Article #127 The Need to Have a Comprehensive Progressively Elaborated Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in Managing Capital Projects

For those involved in delivering capital projects, they understand the importance of having a work breakdown structure (WBS) that can be progressively elaborated as the project’s scope of work gets developed and defined during the concept, schematic, design development, and construction documents phases of the project life cycle. The work breakdown structure will enable the project team to better decompose, analyze, understand, manage, monitor, control, and evaluate the project. It is therefore very important that the selected WBS be based on proven practices and standards when managing the different types of capital projects. The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) UniFormat™ and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS) breakdown structures are examples of well-thought-of WBS that are perfectly suited for capital project owners as they cater to all types of capital projects as well as they cover the complete scope of work that a capital project could have.

In addition to decomposing the project’s scope of work, the WBS will be used in developing the project’s execution schedule, cost estimate and budget, the outsourced scope of work, and document filing structure. In addition, all project communications and identified project risks must be linked to their relevant WBS level. In a way, the WBS will become one of the methods used to organize and aggregate the complete project information generated during the project life cycle phases.

Project Management Information Systems (PMIS) like PMWeb will provide the capital project owner and all other project entities with a single integrated platform to take full advantage of having a comprehensive work breakdown structure. It will use the same WBS used in the project’s planning and scheduling systems like Oracle Primavera P6 and MS Project to ensure alignment with the massive information captured in PMWeb. The same also applies to other applications that need to be integrated or interfaced with the PMIS or planning and scheduling applications such as Financial, ERP, Maintenance Management, and Asset Management among others. Those applications need to use the same WBS levels used in PMWeb and the planning and scheduling solution.

Setting the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Levels

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) can be directly added to the PMWeb WBS module or imported from Oracle Primavera P6 or MS Project when the project schedule is imported from those applications into PMWeb. This will ensure that the WBS structure used in Oracle Primavera P6 or MS Project is identical to the WBS used in PMWeb. It should be noted the WBS could have additional levels beyond those of the UniFormat™ and ICMS levels depending on the project’s specifics. For example, additional levels could be needed to identify the project’s locations although some might opt for using user-defined fields for locations.

Breakdown Structure to Monitor and Control the Project’s Financial Performance

It is highly recommended that the Cost Breakdown Structure (CBS) be aligned with the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) if possible. For each WBS level, PMWeb will create a cost account level to match the relevant WBS level. This will enable us to consolidate all cost and financial data to the same WBS levels.

If this is not possible and if there is a requirement to have the PMWeb cost breakdown structure be aligned with the organization’s cost account structure, then there is no issue. In this case, the WBS level becomes one of the standard fields on each PMWeb cost document to ensure alignment between the project cost data and the WBS levels. PMWeb ready-to-use modules for a project cost estimate, budget, budget adjustment, commitments, potential change orders, change orders, progress invoices, payment, forecast to complete, miscellaneous invoices, timesheets, funding, income contracts, income contracts change orders, income contracts progress invoices and income contracts actual payments will all have the WBS field as one of the fields that need to be provided for each line item included in those forms.

Assigning the WBS Levels with Bid Packages to be Outsourced

When creating the bid packages that will be released for tender to solicit proposals from qualified bidders, PMWeb allows assigning the WBS level relevant for each line item in the outsourced bid package. This will enable the capital project owner to verify that the complete project’s scope of work to be outsourced, has been covered in the created bid packages.

Mapping the WBS into the Project’s Document Filing Folders

Every capital project will always have what is to known as the filing room which will include the many file folders that contain all formal and informal project documents and communications generated and exchanged during the project life cycle stages. One of the recommended practices is to align the document filing structure with the project’s work breakdown structure (WBS) levels. In other words, the WBS will be mapped into folders and subfolders to upload relevant documents to its specific folder or subfolder.

Should the organization be obliged to use a document filing structure that is not aligned with the project’s work breakdown structure (WBS), then an attribute will be created to allow assigning the relevant WBS level for each uploaded document.

Assigning the WBS Level to All Project Communications and Project Management Processes

By default, most of PMWeb’s ready-to-use project management informs like those as the request for information, meeting minutes, safety incidents, submittal items, transmittals, and safety incidents among others come ready with the WBS field. This will enable the initiator of each project communication or project management process to assign the relevant WBS level to that record.

Similar to the default PMWeb forms, PMWeb allows assigning the WBS field to all created custom forms. This will enable the initiator of the project management process to assign the relevant WBS level to that record.

Align Identified Project’s Risks with the Relevant WBS Level

Every capital project is based on many assumptions that only time will prove if they were wrong or true. The ability to identify all or most of the risks that could impact the project’s on-time and within-budget completion can make the difference between a successful and failed project. For each risk identified on the PMWeb risk register, the relevant WBS level needs to be added.

In conclusion, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) provides a systematic and structured approach that project team members can use to decompose the scope of work of any capital project to better understand what the project scope is all about, who should be involved in delivering the scope of work, the cost for delivering the scope of work, the documents and records exchanged for delivering the scope of work and the risks associated with delivering the scope of work. The hierarchical nature of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) allows for summarizing the detailed project information to the desired level to monitor, evaluate and report the project’s performance. In addition, it helps project owners aggregate knowledge gained during their projects’ portfolio delivery into a structured format that can be reused for future projects.

About the Authorfounder

Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM is a Senior Project Management Consultant with more than 35-year service record providing project management and controls services to over 100 projects with a total value of over US $5 Billion. Those projects included Commercial, Residential, Education, and Healthcare Buildings and Infrastructure, Entertainment and Shopping-Malls, Oil and Gas Plants and Refineries, Telecommunication, and Information Technology projects. He is thoroughly experienced in complete project management including project management control systems, computerized project control software, claims analysis/prevention, risk analysis/management (contingency planning), design, supervision, training, and business development.

Bassam is a frequent speaker on topics relating to Project Management, Strategic Project Management, and Project Management Personal Skills. Over the past 35 years, he has lectured at more than 350 events and courses at different locations in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and South America. He has written more than 250 articles on project management and project management information systems that were featured in international and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a co-founder of the Project Management Institute- Arabian Gulf Chapter (PMI-AGC) and has served on its board of directors for more than 6 years. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), a certified Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP), an Earned Value Professional (EVP) from the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE), and a Green Project Management (GPM).

Bassam holds a Master’s in Engineering Administration (Construction Management) with Faculty Commendation, from George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA, Bachelor in Civil Engineering – from Kuwait University, Kuwait, and has attended many executive management programs at Harvard Business School, Boston, USA, and London Business School, London, UK.


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