Jan 27, 2017 4:00:00 PM | How Does a Work Breakdown Structure Improve Productivity?

Work breakdown structures require that processes are broken down into smaller sections of more manageable processes that can be properly tracked.

If you are trying to compete anywhere near the common man's B2C product retail industry, the efficiency of your product management system should be a priority. The complexity of software development means that you have virtually endless potential for confusion without a proper system in place to ensure maximum efficiency and timely task completion.

As any successful investor will tell you, you "make your money on the buy, not on the sell." In terms of software development, this means that you solidify your profits through a more effective supply chain. If you are experiencing bloat within your company because of an outdated or constantly expansive process, the only way to counter is to increase prices. Your customer will only except this excuse for so long.

What is a work breakdown structure (WBS)?

One of the newer and more effective buzzwords that is making its way through the software development community is "work breakdown structure." Unlike most buzzwords, however, the WBS comes with proven results. Its core mandate requires that highly involved processes are broken down into smaller sections of more manageable processes that can be properly tracked.

The secret of the WBS is that it is created before you move forward with any time or cost estimation figures. As a matter of fact, your WBS should actually help to create these time and cost estimates for you. Although this may seem like nothing more than an extra step between your next round of funding and your next product build, a WBS may actually improve efficiency so much that you can direct resources in a way that will actually make investors happy, not just your vendors and banner ad partners.

What exactly does a WBS accomplish for a software development company?

Created at the inception of your projects, a WBS plans out each deliverable on a timeline before any labor begins on any project element. Drilling down into each function of a project, the WBS will help to identify the tasks within each deliverable that can be finished in mutual exclusion to other tasks. Finding these tasks helps to limit the number of bottlenecks that your project faces, as you will quickly be able to identify tasks that must be done in conjunction with each other. Once you are able to locate tasks that are critical to another task, you can more properly assign people with more experience working with each other to those tasks, increasing the likelihood of their synchronicity.

The WBS also creates a viable plan for the big picture thinkers the top of the food chain who always seem to have a problem with any issue that requires drilling down into a procedure. Ground-level taskmasters can easily see what their day today goals are, while the 3000 foot thinkers won't be left out of the loop. Resources can be more easily and properly diverted without the decision-maker constantly asking, "Now what is this for again?"

How does a WBS work?

One of the reasons that the WBS has been so successful for savvy companies is that it imitates the hierarchical structure of most of those companies. Although the components of a WBS may have different details depending on the individual company, its basic components are always the same four elements:

  • Work statement
  • Work phases
  • Mutually exclusive deliverables that can be completed before the project's end
  • Tasks within deliverables

You may find a better way to present each component semantically depending on the lingo that your company is using at the time. For instance, "phases" may be "work packages" in templates that you research.

In order to properly execute a WBS, your company should begin with the work statement and move down through the critical deliverables of the project. Within each deliverable, you outline the tasks that are necessary for its completion, matching those tasks to the people best suited for the job.

Resource allocation is essential to a working WBS. At the top of the pyramid, resource allocation should be a group activity. Once individual teams are assigned to deliverables and individual tasks, the resources that have been allocated to each division are then divvied up between those people. In short, the entire team is active at the top. As tasks break off, the appropriate parties make the decisions.

The benefits of a WBS are far too plentiful to consider saving the relatively small amount of time that you save in skipping it. You can bet that any competition that is suddenly meeting its deadlines and beating your time to market is employing at least a part of this philosophy clandestinely. Make sure that you take a good look at the WBS strategy, applying as much of it as is relevant to your company.

Written By: Frances Banks