Practice Management Member Conversations

  • 1.  Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

    Posted 08-04-2011 12:30 PM


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    Richard Meinzer AIA, CSI
    Director Quality Assurance
    Bernardon Haber Holloway Architects, P.C.
    Kennett Square PA
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    Can any members suggest resources to learn about Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?  Who uses it?  Who promulgates or requires it?  What's the history?  Is it a set of organizing principles for work flow?

    We recently had an individual reviewer on a state project suggest we should be using WBS especially as it related to a construction cost estimate.  For decades our documents, specs, and cost estimates have been based on AIA(ARCOM) MasterSpec, CSI MasterFormat or CSI UniFormat, and RSMeans Building Construction Cost Data or RSMeans Assemblies Cost Data.  Of course all of these are tightly related to each other.  We do little or no Federal work.  Have we been in an alternate universe?
    Join us at the PM Luncheon at A'22! Keynote speaker is Phi Bernstein, FAIA. Click here to learn more.


  • 2.  RE:Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

    Posted 08-04-2011 03:30 PM
    Mr. Meinzer:

    Work Breakdown Structures were first used by the Department of Defense for missile systems back in the mid 60's, and was picked up by NASA shortly after as well.  The WBS got wider use as businesses began using project management techniques, following procedures documented by the Project Management Institute (PMI) as well as others.

    For architects, project management is our daily bread and butter, but those that are new to PM practices studied what was required to properly manage a project and came up with several Project Management Processes and several more Knowledge Areas.  The Processes include Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Control, and Closeout.  The Knowledge Areas include Scope, Schedule, Cost, Resources, Risk Management, Quality Control, Procurement, Communications, and Integration.  The WBS is considered part of Scope Management.

    The basics of Scope Management in a project are to 1. Collect Requirements, 2. Define Scope,  3. Create WBS,  4. Verify Scope, and 5. Control Scope.  The WBS is a tool that takes the overall scope of the project and subdivides it into smaller, more manageable components.  It's a deliverable oriented, hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team, with each descending level representing an increasingly detailed definition of the work to be done.

    One simple example is to have a project called "house".  "House" represents the entire scope of work to be done.  The next tier down, the first decomposition, could have categories such as "Primary Structure", "Interior design", "Plumbing", "HVAC", "Electrical", and "Site".  The next decomposition of work could breakdown "Primary Structure" to the following categories:  "Foundations", "Walls", "Columns", and "Roof".  It mimics the numbering system used in specifications:
    1. House

         1.1.    Primary Structure

                 1.1.1.   Foundations

                 1.1.2.   Walls

                 1.1.3.   Columns

                 1.1.4.   Roof

         1.2.    Interior Design

         1.3.    Plumbing

         1.4.    HVAC

         1.5.    Electrical

         1.6.    Site

    Of course, the WBS could have been organized a number of different ways, and can be represented graphically as well as by text, as above.  If you're trying to organize a WBS to work with a cost estimate, organize it so that it makes the number easier to put together.

    As to books, the basic one is the A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), published by the Project Management Institute.  PMI also publishes a Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures, which has appendices that illustrate WBS examples for different industries.  I have found most useful a book titled Work Breakdown Structures, the Foundation for Project Management Excellence, by Eric Norman, Shelley Brotherton, and Robert Fried.  Wiley is the publisher of that book.  I shamelessly copied the house example from this book, as it is simple and clearly illustrates the idea behind the WBS.

    As a sidenote, the WBS often has a WBS Dictionary with it, so that critical terms can be defined as they relate to the scope of the project.  "Window washing systems" by itself is a little vague, but the WBS Dictionary can define that to mean the exact type of system selected.  Think of it as a type of outline spec.

    Once you've broken down the project scope by means of a WBS, you can take the deliverables in the WBS to create a much more detailed Project Schedule, assign hours/cost to each task, and monitor each through project execution.  That's part of Earned Value Management, but that's another whole topic for discussion.

    Klaus Steinke AIA
    Las Vegas NV
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    Join us at the PM Luncheon at A'22! Keynote speaker is Phi Bernstein, FAIA. Click here to learn more.