“Running a project without a work breakdown structure is like going to a strange land without a road map.” – J Phillips
The word ‘breakdown‘ signals a heavily negative connotation, one that conjures up images of impending chaos, rank disorder, a precursor to possible cataclysm, or perhaps the systematic dismantling of an existing system. The term also implies a temporary suspension of proven systems and processes, necessitates immediate attention, and demands a requirement to summon and enforce emergency measures. However, in the context of contemporary work processes, ‘breakdown‘ lends itself to constructive mechanisms such as work breakdown structure.
In this context, ‘breakdown‘ acquires positive meaning, one that implies speed and momentum toward a fruitful completion of planned work processes. To wit, a work breakdown structure offers significant utility in the undertaking of complex projects because such devices “represent a hierarchical tree structure that outlines your project and breaks it down into smaller, more manageable portions. The smaller chunks mean work can be done simultaneously by different team members, leading to better team productivity and easier project management.” The agency of flowcharts offers the best platform to design and illustrate a work breakdown structure in the multiple contexts that animate and populate modern project management.
A rudimentary work breakdown structure emerges inside flowchart illustrations when creators design multiple large, preliminary buckets that denote primary objectives to be attained in ongoing projects. A series of stacks emerge below each bucket to signify lists of deliverables that help complete the parent objective positioned on top of the stack. An enterprising designer could input additional information in terms of required quanta of workforce, timelines for completion, budgets allocated to each component of a stack, the scope for correctional interventions, review mechanisms, and more. Additional complexity finds representation in the form of sub-illustrations that signify the sharing of resources in advanced stages of project completion. The final image signifies a matrix governed by discipline, the focused application of intelligence, and a concerted march of different elements toward the completion of project objectives. In essence, the flowchart serves as a visual document, which outlines work breakdown structure, one that serves to propel a variety of actions toward a desired destination.
Asymmetric design remains the defining theme in the actual construction of a modern work breakdown structure designed inside flowchart-based illustrations. This stance implies the architects of projects must strive to decompose tasks into clusters of sub-tasks, each connected to different aspects of driving a project. Such a stance also implies detailed exploration of each task, its constituent nature, the moving parts, and exceptions, if any. A degree of subjectivity may appear when different architects navigate the task of executing a thorough decomposition. One architect may output a set of twelve sub-tasks, while another may generate detail that completes the illustration in more than 20 stages and sub-stages. Asymmetry may also emerge when certain sub-tasks and clusters find additional decomposition based on variable timelines that trace connections to progress registered in distant parts of an ongoing project. In such scenarios, the modern flowchart serves admirably in mapping various manifestations of the unbalanced, thereby bringing order and organization into the operational processes that govern modern project management.
Diversity and differentiation must inform the processes and activities that animate and exemplify modern expressions of a work breakdown structure. Pursuant to this, project operators must remain sensitive to the many layers and components that agglomerate to shape a successful instance of such structures. For instance, a civil construction project must survey and design a variety of essential work processes; these include site preparation, the use of ground beams and structural steel, internal elements such as floor slabs and brickwork, plumbing and electric services, masonry and mechanical systems, roofing and external cladding, and close-ended processes such as wall painting, plastering, and interior decorations. Each of these elements, when methodically tagged with serial numbers, enable operators to identify processes in the proverbial big picture. In addition, builders must apply expertise and experience to map these elements and their sub-groups inside flowcharts. These illustrations allow engineers and project architects to drive different phases of a project in concert with objectives and timelines.
A sharp focus on outcomes must drive an intelligent rendition of a work breakdown structure; this stance must emerge as a constant imperative in large projects designed for completion over multiple phases and extended timelines. Such a stance assumes that project managers/operators must exert constant vigilance on the quality of decomposing various work modules, the systematic positioning of modules inside stages and sub-stages, and relentless connections that emerge from each module/sub-module and converge into projected outcomes. Flowcharts, when developed over multiple layers, help encase such planning activity, thereby generating efficient, nuanced expressions of a modern work breakdown structure. In addition, outcomes can undergo a measure of decomposition; such structural dilution allows architects and designers to establish connections between the quality of execution (of work modules) and intended outcomes. Certain operators may elect to sample the quality of outcomes prior to driving momentum inside an ongoing project.
Stalwart instances of work breakdown structure must find keen alignment with deliverables and processes that remain integral to modern projects. Such a stance allows project operators to identify objectives prior to project execution. Observers value such a stance because it is important for architects and operators to understand the many elements of scope, the resources that will be required, timelines necessary for steady completion, and to gain a steady handle on prevailing cost factors. Therefore, ancillary text-heavy illustrations must emerge to qualify, explain, and add depth to the traditional edifice of a work breakdown structure. We note such a package represents a marked departure from design orthodoxy; however, such an approach allows high levels of transparency to emerge inside said structure. In addition, sets of dynamic ancillary illustrations serve to reinforce the visual narrative emanating from a structure, thereby boosting the number of opportunities for successful navigation of an ongoing project.
The use of colors and tints inside flowcharts allows designers to drive momentum in project execution. Upon successful completion, stages and subs-stages could be marked in gray, thereby cutting visual distraction in the eyes of project reviewers. This technique also helps harness the energies of project workers by spotlighting work that awaits completion. Additional levels of breakdown that emerge in the course of a project could find representation in metallic tints, thereby focusing attention on new elements inside flowcharts. On their part, reviewers and observers could deploy a crimson brush to underline potential errors inside flowcharts, thus drawing the attentions of architects and planners and cutting the scope for expensive revision en route to project completion. These ideas and explorations help create new forms of definition and modes of expression for work breakdown structures. Flowcharts remain the premier platform for devising such structures in various contexts. The formal shape of flowcharts can undergo infinite variations in terms of content and the mechanics contained therein and in addition, the use of digital technologies allows creators and designers to seed new ideas and experiment with the essential nature of such structures. Digital also promotes the possibility of multiple architects and designers to participate in, and critique the creation of landmark attempts at decomposing work. This stance helps uncover fresh new potential in this domain, refresh the core ideas that power such projects, and help evolve novel techniques to validate given structures.