Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The Project Work Breakdown Structure is an outcome oriented analysis of the work involved in the project and defines the total scope of the project. It is a foundation document in project management because it provides the basis for planning and managing the project schedule, budget and requests for changes. The WBS is developed in the form of an inverted tree structure, organized by objectives; it looks like an organizational chart which helps the project team visualize the whole project and all its main components.

The WBS is a hierarchy of all project work, it is a vertical breakdown, moving from the project goal to the tasks or subtasks. This decomposition process allows a good level of confidence in estimating the final project schedule and budget. It shows all the work that needs to be accomplished. The WBS contains 100% of all the work in the project.

At the top level is the project ultimate goal, the second level contains the project outcomes, the third level has the project outputs, and the fourth level with activities. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, the WBS may contain a fourth level that describe the tasks.

The size and complexity of a project will determine the number of levels a WBS needs. For some projects additional levels may be included to represent intermediate objectives. Other projects may choose to structure the WBS by the geographical locations the project will work or group the objectives by the communities participating in the project.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is an important planning tool used to define a project in terms of its outputs while providing a method for breaking these deliverables into meaningful work units. The WBS allows the project manager to clearly describe the hierarchical nature of the work to be performed and establishes a foundation for other elements of the project planning documents including the project’s resource plan, budget, implementation plan, and project schedule.

With the WBS, the project manager will be able describe the outcomes of a project in a way that is clear to the project team, while at the same time capturing the order and sequence of the work necessary to produce those outputs. The WBS provides a means for carefully detailing the outputs of the project and facilitates the identification of specific the work elements, and groupings required to deliver each element.


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What is the Project Lifecycle?

All projects have certain characteristics in common that makes them unique from other type of work:

  • They all have a beginning and an end.
  • All projects are unique. They may be similar to prior projects, but they are unique in terms of timeframes, resources, business environment, etc.
  • Projects result in the creation of one or more deliverables.
  • Projects also have assigned resources - either full-time, part-time or both.

Project management is the planning, implementing, and monitoring of project activities to meet project objectives, achieved by effectively controlling and balancing the constraint of scope, schedule, and budget, in producing quality deliverables that meet or exceed the expectations of the project stakeholders.

Project management defines the overall management and control processes for the project.  Just as there are common project management processes to manage most projects, there are also common models that can provide guidance on how to define the project lifecycle. These common models are valuable since they save project teams the time associated with creating the project work plan from scratch each time. 

All development organizations do most of their work through projects. Projects can be managed using a common set of project management processes. In fact, a similar set of project management processes can be utilized regardless of the type of project. For instance, all projects should be defined and planned, and all projects should have processes to manage scope, risk, quality, budget, etc.

A project lifecycle provides a basic outline that can be used by any project; in other words, the detailed work to deliver the outcomes is referred to as the "project lifecycle". It basically starts with the understanding of a need, then with the designing of a solution, proposal to a donor, approval of funding, implementation and monitoring, and evaluation and closing of the project. Each of these major areas of focus is called a phase (Initiation Phase, Planning Phase, Implementation Phase, etc.) Even a small project still goes through these basic phases. 

A project lifecycle also refers to a logical sequence of activities to accomplish the project’s goals or objectives, as such is an approach that takes the project in distinct phases from its initiation until its completion. Different organizations have different phases and even different names for the phases. Each phase is also an opportunity for the project to stop and evaluate its progress before moving to the next phase in the cycle. This allows for opportunities to improve and reevaluate the assumptions the project makes.

Most organizations follow one type or another of a project cycle. Even donor organizations have well defined models for project cycle, but with a heavy emphasis in the funding phases to ensure the funds will be allocated to the most viable solution. The important point is that a common, scalable project lifecycle can be used effectively on all projects.

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