DPM Podcast

Break It Down: Write A Great Work Breakdown Structure (with Emily Luijbregts from Siemens)

By 27/07/2020August 11th, 2020 No Comments
 

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Ben Aston

Did your project ever feel like a bit of an elephant? Big, cumbersome, unwieldy, maybe a movable? Desmond Tutu once wisely said there’s only one way to eat an elephant. And that’s one bite at a time. Now, nearly everything that seems daunting, overwhelming, and even impossible can be accomplished gradually just by taking on a little bit at a time. And that is your project champ. So keep listening to today’s podcast to discover how you can reduce complexity and confusion on your projects by breaking down the projects in the bite-sized pieces that everybody can understand.

Ben Aston

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, founder of The Digital Project Manager. Welcome to the DPM podcast. We are on a mission to help project managers succeed, to help people who manage projects to live better. We’re here to help you take your project game to the next level. Check out thedigitalprojectmanager.com to learn about our training and resources. We offer three membership. This podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the Leader in Enterprise Project and Portfolio Management Software. Visit Clarizen.com to learn more.

Ben Aston

Today I’m joined by Emily Luijbregts. You can check her out at emthepm.com. Now Emily is a project manager at Siemens and has worked in the past as a PM for Manza BDO and been on the PMI as Community Champions Advisory Group says she’s got stacks of an interesting experience.

Ben Aston

Welcome to the show, Emily.

Emily Luijbregts

Hi there. Thank you very much for having me.

Ben Aston

And how did I do with your surname? Give me a rating.

Emily Luijbregts

Oh, ten out of 10. That was actually really good.

Ben Aston

Oh yes. Nailed it. So, I mean, we were just chatting before the show started rolling there. But tell us what’s new for you in terms of. I mean, we were talking about juggling being full-time parents and a full-time employee in the midst of Corona. How’s that working out for you?

Emily Luijbregts

How is it working out? How is it not working out? It is crazy. You know, I think, you know, I’m doing what I consider to be two or three full-time jobs right now. I mean, I’m trying to manage projects, sports teams. And then also, you know, I support my children and trying to be a teacher and educate them. It’s just it’s an impossible task. And I think I feel like many other project managers and many other people are feeling right now. I feel like I’m failing because, you know, I just can’t I can’t win for doing right. You know, I spent time on my projects, which means my kids, you know, you know, sitting there going, Mommy, I need somehow Mommy, what about this mommy play with me. Or then all the other time, I spend time with my kids and then my projects are going. The family will go, we go. And I believe we’ve got this. I believe we’ve got that. So, you know, you just can’t win. So I’m just trying to keep everything rolling along without kind of having too many fires and without the kind of burning myself out by working too many hours, you know, once the kids have gone to sleep.

Ben Aston

Yeah. So have you found anything that is working? Well, if you’re in your new set up in terms of like how you’ve been able to schedule your work or manage your work or communicate with people. Is there any part of this that is working yet?

Emily Luijbregts

Yeah, do you know what it’s like? I’ve been working virtually, so I’m you know, I’ve done a lot of virtual projects, so I’m used to working virtually I’m used to working with virtual teams, but I am now working with people that are connecting on a virtual prettying and on a virtual landscape for the first time. So, you know, like they’re turning on their webcasts and you see them picking their nose or you see the, you know, kind of wondering, hello, can you hear me as anyone there? And I really kind of struggling to kind of get their technology to work. So I think that’s also been one of the things for me that I’ve really benefited from because I haven’t had to have big learning, you know, the big learning curve on how to use virtual setups. You know, what is the best microphone to use, how to make sure that your you know, you’re being understood and know that you’re using the right time zones because, you know, now because my day is, you know, quite split up into different chunks, I try to use that to my advantage. So I chased the song quite a bit. I start work before the kids have got up. And I really started some emails. Make sure that’s done. Give them breakfast, get them started on things. And then I go back to work for a bit and then I’m kind of trying to utilize my concentration. So I’m splitting everything. It’s like 30-minute one-hour chunks and trying to kind of get as much done work-wise and then taking a break, sorting the kids out, making sure they’re okay, going back to work, and then actually stopping for lunch.

Emily Luijbregts

This is really nice because then I actually get to see my kids and really kind of play with them and really kind of enjoy myself, which is quite nice because it enables me to focus more. And I do find that when I go back to my work, I’m a lot more focused. So I’m now thinking, oh, you know, what have I got to do now? Or I better go and check this. It’s you know, this is my list.

Emily Luijbregts

Tick tock, tick, tick-tock. Get it done.

Ben Aston

So for someone who’s beginning maybe in the next few weeks to have to begin to juggle this, what would you or what would your top tips be for someone who’s starting to work remotely or trying to manage teams remotely? For the first time, what are the things that you find kind of most effective with your kind of remote setup and how you manage teams in different time zones and things? That that was really one of the tips. One of the things that worked for you.

Emily Luijbregts

Yeah. So one of the things is I want to try and I make sure my plannings up to a point.

Emily Luijbregts

So at the end of every day, I make sure I’ve got my task list for the next day. So what I’ve got to achieve, what I’ve got to get done. And I also rely on I use time and datacom. But, you know, whatever kind of virtual Schallert, you know, that Kalinda or whatever that has like virtual scheduling so that then you can kind of get everything in each location. And the problem at the moment is that Europe is not yet in daylight savings, whereas the US is. So I know that there has been a lot of confusion this week and last week when the U.S. moved over to kind of say, okay, oh, well, the meeting’s going to be at four o’clock. Oh, no, wait, it’s three o’clock. Oh, wait. We’ve got a conflict. That kind of thing can be really, really confusing. So make sure you have, you know, technology on your side and make sure that you have everything kind of ready and set up. I’m really lucky that my husband is a technology freak and a technology geek. So I have a great set up home, a home with, you know, my standing table with a good microphone, with a good webcam that I can then connect with my teams. And we have a really good Internet setup. So I don’t have to worry about, you know, bandwidth problems or anything like that. That’s also one thing. You know, if you can encourage your company to pay for this. Make sure you have a good monitor. Make sure that you’ve got everything set up so that you are not kind of scrambling or being forced to react and that you’ve got a good setup to be able to move forward with.

Ben Aston

Yeah, I think that’s solid advice, and I think I.

Ben Aston

I hear that so many times from people who do work remotely like your setup is really important. And I think we’ve actually just made the transition as DPM team into all working remotely.

Ben Aston

And for the first few days, you know, everyone was kind of getting by with not having the extra monitors, not having their desks. But then I just said to the team guys, this could be we could be in this for a while. So, like, make yourself comfortable, get your desk. Let’s get the desks from the office. Let’s get the monitors. It’s so important that we set ourselves up properly to succeed rather than thinking, hey, we can be just as productive as we normally are, you know, sitting with the laptops on our lap kind of squashed in the corner, not with their real desk or whatever. So the setup is one thing that you can control. So it’s worth investing in because you could be in that position for a long time. I think that’s great advice. But tell us. I mean, obviously, you’ve got a couple of projects. One is being teacher, and others being a mom and being project manager as well. But in terms of the project side of things and the work you’re doing with Siemens, can you tell us a bit about the kind of projects that you work on?

Emily Luijbregts

Oh, you will. At the moment, I’m doing a real mix between process improvements and software implementation. So Soffer implementation is where we go and implement our solution at clients. And that’s kind of really interesting because I love working with clients and I love working with different teams that we get to experience. And then also, I’m really lucky within Siemens that we do have the opportunity of being able to do, you know, our interest projects. So I’m really interested in process improvements and coaching people to be, you know, better project managers or better leaders. So I’m really lucky that they give me the opportunity to be able to work on those sorts of projects as well.

Ben Aston

As call it, yes. Called it. That’s kind of laid out as an opportunity and project for you. So can you tell us a bit about the kind of coaching that you’re doing with the team?

Emily Luijbregts

Yes. So it kind of started out actually really informally. So colleagues would approach me and say, you know, I’m struggling with this. Could you please help me? Or, you know, I know that you have experience in, you know, in leadership or in managing virtual or remote teams. Can you please give me some advice? And that’s kind of where it kind of stemmed from. And it’s kind of really it’s really been a love of mine because I love being able to help and coach people and being able to support them, you know, become better. And it really gives me a lot of motivation to be able to then see my colleagues develop. And I really love that.

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah. That’s cool. And you talked to touched on there like process improvements as well.

Ben Aston

And so I’m curious if you can kind of explanation because I think probably what you do in terms of these I.T. software implementation projects. Can you kind of describe a typical project that you run and then and then lay on top of that kind of process improvements that you try and bring into that?

Emily Luijbregts

Where to actually begin? And the thing is, I look, I am I try to live a Kaizen approach. Kaizen is Japanese for constant improvement. So within that, every project that I do, I look for where we can improve a process. So either way, the internal teams are how we work together. And then I like to take that back to my PM team within Siemens and say, you know what? This is something that has worked for me. Could this maybe work for you guys as well? And that’s why we like to try and see, you know, with every project we do, how can we make it better? How can we improve what we do so that when we go to the next client, we can be faster slicker, more efficient, etc.. And, you know, we do have a lot of learning and lessons learned in place that really does support us in that. So then we have a repository that we can go to and we can use that’s really, really also very, very helpful for us.

Ben Aston

And so these kinds of implementation projects that you’re doing, so Siemens PLM. That’s a can you tell us about that tool and what that implementation it’s like? Is it that you go to the client’s office, stick it on a server, and then onboard people on how to use it? Is that a gross oversimplification?

Emily Luijbregts

Well, it really depends, because we have different products. That’s the thing. So there are many, many different products that we have. And it depends on the client and depends on the solution. So it all depends whether, you know, what solution they’re looking for. And also, you know, I’m kind of I have to be quite sensitive with what I say now because I’m also under confidentiality. So there are certain things that with regards to how we process and the projects that we have to be quite careful about mentioning, but we do have a large array of products. So, you know, it’s you know, we’ve got an X solid edge. We’ve got all these different kinds of areas that can support a company’s ability to be able to do their work. And that’s where the whole PLM solution comes in. But there’s it’s a really the thing is and this is why I’m trying to be sensitive with what I say is I work in such a small area of PLM that there is so much more around it, that if I try and oversimplify it to say, well, this is what I do when this is the entirety of PLM, you’re going to think, you know, you get one view of it. We’re actually it is an entire massive beast, almost. So that’s why I’m just saying it would be a little bit careful because the area that I work in is quite neat. And that’s why it’s very you know, I try and just kind of keep it simplified.

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so, I mean, you talk about your Kaizen approach and, you know, trying to constantly kind of optimize your workflows and processes.

Ben Aston

And so with these implementations, what another kind of what are the most typical challenges that you deal with? Or are they so varied that there’s nothing difficult about them?

Emily Luijbregts

Oh, it can be a bit of both. One thing that I often struggle with is stakeholder management because when you go obviously to different clients and to different organizations, you are stepping into things you may not even realize as yet. So, you know, there could be politics. You may even not understand, you know, why someone is behaving in such away. So I think the biggest thing for me always is going to be stakeholder management, especially when you’re working with external customers and external clients because that is really the toughest thing for me. It’s making sure that when I go in, you know, I’m not coming in to, you know, what I would describe as a boiling pot of water that I’m putting my foot in, but I can already make sure that I understand what’s going on. I understand, you know, what stakeholders are involved. Have we got all the stakeholders? Are you aware and kind of moving forward from that? Because that’s going to be the most important thing. You know, when you get started in an organization or when you go in as a consultant.

Ben Aston

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Stakeholders are always a tricky one, especially I think especially when you’re in the kind of role that you’re doing where you know, you’re constantly having to deal with new ones, you know, your where you can, you know, develop relationships over time. I think things get easier eventually.

Ben Aston

But where you’re constantly shifting on to new ones and trying and trying to understand different people’s motivations and the power structures apply and who’s really in charge, who think that they’re in charge of those kinds of things they can be difficult to deal with. So talk to me about it. I mean, you’re implementing software, but what is in your personal team toolkit for managing projects?

Emily Luijbregts

I like to think it’s it’s my communication skills. I like to make sure that I can while I like to think I can read a room. So I like to make sure if I go into clients or whatever, I read the circumstances that we’re going into. I look at what’s going on and then I can lead a team. So one of the things that I sell myself on is my ability to be able to build a team and lead a team that is not just as simple as kind of doing a team-building exercise or, you know, putting to everyone together in one room. It’s really making sure people can work together successfully, but also to be able to then support the team wherever they need it, to be able to become a success.

Emily Luijbregts

And, you know, of course, plenty of sticky tapes and Post-it notes to make sure that everyone’s is, you know, working as they need to be.

Ben Aston

Nice. And in terms of, you know, sticky notes, and tape and that kind of thing. Is there anything else that you’ve found recently that is making your life awesome, maybe in terms of remote PMing or just the way that you manage your projects using software or something else? Is there anything that you found recently? That everyone should know about this making PMing better.

Emily Luijbregts

Yeah. I think for me at the moment it is. This is gonna sound awful, but I think it’s the positive things that may be coming and the changing working environment that we have as a result of the coronavirus. I think the Coronavirus has exposed a great weakness that we have in a lot of our working processes and how we perform and work. And this has been so critical for me. So one of the other arms of what I do is, yes, I work for Siemens, but I’m also a volunteer. So I often support project managers with coaching and they come to me for support. And I also kind of help them occasionally leading projects on a volunteer basis. And one of the things I have seen in the past really three, four, five weeks have been just how people have struggled to adjust to remote work, but also how they are coming to terms with working in an isolated environment. So socialize Slack social isolation, you know, making sure that they are connecting with their teams. And one of the biggest things I’ve been supporting at the moment is one project manager that has been struggling because they can’t connect with their team. You know, they are all co-located. They’ve been in the same location. But now because of Corona, they’re being forced to work remotely. And he said, you know, I just can’t connect with them. You know, I can see them on the screen. I could see them on Microsoft teams. But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t get the feeling that they’re working. I don’t get the feeling that I can trust them, as you know, again. And, I think that this has got this has given us the opportunity to be able to then help people not only develop their skills for remote working but also to help and show organizations the benefits and the efficiencies that can be given when people are able to work remote. Because that’s also been a really kind of stark thing for me, my friends and my colleagues are how many of them feel like they must go to an office, as they must work in one location. Whereas the best thing about project management and some of the projects is you can work virtually. You can work remotely and still be a success. And I think that’s what a couple of people really struggle to kind of get their head around, that this could actually be a successful endeavor to go on. And I really do hope that organizations look at the benefits that have come from, their teams working remotely, work-life balance and, you know, build on that moving forward.

Ben Aston

Yeah, that’s great. And I never, you know, again, talking about the DPM team and how we have now become dispersed. I think there is a there are kind of growing pains, as it were, into if you’re used to working together in the same room or in the same office, as soon as you start having to be more thoughtful about communication, things can be tricky, right? You can’t just turn around and just distract someone and ask them to answer your question.

Ben Aston

You have to think, OK, how are going to communicate? What’s the best way of communicating this? What’s the most efficient way? And I think you’re retraining ourselves to kind of optimize those communication channels and methods. I think it is really important because I think what I found with my team is that. Okay, so everyone we had we had Slack. And so everyone now defaults to having a Slack conversation because it was a channel that we already had. But then they’re having communications that really should be conversations and that would work better as a like a quick video chat or something. And that people are used just to typing. And so I think we kind of very quickly if we’re not careful, start adopting bad habits in terms of remote working where things do become more inefficient. So I think it’s really worth taking that step back and thinking, okay, as a team working out your communications plan, what are the rhythms going to be? How are we going to communicate with others? What methods are we going to use to communicate? What kind of message? If it’s the kind of asynchronous communication or if there’s synchronicity in it, let’s have a conversation live using video. So we feel that connection. And I think it’s worth thinking about as we’re developing our kind of remote toolkit and how we begin to work independently in isolation of one another so that we can be efficient in the way that we work. So I think that’s solid advice. And let’s move on now to talk about it. Your post that is all about work breakdown structure, which again, is in a way a communications tool, is a tool that helps us understand what exactly is gonna be delivered on a project and how it’s how it kind of fits together. But for anyone who hasn’t read your post yet on work breakdown structure, can you tell us what it is all about?

Emily Luijbregts

Well, I would say go and read it. Come on, what are you waiting for? But really, the article is basically everything that you need to know about, know what workarounds work. What a work breakdown structure is. You know how to make a good quality one. Why does it matter? Everything around, you know what WRVS is? Because the one thing that I see, especially when I’ve been coaching junior project managers, is they may have read something online like, oh, I think I know what this what you know what? This is what this gunshot is. But they don’t actually understand it. They don’t understand what makes up. Why do you put something in one place that you don’t in another? How can you get people aligned? Why do you need to, you know, put named resources rather than departments? And that’s why I want to create an article in a post that would really clear it all out and would really show people, you know, this is what it is. Break it down into real baby steps. Now, this is what it is. This is what you need to know. And this is why it is important for you, because then, you know if you are a junior project manager and you know you’re coming in and you maybe don’t want to ask because you feel a bit silly or maybe you don’t want to ask because, you know, you don’t want to look like your, you know, an amateur, then, you know, this article can really help you, you know, really make a good foundation and a good basis for your project.

Ben Aston

Great. And so in terms of understanding the basics then of work right down the structure. It is a breakdown of the work. It is how we think about the work, how we break it down into component pieces, and then the structure of the work as well. So it kind of shows the hierarchy of what that work looks like, kind of an in a puzzle, how the pieces fit together to form the whole. And it shows us different kinds of levels of the work and how the components relate to one another that way.

Emily Luijbregts

Yeah.

Ben Aston

But in terms of using this work breakdown structure, I’ve got to be honest, as a PM is not something I use. So I’m curious as to your kind of use case for the work breakdown structure. Personally, I tend to just roll straight into creating a char. So talk me through the kind of the pros and cons of a Gantt chart or work breakdown structure, how those two things relate to one another, and kind of how and why it’s useful.

Emily Luijbregts

Do you know how I will answer this? But I really want to turn it back for why don’t you why do you go straight into a gun shop? Why don’t you try and kind of, you know, think it out. You do a proper thought process before. And the reason I ask that is that if you start out looking at the inputs for a work breakdown structure, looking at the documents that kind of go into it, having that understanding of the task, the activities that you’re going to be doing, you know, and then looking at potentially also the resource and the utilization of that. Why do you already start with a gunshot? Why don’t you kind of go back? Is it because you already think you know what’s going to be happening or where was standing there?

Ben Aston

Yeah, I guess it comes down to, I guess, the complexity for me. I mean, there’s two ways to do a work breakdown structure, right.

Ben Aston

As you can it can be deliverables based or can be activities based. So deliverables where we’re like looking at the deliverables, trying to breakdown though, the next deliverables into the component pieces so that we can understand. Okay, well, we’re saying we’re going to deliver X. This is what we meet has to. These two things make X and these Thring, these three other things make up that component. So is breaking down the deliverables where the deliverables are complex or ambiguous to provide clarity for everybody? These are things. This is how the work. This is what the work breakdown looks like. And this is how it’s structured. I guess the other way is more activities based. And breaking down those activities in to the component pieces, all that, almost the process. And so for me in my garden chart, I’m combining those two things together. So, yeah, I think I would say in the projects that I typically work with, the deliverables are less ambiguous in terms of, hey, if if I’m saying we’re going to deliver a template, then a template is a template. And I don’t really need to break it down into the deliverables much further and activities that go into that are quite predictable. So maybe it’s about predictability. I don’t know, do you use deliverables or activities based?

Emily Luijbregts

You know, for me, it’s more it’s a real mixture. I tend to in my projects, I tend to use more activities. With the core focus being on the deliverables at the end.

Emily Luijbregts

But what I have seen and you know, the reason that I created the template that I did and also how I phrased it is because in the projects that I have seen so not necessarily my projects, but the ones of peers and in different organizations, it has been a real mix between deliverables and activities and the milestones which are there to kind of really give a good overview of, you know, what makes a solid work breakdown structure. Because the thing is and also what I have seen is a gunshot and what breakdown structure. They are really unique to a project manager. So what my what looks like what you’re what looks like maybe completely different, depending on where you put the emphasis or where I put the emphasis. And, you know, that’s why I’ve tried to also make it very clear for, you know, what other necessary inputs and outputs that you need. And then you could always do some personalization yourself if you want to put more of a heavy basis on activities or things like that. But then I also wanted to also make sure that everyone was very much aware of what not to do, you know, tried to put things in too much detail or, you know, not go into enough detail. So to find that nice balance. And I think that’s also one thing that you learn. Being a project manager is what is that level of detail for you and your organization to make the best work down work breakdown structure for your projects as well.

Ben Aston

And so, yeah, let’s talk about how you use that work pay down the structure because obviously it’s a tool that we use to create clarity around how the kind of the project of all fits together. And I think that that’s what we’re definitely aligned on. These are the component pieces. This is what has to happen in order for the project to be a success. So it’s is not it doesn’t show the schedule as much as how the component pieces of it. And so how do you use that word breakdown structure? Because I think I know it again chart, which is obviously the project’s schedule. It can show the resources that the different tasks and durations dependencies in the critical path and shows how the flow of the projects works. Whereas work breakdown structure is kind of another slice of a different way of looking at the project.

Ben Aston

So how do you use the GANTT CHART and the work breakdown structure in terms of a communications tool with that, with the stakeholder in the team? What are you? How are you playing with those two documents?

Emily Luijbregts

Yeah. So for me, one thing that I like to try to make sure of is that whenever I talk to stakeholders and whenever I talk to my team, I use which document is going to be the best reflection or the best use for them. So, for example, if I show my sponsor the very, very, very detailed work breakdown structure, they’re going to look at it and go her what? Whereas my team is going to really want that level of detail are going to really want to understand, you know, every single part of it. So I try and look at whichever stakeholder that I’m approaching, what document is going to be, and the best view for them. And also, when you do create a breakdown structure, you know, making it as easy for you to update, but also it’s easy for you to create as many different views as possible. So, you know, I like to kind of a mix between either Excel or project. I’m kind of easy on which one of which software I use. But I also like to try and make sure that I can amend and detail whatever I need to for which stakeholder. So, you know, if it’s one that needs more of a high level or whatever needs a detailed, I can do that. Now, what I like to try and do over the way I run my projects is I base all of my updates based upon these documents. So when I’m talking to teams about, you know, where are we on specific tasks or ownership’s, you know, I’m basing it on what is in this document. I’m not trying to have three or four different meetings. I update the one single document and that becomes the core. Basis of our project and having that one or two documents really kind of saves me time. And then that’s the main thing you want, is a project manager. You want to be able just to make sure that you are utilizing your time as effectively as possible.

Emily Luijbregts

And that’s why I also tried to make sure that, you know, I call it the Bible. If I if my work breaks down the structure, if I can chart says this and you’re saying something different, we need to have a discussion about that. We need to see why and where these different lies. And you know what is going to be the best, you know, best thing moving forward? Do I need to amend my documents, or is this something where you need to go back and adjust either what you’re doing or the activities have been listed? So for me is the basis of every single meeting that I go into with relation to the project. And it’s also a communication tool for every single stakeholder and project team member that I have in my projects.

Ben Aston

Yeah, and so in terms of keeping up to date, this is something along with your status report. I know you can start your updating throughout the project.

Emily Luijbregts

Yes. So what I like to do is I try and I kinda schedule times during that. It depends, obviously, the duration of the project here. So I tried to schedule maybe twice a week to be able to go into detail to make sure that all of my project artifacts are up to date because I know that, you know, if you don’t do this, it could lead to problems and, you know, issues with the documents not being up to date.

Emily Luijbregts

And that’s where it all goes wrong. And this is also why, you know, if you are updating these documents so regularly, you need to make sure that it’s not cumbersome. So you need to verify the level of detail that you have so that, you know, you have enough level if you have enough detail in your plan for you to be able to talk to your project team. But you also need it not to be so cumbersome that you’re tracking them on, you know, a 30-minute task where it takes longer for you to write, to get an update and get it done than it does for them to actually complete the task.

Emily Luijbregts

So it’s really important to find that level of balance in your documentation.

Ben Aston

Yes, sir. And where you see things falling apart? Where does for someone who is new to work, breakdown structures? He’s reading your article and thinking, okay, yeah, I can do this. What is it? Where does the work breakdown structure typically fall apart for you? Where do things go wrong? Is it in that sizing of tasks or activities or is it in something else?

Emily Luijbregts

Normally is of the sizing of activities. But the one thing that I have actually seen, you know, quite a few times is their inputs are wrong. So they are basing their entire project on maybe incomplete artifacts.

Emily Luijbregts

So maybe when they’re looking at creating the work breakdown structure and they realize that they don’t actually have several of the inputs that they may need to be able to create it properly, and they go forward with assumptions. And I have a funny thing, which I kind of say in my workshops and I say assumptions make asses out of you and me because of the ask you m. So if you make an assumption, you know, you really are just, you know, setting yourself up to fail. So one thing that I often see is either they are basing it on may be incomplete or not sufficient data or they’re trying to be too detailed in what they’re asking. So, you know, they’re either trying to get an update for a task that took five minutes or they’re trying to try and see how, you know, how detailed they can make a project plan. Now, I remember in my very early days, I made this mistake. I did I think it was a 12 hundred line project plan. And I thought I was the bee’s knees. You know everything is so detailed. I’ve got this fantastic plan. It shows everything. I’ve got my inputs. I’ve got my outputs. I’ve got my resources. How many times do you think I managed to update it properly? Not a lot.

Ben Aston

Yeah.

Emily Luijbregts

So that’s why, you know, I learned the hard way because I tried to, you know, make it as detailed as physically possible. But then when you know, when you get into the execution of your project and you know you’re running around, you’ve got things to do. The last thing that you want to be doing is spending time updating, you know, updating tasks when you know it’s already done or, you know, you can’t necessarily get the input from the team member at the time. So it’s just, you know, you have to learn from your own experience because I’ve learned from my failures because I don’t want anyone else to make the same mistakes that I’ve done.

Ben Aston

Well, that’s very kind of you. And so, yeah, if you are thinking about well, I think I think this is the breakdown stretch is a great tool to use. If you find that in your projects, there is confusion around maybe how the project is going to work. The activities that going to go into it. The outputs that are going to come out of it. It’s great if you need to create clarity on the project. And I think this can this can be a really useful tool if you find your projects are a bit wishy-washy. The work breaks down structure is a great way of clarifying those. What comes out of the end of this? We’ve got this project lifecycle. The project’s born. It happens and then it ends. And then we’re left with these artifacts, these deliverables. And the work breakdown structure gives us clarity on what those things will be. So if you find that you’re in a situation where people are getting confused, really think about a work breakdown structure and how that could help you as a communications tool for your project, you might find that is super useful. So check it out on thedigitalprojectmanager.com. But before we go, for someone who’s kind of half-listening in the car, what would be your tip? What would be the one thing that you would say to someone who’s trying to do a working brain on the structure for the first time and they’re thinking, hey, I read the post? I kind of get what it’s about. But for you, that was the one thing to kind of keep in mind or remember, for someone who’s new to work, breakdown structures, and is beginning to find the whole thing overwhelming as they are just creating this massive thing. What’s there what’s the one piece of advice you’d give?

Emily Luijbregts

Just break it down into manageable chunks. Don’t try and make it too cumbersome, but also don’t try and leave it too high. I look at your overall project and make sure that whatever you’re making is going to be realistic for you to be able to update, but also is going to be in enough level of detail that you’re gonna be able to actually have discussions on this. And just like you said, you need to be able to see the overview to be able to see if there are any weaknesses or any gaps that you need to be filling before you get into full-length project planning. Because the work breakdown structure can be a great example and an exercise to be able to perform this.

Ben Aston

Yeah, I think that’s really solid advice, in my view on this is there yet. Look at the big picture, the word breakdown structure. It’s all about the big picture. And I think it can be tempting to go really deep into one component. Like we start at the beginning of the project. We go really, really deep and then we start getting bored and then we don’t go to the same depth. So I think breath is a great place to start and then begin to add depth would be my advice. So that you get that big full picture of what the work breakdown looks like. And then you can appropriately go into depth on the bits that need more clarification or detail. Emily, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you with us.

Emily Luijbregts

Thank you very much for having me.

Ben Aston

And I wonder what your listeners think. What are your hack’s tips and tricks for work breakdown structures? Do you use them or not? How do you use them with Gantt Charts? Let us know in the comments below. Let us know what works and what doesn’t work. We’d love to hear your Fayle stories or winds about work breakdown structure and if you want to learn more and get ahead in your work, come and join our tribe with DPM Membership head to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership and get access to our Slack team templates, workshops, mastermind’s office hours, e-books and more. And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and take a couple of minutes to leave a review for us on Apple podcast. We love our fans and please don’t ruin our magical five-star rating. But until next time. Thanks for listening.

 

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Ben Aston

Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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