For those of you who have tackled a home improvement project, you will come to a point where semi-assembled parts are scattered all around you. This is usually when someone comments on how it looks like you will never finish what you started. With some of the more complex projects, even you doubt that you will ever finish it. You frantically check the picture on the box to see how close your random assemblage of parts looks to that beautiful looking grill. You have the middle of the project blues.
In project management, your picture on the box is the work breakdown structure while Earned Value Management tells you how well you are doing in recreating that picture on the box. Using both of these tools will help you avoid the blues when you are in the middle of a project and wondering if your project will succeed on time and within the budget.
The concept behind the work breakdown structure (WBS) is simple: you start with the project product and begin dividing up the product into major deliverables or tasks.You divide these deliverables/tasks into smaller deliverables/tasks until you reach the work package. The definition of a work package can vary but it usually means a deliverable or task where it is a manageable piece of work that makes no sense to divide up further. I like to refer to work packages as “something you can put your arms around” in a figurative sense. The WBS should follow the “100% rule” in that all of the project tasks and deliverables must be somewhere in the WBS.
The WBS tells you where you are going but earned value management (EVM) tells you how much you are spending to get to the final project result and if you are making good time. EVM is a set of a calculations using your project schedule and budget. After you initially set a baseline, you can run various calculations as tasks are completed that compare your progress to the baseline. All measures are in monetary terms thus reinforcing the principle that time is money. There are several different calculations but they all have to do with comparing planned progress versus actual progress to determine if your efforts have earned a positive value or negative value.
Now, I am not telling project managers anything new but I am surprised that some new project managers don’t update their WBS or run the EVM calculations more frequently during their projects. Doing so will help avoid the blues when you are in the middle of the project without knowing if you are on schedule, within the budget, and if your project product will look just like the picture on the box.
What are some other ways to avoid the blues? How do you keep your project team and stakeholders from sharing the blues?