project team. Use sticky notes on a wall and use one color for the deliverables and a different color for the activities. Once completed, take a picture with your smartphone and replicate the WBS into an outline or mindmap. Lastly, distribute the WBS to your team for feedback.
Sign up for blog updates and receive the Project Management Plan Checklist. Make sure that you are including the right project baselines, subsidiary plans, and ancillary plans in your project management plans.
Join 1,000 project managers today!