Work Breakdown Structure

With excerpts from my Project Management Novel, I will illustrate the many processes of the PMBOK.  Here is the sixth one: Create Work Breakdown Structure Requirements. Use this map to see how this process fits into the scheme of processes.  WBS

At dawn the next morning, Gwilym and Fred inspected the tower and surrounding land to make broad plans: what they needed to move first, where they would store the materials and where they would place the arch supports. Then they went to the tavern and paid the man in advance for the food and drink he would provide. The day was warm so they opened the door and window and extinguished the fire to keep the room’s air clean.  Fred set up some wood planks on the benches to make a broad table. Gwilym placed a bag full of smooth wood shingles, each about a hand’s breadth square, in the center of this table. Next to this, he placed a quill in a bottle of ink.

The men started drifting in and Gwilym invited them to break their fast. He asked that they drink more water than they do ale, because he wanted their minds sharp for this planning session. He asked each man to introduce himself and name his skill. Gwilym wrote this information on a scroll, checking off skills present with the skills he needed based on his previous estimates. When the team was all assembled he asked if there were any more sawyers. One carpenter said he could bring a friend the next day to add to the team.

“Gentlemen,” began Gwilym, eliciting a laugh from these rough working men. “Allow me to read to you the royal charter for this project, written by Sir Kay and signed by the High King himself: Arthur.” This quieted the men and brought some murmurs of approval from the men as he unrolled the impressive scroll. Gwilym read the charter out loud to the men repeating certain areas to emphasize points.

“So now that we know what we’re doing and where and why we will do it, we are going to determine how we are going to do it.”

Gwilym reached for the bag of small shingles, inked a rough sketch of a finished tower on the first and placed this in the middle of the top of the bench. “This is the goal of the project. A finished tower.” He looked at the men for evidence of their understanding and saw nodding heads in response.

“To get to a finished tower, we need to do six things. First we need to support the old bridge.” He drew a supported arch and placed this on the left of the table, below the level of the previous shingle. “Then we must remove the old tower.” He drew a bridge missing a tower and placed this about a foot to the right of the previous shingle. “Then we need to remove the bridge.” He drew an empty creek channel still containing arch supports and placed this shingle a foot to the right of the last one.

“Next we build a new supported arch, a completed tower and finally remove these supports.” He drew pictures on three more shingles and distributed these to the right of the previous three, revealing the structure shown below.


“So this is the structure of how we are going to rebuild this tower.” Some of the men surrounding Gwilym nodded in agreement and looked at each other with impressed looks on their faces. A few of the older men rolled their eyes.

“If we are in agreement with the basic structure, let’s go into more detail.” Gwilym started making quick drawings to lay out the steps below the drawing of the arch missing the tower.

“Some of us must clear out some space east of the tower. I will be numbering each of the stones on the existing tower so that we can put them back the way they were. Then we take the tower down in layers and place these layers next to each other in the order they came off, with the stones in the same position they held in the tower. We throw away any wood inside, it’s all rotten now.” He had laid out five shingles illustrating these actions below the second shingle. “This is called Decomposition,” he said to his team.

“Meanwhile, one of us can be buying wood for the arch supports,” he drew a pile of lumber and placed this under the first shingle. “They may as well be buying wood for the new arch at the same time.” He placed an identical shingle under the fourth shingle. The wisecracking veterans stopped clowning and paid attention.

“We’ll need to let the boat captains who use this stream know that they either need to find other docks or stay in the wharf all winter while we support the arch.” He placed a picture of a man approaching a boat under the first shingle. The men all laughed at this, picturing irate boat owners trying to reach the river. Gwilym looked around, saw the approving looks, and realized that he had the men now. He continued describing and laying out shingles in their appropriate places.

The table soon looked like this:


“Now, if I were a tyrant, I’d tell you to do exactly what this says and we’d get to work. But I’m no tyrant. I value your experience. What have I forgotten? What did I get wrong? What is done in the wrong order? What could be done better? I want all your input now so that we don’t have to redo our work later.”

The men were hesitant to begin with but, following the veterans, they all gave their input within their own specialties. The sawyer told Gwilym that they needed different wood for arch supports because they would be half submerged. The lead mason told Gwilym that they may be able to reuse the old foundations, saving lots of time. He could assess that as they were reaching the end of the demolition. Others questioned placing the original stones in layers as there was not enough room so they agreed to place three layers on top of each other.

In this fashion the men worked together, moving shingles, replacing them, adding others until they all seemed satisfied. Then Gwilym asked them a question. “See that tower on the top of this Work Breakdown Structure? If we do all the work below, will we end up with that tower, the way the charter wants it?”

The men thought for a while and one of the younger men said, “No. The…charter says we need roads leading to both sides of it. I don’t see any roads in this…structure.”

Gwilym clapped the man on the shoulder and shouted, “Good work, Charlie! Where should we place the road shingles in this structure?”

Charlie swelled up with pride, thought for a while and said, “We need to build the road foundations soon since we’ll need them to move the tower stones to the empty land. But they’ll get destroyed over the winter with all the moving around we’ll be doing. So we’ll need to add more rock as the winter progresses and we’ll have to finish it off last thing. He drew some crude road drawings on three shingles and placed them under the first, second and last shingle.

Once everyone seemed satisfied, Gwilym again looked at the men and asked the same question: “If we do all the work below, will we end up with that tower, the way the charter wants it?” The men thought for a while and then, one by one, looked at Gwilym and nodded.

“A round of ale, barkeep!” shouted Gwilym. “We have cause to celebrate. Now we know WHAT we’re doing, WHY and WHERE and HOW we will build this tower! We’ll eat our dinner and start work.”

After the men ate, Gwilym set them to work. “Carpenters figure out how much wood we need for the arch supports and the tower and go order it. Masons inspect the existing stone and order enough to replace the broken ones. You three clear some space for placing the old tower and the rest of you, start clearing a road.”

Gwilym and Fred transcribed the Work Breakdown Structure, using words and pictures, onto a scroll. Then they went out, Fred supervising the men while Gwilym painted numbers and letters on the existing tower stones in preparation for the orderly demolition.