Dr. Paul Giammalvo and I have a lot of heated and fun discussions about project management best practices. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree vehemently. From Paul:
“As you know, I am NOT a fan of “ad hoc” or creating customized WBS’ unless absolutely necessary. (And how many projects are TRULY unique) I spend an inordinate amount of time arguing against exactly what you are advocating…….There are a lot of good reasons for developing standardized WBS/CBS structures….While Omniclass was designed for the built environment, the fundamental reasons underlying the creation of this approach are valid for other sectors as well“
I wrote a book on the WBS, which may be why Paul likes jabbing me so much on this topic. 🙂
While it’s true there are many similarities in projects, from my experience with software projects there are many nuances and differences too, especially in the lowest WBS elements.
I see standardized WBS in my industry especially with physical products that are fairly routine like our spacecraft and launch vehicle. But when it comes to sensor development and the ground systems there is a good deal of variability. Because we are working on Landsat 8, we have two missions that are still operational and history with the previous missions to draw on. And while there are similarities, there are many differences too.
We have a completely different Con Ops for L8 due to the manner in which data is collected on the spacecraft and how it’s transmitted to the ground stations. Plus the implications of a push broom versus a whisk broom scanning sensor used with previous missions necessitates entire new subsystems and other components we’ve never had before.
Innovation and Fresh Eyes
What’s more, some major changes in processing scenarios were missed (in my opinion), even though major changes from the last mission are present. This was partially if not mostly due to a reliance on project artifacts like the WBS and requirements from the past, instead of looking at the system and customer needs with fresh eyes.
So perhaps it’s a domain thing, but in software my experience had led me to believe that starting with something similar and adapting creates mistakes in planning and stifles innovation. I would not dispute the utility of standardized WBS and planning in industries like construction or refineries, because I have no experience in those domains and can see how standardization would easily apply.
So with software systems, my contention is that you end up with your grandpa’s architecture and design when you start working from his blueprints.
What Do You Think?
Where do you come down on this topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, especially if you work with software systems to a great extent. Maybe I’ll learn some new things and need to go write a second edition of my book.