WBS Construction Project Solutions
WBS is a common term on infrastructure projects but rarely fully understood and used to full effect. This commonly used project management technique is a simple framework for deconstructing tasks to more manageable levels of complexity.
In its simplest form, it is a foundational tool that will help you to plan, manage, and evaluate large projects, so let’s learn a little bit more...
What is a WBS?
WBS or Work Breakdown Structure is commonly defined as ‘a deliverable-oriented grouping of project work elements shown in a graphical display to organise and subdivide the total project work’.
First developed by the US Defense Department in 1957 as part of the development of the Polaris missile programme and further developed by NASA in 1962, WBS are a common tool for the successful delivery of infrastructure construction projects.
Put simply, WBS is a systematic approach to breaking down a project or programme into manageable tasks, phases, deliverables or work packages.
This hierarchical way of organising a project is often best displayed as a tree or organisation chart. The top represents the total finished project with the bottom layers or children representing the smallest division of work or packages. From here most project teams codify each WBS to align with their planning and reporting procedures.
When deciding on how to best break down your project, it is important to focus on either deliverables or phases of a project.
Most construction project teams opt for a deliverable-oriented (or product-oriented) WBS, which revolves around tangible deliverables, not processes. The hierarchy for this kind of WBS captures what you will build rather than how you will build it.
Put simply, the components of a deliverable-oriented WBS contain nouns rather than verbs, because this structure focuses on the tangible products of a project such as foundations, structures and wiring.
How a WBS can help guide your project's performance
A work breakdown structure helps a team break a project down into manageable chunks by defining smaller goals and objectives, hierarchical breakdowns of the bigger goals, and identifies any dependencies between them.
Each phase, or sub-project, can be broken down into deliverables, sub-deliverables and work packages.
This helps a team visualise their project in a concrete manner.
Additionally, a well-constructed WBS can also help improve several important project management processes such as cost estimation, resource allocation, and risk assessment. By increasing the visibility of projects and tasks, a well-constructed WBS can often help avoid common project issues such as missed deadlines, scope creep and cost.
To summarise, there are many compelling reasons to break down a large project before you attempt it. It helps you to:
- Estimate the cost of a project.
- Establish dependencies.
- Determine a project timeline and develop a schedule.
- Define work scope
- Assign responsibilities and clarify roles.
- Track the progress of a project.
- Identify risk.
Aligning your WBS with Rail Method of Measurement (RMM).
The rule of measurement defined in RMM (Rail Method of Measurement) breaks down schedules in to four key parts:
1 - Group Elements
2 - Elements
3 - Sub-Elements
4 - Components
Ideally, rail infrastructure projects should align standard methods of measurement with Work Breakdown Structures to ensure consistency throughout the whole project, from tender to delivery to close out.
An example of this could be:
In the rail sector, most projects will align WBS to the 3rd level of RMM as it is the most practicable method for the collection and analysis of data without becoming too much of an administrative burden.
After aligning WBS and RMM, project teams can now provide a more unified approach to project reporting, allowing schedules, bills of quantities and payment applications to be fully aligned from both a practical delivery perspective as well fulfill contractual obligations.
This can also have long term benefits, as by using a standard method of measurement, such as RMM, teams can also facilitate long term learning and benchmarking by allowing packages and projects to be easily compared.
Why align your WBS with your site diary?
Site records and diaries are a fundamental tool for recording progress and cost allocation of work packages.
The simple who, what, why and when of events occuring on site form the basis for programme updates, earned value calculations and understanding the cost of work done.
To maximise the value gained from these reports, teams should record activities and allocate resources against WBS codes. This gives the project management team the granularity required to best understand and record progress at all levels of WBS.
This level of granularity allows teams to easily analyse and build up project forecasts and change substantiation from first principles rather than relying on a more generalist approach to estimation and forecasting.
However, if you still use paper and excel spreadsheets to conduct site reports, you are still likley to face struggles with project orgnisation and planning.
The practical problem with WBS
Project teams often break down projects into hundreds, if not thousands, of WBS codes. This may or may not be required depending on the size of the complexity of the project.
However, after a certain number of codes the practical administration of these codes becomes a huge burden.
Without clear processes and parameters, WBS codes often become dumping grounds based on what people can remember or what has the largest budget.
Completely defeating the original purpose for dividing the project into manageable chunks.
Easily capture and align your data in detail with Raildiary
Raildiary allows you to easily align your tasks and activities with your bill of quantities, standard methods of measurement (including all levels of RMM) and your WBS.
The inbuilt automated allocation tool allows an onsite team to assign resources (labour, plant and material) to individual activities and deliverables.
So no more having to remember individual codes!
Raildiary completely removes the manual administration or guesswork of assigning resources and progress to WBS. Instead, allowing project management teams to have a real time view of progress, cost of work done and earned value against each individual WBS element.