December 17, 2017


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

How to Use a WBS as a Team Build Event

Work Breakdown StructureMost project managers will know that compiling a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is one of the key activities of the Project Planning phase. To discover more about the benefits of a WBS, the different types of WBS and how much time is required to develop the WBS, read Project Planning – Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The purpose of this article is to show you how you can use the WBS as a team building exercise even though it’s considered to be a regular project activity.


WBS as team buildAs a best practice rule you don’t construct the WBS by yourself, you let the people who are doing the work define the work. Let them see how their deliverables begin to translate to assignable activities. This is an excellent opportunity for building trust and relationships through teamwork.

Invite the appropriate participants. This means someone from each group participating in the project. Since this could be a very long work session or a series of work sessions, try to schedule them with an awareness of your team members’ availability and other work commitments. It is recommended to have refreshments that will fuel the brain power!

Review the scope. If this is the first time the team is hearing the formal scope, this will result in lively discussion. Encourage questions and ‘what-if’ scenarios. Have open discussions about the scope to strengthen communications and achieve alignment among team members.

WBS and Deliverables

Ask individuals to work together to identify the key deliverables. Use the ‘sticky note’ approach. This means that you will give the team post-it notes or similar pieces of paper that can be written on and moved around. This allows the team to write deliverables (and next activities) on paper and position them at various locations on the proposed WBS.

Once the deliverables seem firm, have the team work on the lower levels. Have the group or groups that own each deliverable (or a portion thereof) break the work down further. Encourage detail. You want the end result to be assignable and measurable work.

Make sure that good notes are taken during this session. What we construct during one meeting makes perfect sense at the time. Later, details may be forgotten.

Take some time away from the WBS and then revisit it. Walk through it again and make sure it still makes sense.  Have team members present their sections to the rest of the team for review and discussion. This helps build an understanding of the entire work effort.

Now you have built a traditional work breakdown structure that the team understands and through your work together you have a built a stronger team. That is why WBS can also mean We Build Strength!

WBSCoachIf you are starting with a new project and you have a WBS coming up as part of the project planning, I strongly recommend you look into WBS Coach from PMStudent. What to expect from this course:

  • You will end with a proven and repeatable approach to planning and controlling your projects;
  • You’ll be able to translate what your project sponsor wants into what you and your team must do to meet project objectives
  • You’ll discover how to structure every project so it’s clearly defined.
  • It will make creating your schedule and budget straightforward.


Don’t delay, try it out today!

Project Management: Top 10 Tips for Validating your Project Schedule

By Linky van der Merwe

schedule WBS validation

Link to Schedule Validation Template

This article is aimed at existing project managers who use a scheduling tool like MS Project, or similar to plan their projects and then to execute against the plan.

Use the validation template once the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is transferred to a scheduling tool. The purpose is to validate that the project schedule contains all the necessary WBS elements to complete a project successfully.

#1 Deliverables

Are the key deliverables shown at the highest level of the WBS? If you do all of the detail tasks, will you have completely accomplished the summary deliverable?

#2 Scope and breakdown

Does the WBS represent the entire scope of the project and is it set at the appropriate level for the size and type of project?

#3 Milestones

Are there enough milestones identified and checkpoints when moving from one phase to the next?

#4 Governance

Are governance tasks separated out into their own section? Is there sufficient project management time across entire project?

#5 Structure

Does the WBS map to a methodology and does it make sense within that context?

#6 Estimates

Did the person who is most familiar with the task estimate the task itself? Check the accuracy of the task after the work had been performed.

#7 Risk

Did you document any risks for the tasks?

#8 Dependencies

Are the task dependencies implemented with the correct logic? Does the overall sequence of phases/deliverables make sense?

#9 Resources

Have all the resources been identified in the resource sheet? Is there any duplication of resources?  Are all resources named completely and consistently using a naming convention?

#10 Tasks, assignments, durations

Are there any assignments on summary tasks?  Does each detail task have at least one human resource assigned?

Final validation

It is always a good practice to have your schedule reviewed by an independent party or a senior architect not part of the planning team.

Please click here for the validation template that supports the schedule validation steps.

Time Management: Gantt Chart as a Planning Tool

By Linky van der Merwe

Most existing project managers would know that Gantt Charts are popular tools to use for a visual presentation of a project schedule. Although numerous software tools make provision for Gantt Charts, the most widely used tool remains Microsoft Project.

For new or aspiring project managers, it’s important to understand that Gantt Charts come about as a result of the Time Management activities in the Planning process on a project.

Schedule Creation

When creating a project schedule, the order of the planning activities is important as explained below:

  1. Define activities by identifying all the specific actions to be performed to produce the project deliverables
  2. Sequence activities by identifying the relationships among project activities.
  3. Estimate activity resources by identifying the type and quantities of material, human resources, equipment etc to perform each activity.
  4. Estimate activity durations by analysing the work effort needed to complete each activity with the estimated resources.
  5. Develop the schedule – this is where activities are documented in a schedule (gantt chart) in the right sequence, with durations, resource assignments and constraints

History of the Gantt Chart

Wrike has created an interesting Infographic to display the origins or timeline of the Gantt Chart, the anatomy and how it’s used, as well as the benefits of using Gantt Charts on projects.

What is a Gantt Chart
Wrike Project Management Software

Project Planning – Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

By Linky van der Merwe

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is a very important tool at the start of your planning phase.

Once you have defined your project scope, it is necessary to create a work breakdown structure. By definition it’s a tool used to define and group a project’s work elements in a way that helps organize and define the total work scope of the project.

There are many benefits to having a WBS as it provides the project manager and team with a task framework that helps with task scheduling and deriving cost estimates. From the WBS you can also identify the Deliverables and Milestones of your project.

It helps to finalise the project scope and plan the project properly. In addition it will help to outline the project budget and to link deliverables to resources.

Types of WBS

There are different types of WBS depending on the type of project. Have a look at some options:

  1. Use project life cycle phases as the 2nd level and deliverables at the 3rd level
  2. Organised based on major deliverables on 2nd level, tasks to be completed on 3rd level

Work breakdown structure

Benefits of a WBS

A WBS will give the project team confidence in that they are clear on the in-scope activities. A well-defined WBS enables resources to be allocated to specific tasks, helps in generating a meaningful schedule, and makes calculating a reliable budget easier.

The WBS will show well defined tasks that can be assigned to a specific individual, who is then responsible for its completion. It will keep the team focused on the project objectives and make them committed to the goals and completion of the project.

Time required

The development of a WBS can take quite some time. Depending on the complexity of your project, the number of people who must provide input and how large the scope is, it can take hours, if not days and multiple workshops to complete. Once drafted, the WBS will require refinement and it may change as the project changes.

However the advantages of having a WBS far outweigh the challenges of creating it. A good WBS makes planning and executing a project easier and lays the groundwork for the schedule, tracking, budgeting, and accountability. It’s considered project management best practice to have a WBS and as such it’s an essential element of overall planning.

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Virtual Project Consulting


Project Success Story: National Point of Sales System Upgrade

By Linky van der Merwe

Success Story SharedThis project story from project manager, Anwar Rawoot, is about the migration from a legacy Point of Sales (POS) system to a new POS system at 265 retail stores nationally that took three years to complete.

The complexity was in the fact that the project team only had a 12-hour window from the time a store closed until the next morning it opened to do the replacement, which included network infrastructure, shop fitting, POS and testing. A shop’s data would be migrated overnight and once the new system is in, it was migrated back to the new system.


The project’s biggest constraints were that when server problems were experienced, it would take 8 hours to rebuild and in the case of till problems, it would take 3 hours to rebuild.

The way it was executed, was to do one store each night. All work had to be done after hours and there was only one team per region to do the work. They had to sleep during the day and work at night which had a family impact.

Working after hours

The challenge was how to work a 5-day week back-to-back and then an additional 24 hours shift. People became overworked, and the quality of work dropped. Some people even became ill over time. It also took three months to train people to the right level of expertise.

Eventually the plans were changed….. Read on


Part of the Success Stories Shared initiative to collect Success Stories from experienced project/programme managers in order to share experiences and to promote learning across the project and programme management community. If you would like to share your project story and make a contribution to the bigger project management profession, contact me on

Success Stories Shared

Success Stories Shared

Planning for Project Success

When looking at Project Planning, an important output of the planning process, is the Project Management Plan. This article will discuss what the Project Management Plan is, why fully understanding the Project Management Plan is essential to both project success and PMP Exam success,  what subsidiary plans and documents are, and once approved how changes are made to the Project Management Plan.

What is the Project Management Plan?

project planningAccording to the PMBOK® Guide, the Project Management Plan is “the document that describes how the project will be executed, monitored, and controlled.” Objectives of the Project Management Plan include documenting assumptions and decisions, communicating how the project will be executed, and documenting high level goals, costs, and milestones. The Project Management Plan is much more than a single document that is created and set aside. It integrates subsidiary plans and documents, it is created during the Planning Process Group and is expected to be updated as the project progresses. It is a living document.

Why the Project Management Plan is essential to both project success and PMP Exam success?

That is because it is the “go to” document used to answer questions during the project, and understanding what kinds of questions it may answer is vital to both project and PMP Exam success.

The Project Management Plan should be able to answer why a project was sponsored and what problem it is expected to resolve or what value the project is expected to add. It should describe the work to be performed and what the major deliverables or products are. It should identify who is involved in the project and what their responsibilities are and how they are organized. It should define how the work is to be executed in order to meet project objectives and how any changes will be monitored and controlled. If all of these are included in the Project Management Plan, then you will be able to answer the why, what, who, when, and how type questions that may arise during a project.

What are subsidiary plans and documents?

These are most often outputs of the other Planning Processes. For example, the Cost Management Plan is an output of the Plan Cost Management Process. It describes how project costs will be planned, structured, and controlled. It is considered a “subsidiary plan” to the overall Project Management Plan. Subsidiary plans are all of the “plan” outputs from the Planning Processes that include Scope Management, Requirements Management, Schedule Management, Quality Management, Process Improvement, Human Resource Management, Communications Management, Procurement Management, and Stakeholder Management. The subsidiary plans may be defined at a high or detailed level depending on the type of plan, the specific needs of the project and the requirements of the performing organization.

Subsidiary documents are the baselines developed as part of the Planning Processes. They include the schedule baseline, cost performance baseline, and scope baseline. Don’t forget that the scope baseline also includes the scope statement, WBS, and WBS dictionary.

How are changes made to the Project Management Plan?

Changes to the Project Management Plan are made through a Change Control System. This system consists of methods to request, review, and approve changes. When Requests are done, they are reviewed by the project manager, project sponsor, select set of stakeholders, or change control board. Once a change is approved the Project Management Plan is updated. Changes that are not requested through the Change Control System or approved should not be implemented. Including unapproved changes will let the project go out of control.

The Project Management Plan is a vast topic. There are many other facets such as the other inputs besides subsidiary plans and documents, how it is used to communicate how the project will be executed and controlled, the importance and usage of a Project Management Information System, and the formality of the Project Management Plan all of which are vital to know and understand for the PMP Exam.

A few additional aspects to keep in mind when studying the Project Management Plan are that it is typically a formal written document, that it guides project execution and control, that it is approved by the project stakeholders, and that the project cannot start until the Project Management Plan is approved.

In order to understand this topic completely read the Develop Project Management Plan section in the PMBOK® Guide. Then explain what a Project Management Plan is, how it is developed, and how it is changed to a friend who is not a project manager. Because if you can explain it clearly to them, then you fully understand it yourself; and use a Project Management Plan for your projects because practice makes perfect when it comes to the PMP Exam.

Three Steps towards Planning Excellence in Project Management

gold star awardThe purpose of this post is to share with you a balanced approach to project planning. Recently I finished a big project in the Government sector which was awarded a gold rating for project excellence. It was successful above all expectations and I thought it worthwhile to share some valuable lessons learned around planning excellence and what has worked well to make the project so successful.

Above and beyond doing the standard project planning activities, there are three steps you can take towards planning excellence:

1. Continuous planning (always be planning)

After scope agreement and sign-off, the project schedule needs to be developed, or if it existed from a pre-sales phase, it needs to be refined.

What the team members need to know about the project plan, and more specifically about the project schedule, is: ‘what they are responsible for and by when’. In order to gain commitment, I normally expect the team lead to verify the activities, durations and dependencies and by doing this, to take ownership of the deliverables of the project.

Then as the project progresses, the project manager always needs to be looking one to two months ahead. Always be planning and continuously track against the plan or update where required based on Change Requests or risk mitigation activities.

2. Consistent communication practices (always be communicating)

Through experience I have found that weekly project meetings work best for any size project that is longer than 2 months in duration. The normal progress items need to be discussed, including:

  • Progress made
  • Actions outstanding
  • What is due in the next week or two
  • Risks, issues or dependencies
  • Other matters relevant to the specific project

Regular team meetings, whether in person, or virtually, keep the project team informed and committed to the outcome of the project. It also enables the project manager to receive adequate feedback on a regular basis and to do proper progress reporting to stakeholders.

3. Team alignment is important (always build relationships)

Due to the fact that the project team was widely dispersed and from different companies (partners were sub-contracted in to assist with the work), a good on-boarding process is important. Every team member needs to be clear about the Goal and objectives of the project, as well as the expected outcome and business benefits. In addition to this they need to be clear on their roles and responsibilities, the project schedule and how every member fits into the team.

Team synergy, cooperation and trust is achieved through regular team builds at the project beginning, after major milestones and at closure with the key stakeholders (like the customer). A team working together as one team, no matter whether from different companies or in different locations, the project manager needs to maintain good relationships and manage the person and not only the task.

The gold nuggets to take away are:

  • Continuous planning
  • Consistent communication practices
  • Team alignment
  • Good relationships with all team members, because you manage the person, performing the task and not the task itself

For a balanced approach to project planning I recommend that you as the project manager should use your project management skills (technical skills), but at the same time be a leader who facilitates  team members to share your responsibility to ensure a successful project outcome (people skills).

On 9 August 2011, I will be a guest presenter on a Webinar from Roeder Consulting called:

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything

Please click on the link to register for the free Webinar, and earn a PDU for attendance.

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