In a previous blog I talked about how the WBS Dictionary (Work Breakdown Structure), with its ability to map the WBS to the SOW, which opens up opportunities to better, understand your project. In this blog we’re going to be looking at one of those ways, namely how you can use the WBS Dictionary to understand relationships in your schedule.
The concepts of relationships in project scheduling are straightforward enough and the examples typically used in Project 101 training makes the concept seem simplistic. “You have to finish Activity A, pour foundation before you can start Activity B – Put up walls”. If pouring the foundation takes longer then planned then you’ll start putting up walls later. This seems pretty straightforward.
But when your project starts to get bigger than building a simple frame house, when you have thousands of activities, multiple organizations responsible for different aspects of a project and multiple work streams happening concurrently, things get a little less straightforward.
You can, and should, do some of the basic logic checks to ensure that at least all the activities have relationships or you understand why they don’t. But how do you know if those are the right relationships, or all of the relationships? The simple logic count doesn’t tell you that.
One way to better understand the logic is to ask the question “what should be linked” and then see if it is in the schedule. You can ask the experts what should be linked, but your answer may depend on the expert you ask and how focused they are on answering the question.
Another way to look at it is to look to the WBS Dictionary. With the SOW column in the WBS dictionary, you can see what WBS elements share paragraphs in the statement of work. When a paragraph is shared across two or more WBS elements, each is contributing to the scope in that paragraph. It’s reasonable to assume that if two elements are contributing to the same scope there might be a relationship between the two, or at a minimum you would expect both to link to the same milestone somewhere in the schedule.
Once we have determined what WBS elements share SOW paragraphs, we can go to the schedule and see if there are any links between the sections in the schedules. In your schedule group, the activities by the WBS element in the Gantt chart can display the relationships. You can visually see if there are relationships that go outside the grouping and to what WBS grouping they belong.
If you don’t see any links between the groups you would rightfully question why. If the tasks for the two different WBS elements are working on the same scope, shouldn’t there be some link? If they don’t have a direct link, then do they at least have links into a shared delivery milestone for that scope or a follow on task for that scope?
If you see relationships between the two WBS elements that share the SOW paragraph you will still need to understand what the relationships are and if they make sense. It’s a good indication if the relationship is there, particularly if the WBS elements are managed by different people.
When you deal with large complex projects, understanding how all the different bits and pieces relate to one another is key for understanding how the performance in one area is going to influence another. While counting relationships to make sure everything has, a relationship is a good place to start, uncovering missing relationships is something that can have a direct impact on your project’s success.