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The Role of WBS Remote Project Management in Modern Times

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By Preethi Jathanna

Senior Writer for HR and Remote Work

The Role of WBS Remote Project Management in Modern Times

WBS remote project management is a template that helps project managers retain control over project activities. That being said, most seasoned project managers would attest to the fact that managing projects take a lot of work, even with a Work Breakdown Structure.

When priorities shift dynamically, it becomes a question of when, not if, something critical falls through the cracks. This is true when several projects are on the boil.  Two or more projects may share resources meaning that work gets periodically shuffled. Project managers end up replanning work such that work and effort both stay visible.

I recall my first glimpse of a WBS. At the time, it seemed to spread out like an octopus's tentacles. Challenging though it looked, it made me all the more determined to use one for some hands-on experience. I eventually got the hang of it enough to make one myself. And much later, that work breakdown structure template turned out to be quite useful to draw comparisons between what was being done, and what was documented.

I didn’t want to be the only person to benefit from using one, particularly now that most of us are working remotely and could use that extra boost in helping us get work done and hit those goals. So,

1. Work Breakdown Structure Meaning

A project work breakdown structure is a list of the tasks, sub-activities, budget and resources allocated for a project. It breaks down the project scope into measurable tasks. This is then assigned to competent members within the team.

The project manager appointed to lead the project is usually the best person to structure the WBS. But there's no rule that says not to involve group members in determining what goes into it! When we work in the same physical workspace, getting an update or checking in on activity is a simple matter of herding the team for a meeting and having them speak turn by turn on what they’ve done so far and what is holding them back. Even a spreadsheet suffices as a work breakdown structure example.

The same however doesn’t work as well when a portion of your workforce is remote. You’d have to wait longer, (even indefinitely) for updates bearing in mind different time zones. There could even be schedule overlaps, absentees or a member with his or her nose down in work, therefore missing your requests.

In other words, even with members online, you can’t get a hold of everyone at once. This results in frequent miscommunication and invisible dependencies weighing down either the task or member working on it. You would also be better off using project management software that has this template built into so that you don’t have to use too many tools for one activity.

So, which WBS remote project management can help you in project cost control, set the record straight and not lead to an unintentional omission?

My vote goes to the downloadable, ready-to-go template from Vertex42. The best part is, it's great for beginners and experts alike due to its fuss-free simplicity. You can customize it to your project and practice how good you are at delegation!

Here are 3 hot tips to ensure efforts aren’t in vain when the workforce is voluntarily homebound:

1.1. Make the WBS a Shared Entity

Share the WBS with your team from the very start.

This enables members to tie the task to the skill(s) they’ll need to bring out. I’ve seen downloadable templates on Workamajig and Asana and highly recommend trying them out. From what I can see, it is easy to share objectives and milestones!

By taking complete ownership of the task, the member also knows who they can collaborate with, in case they’re stuck. The reason being, that every member is aware of what each other is on, and can give more precise help or a different perspective to resolve a bottleneck!

1.2. Tame the Chaos

Organizing virtual stand-ups at a fixed hour gets everyone to participate without the accompanying chaos.

With the right remote-work friendly tools, not only is everyone accessible but remote collaboration also sees vast improvement when expectations are overcommunicated to avoid ambiguity. It speeds up the reconciliation process i.e. what you already know and what you might have missed.

You can restore order on a remote project by distributing your talk time across 1:1s and group discussions.

1.3. Initiate Sprint Retrospectives

I've always said that you have to look back before looking ahead. Sprint retrospectives can be a great way for team members to clue each other in on what they achieved. It aligns their effort and learnings to the project as a whole. In a way, it tells you what processes must change for the WBS to be an even greater success down the line.

2. Documenting a Work Breakdown Structure Template

You can create a work breakdown structure presentation as a hierarchical list on excel, PowerPoint or diagramming tools like LucidChart, Microsoft Visio and Create.ly. Check with corporate if there are any existing template formats to stick to before you start. The terminologies you refer to should be clear to all who will be using this wbs template.

And yes, involve your team closely to get their input on what they think should go into the WBS. Conflicting opinions on priorities can seem chaotic in the beginning. But once you separate the wheat from the chaff, you’ll be better able to contain the work packages and include adjustments. Here’s how to document a WBS:

  1. Work your way backwards, starting with the final outcome. What does this project aim to achieve? This helps you narrow down the tasks and in turn, determine the number and type of resources to be allocated per task.
  2. Repeat the same exercise for the milestones. Avoid factoring in the same work under different milestones, otherwise, your cost and scope estimates can go off track.
  3. Estimate the time each work package comprising tasks will take and which skills are best suited to meet deadlines without crunches or dependencies. At this stage, you can know if two or more resources can share. You can distribute a particular task in suitable ratios so that the next task can start on time. Typically, each work package lasts between 1- 14 days.
  4. Assign task owners using the RAM (responsibility assignment matrix) method. Someone responsible to take up accountability and someone decisive for ownership.

Now that you have a framework to contain and measure progress, it's time to map your WBS.

3. Perks of WBS Remote Project Management

Admit it, shuffling work across several inflight projects is hard enough with everyone in one room. Think about how far behind in their work remote employees would be without a predefined list of priorities to keep in sight at all times! Here are the benefits of WBS remote project management :

a. Makes milestones achievable: once a task’s priority and linked dependencies are visible, how to get to the milestones become more measurable. Breaking the work package into phases lets you mark tasks as done. It also signals the start of the next task to take up.

b. Keeps members accountable: There’s clarity over responsibilities and lines of authority which helps members follow the sequence and keep track of their own progress across multiple workflow streams.

c. Identifies priorities: It frees your competent staff from busywork and enables them to channel their strengths into the priorities, thus making productive use of the bandwidth during business hours.

d. Controls the project spend: It confines the amount of work to be done into a timebox so that the uncontrolled costs don’t derail the project budgeting plan.

e. Improves communication: Since tasks and resources allocated are visible to all, it's easy for members to pool in a diverse body of knowledge as and when required, figure out what is causing a holdup and brainstorm for solutions to a bottleneck.

To sum up, remote work brings with it fresh managerial challenges, but the mark of excellence for a project manager is to bring out the best in socially-distanced teams, while accommodating shifting priorities. Did these tips gear you up for WBS remote project management?

4. FAQs

4.1. What is a WBS in project management?

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in project management is a hierarchical breakdown of a project into smaller, more manageable components or work packages, outlining tasks necessary for project completion, aiding in planning, organizing, and managing project scope.

4.2. What are the 2 types of WBS?

The two primary types of WBS are the Deliverable-Oriented WBS, which categorizes work packages based on final deliverables, and the Phase-Oriented WBS, which organizes work packages according to project phases or stages.

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