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Work Breakdown Structure for
Extreme Project Managers

by Shaun Ajani


We construct a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) on a constant basis in our lives. In fact, nothing is ever done without it. We wake up in the morning, brush our teeth, have breakfast… and so on and so forth, till we meet our final objective, which is to get dressed in the morning to go to work. In essence, we break down the structure of that one big objective, in small manageable tasks. And that is the definition of WBS, the breakdown of tasks in small manageable portions.

Actually, WBS goes a bit deeper than that. As in most projects, many different groups may come together to form a deliverable. A strong structure is needed. As my Extreme Managers do everything at light speed, the Extreme WBS is broken down to its simplest form, Functional and Chronological. One is chosen as the dominant structure, and the other is chosen as its subset.

Functional WBS structure

For example, if the project is a strong IT project, where many separate development modules will be constructed, then the Functional structure is chosen. The WBS is broken down first by function, then by timeline. Basically, we are giving more importance to the function than the timeline, as far as the layout of the tasks are concerned.

Lets assume that you are a Project Manager on a project that will automate the registration of their clients for the training classes, which they offer. The project is going to take 24 months to complete, and will be made up of four fundamental modules. The first module will be the User Interface for the program, for the clients and the administrators. The second module will be an accounts receivable program that will process the payments from the clients. The third module will receive class requests and allocate the schedule. And the forth module will build a web portal for the registration on the company's website.

Each one of these individual modules will have numerous tasks associated with it. In the Functional WBS model, we will list out the four modules, then under each one of those modules, we will list the individual tasks that will make up that particular module, in order of the task's start time. Of course, each task can be further drilled down, to form additional hierarchies. However, in Extreme Management, we will stop at this level.

Remember the brushing your teeth example? Well, in one of my project management training classes, the instructor gave the example of cleaning the house. He pointed out to make sure that we gave out a clear detailed task list. If the task involves the cleaning of the walls, then it must be spelled out that the cleaning of the light switches should be a sub task of that. In our case, we could have indicated that one should pick up the tooth paste, squeeze the paste with a certain amount of pressure (depending on the brand of the tooth paste), dispense a half inch strip on the front side of the tooth brush, and so on. The same could be applied to the WBS for a project. One can go to excruciating details.

Tree and Trunk

It must be noted that details have their place in Project Management. However, it is not with the Extreme Project Manager; rather, with the specific Team Lead. In Extreme Project Management, the project is executed in a 'lean and mean' manner. Proper delegations must be deployed. If you don't trust your Team Lead with the sub-tasks, replace that lead. The WBS will consist of manageable tasks, but not manageable sub-tasks. Thus, the Extreme WBS structure does not look like a tree, with multiple branches sprouting off their respective multiple branches. But more like a single trunk, with just a few branches sticking out.

Chronological WBS structure

The same concept applies to the Chronological structure for the WBS. If the client is very time sensitive, instead of the modules, use timeline, preferably from the original project estimates, to lay out the WBS. Place the module and its subsequent high-level tasks under the timeline, according to the order of their execution. For example, the project may be divided by quarters. Each quarter can have a list of functions under it, in ascending timeline. In the Chronological WBS structure, there will be times, when two or more functions will start at the same time. These functions will have to branch out. Hence, the Chronological WBS structure looks more like a tree, than a trunk.

In the end, strictly maintain the client scope and direction. Determine what is important to the client, the functional perspective for the Functional WBS structure, or the timeline perspective for the Chronological WBS structure.


The Author


Shaun Ajani is an internationally published author of many books and articles, including, "If You Row, You Will Not Drift - Perfect Life Management - The Life Wizard", "Extreme Project Management", and "How Real is Your Soul?". He has worked with aviation, IT, retail, HR, finance, education, and training industries, in companies such as Motorola, Dollar Stores, Nation Gifts, Code Factory, Washington Mutual, Boise Cascade, Sears, and Spherion. visit for additional information.

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