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Detailed Scoping

The first step in planning a project is scoping the project properly. Watch Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne explain more.
The first step in planning a project is scoping the project properly. Before I even start, I just want to caution you. This step is probably the most neglected step in the entire process of planning a project. We rush too quickly to look at timing and Gantt charts. So I would like to ask you, next time you plan a project, start with what I’m about to describe. In order to scope the project properly, we often use a tool, or we recommend using a tool called the work breakdown structure. It’s a visual tool that’s literally going to break down the project into working components. The power of the work breakdown structure is tremendous. Not only is it visual, and it is detailed.
But it allows us for an opportunity to really reflect on how and what is going to be part of out project. It’s as simple as thinking about a hierarchy from the high level project to sub-projects that it might include, to work packages and to actual activities and tasks. Sometimes it can get very messy and complex. But in the process of coming up with the list and even looking at the visuals, there is huge amount of insight that we can gain around the nature of our project. And what we, and learn new aspects of it that we haven’t thought of before. Let me take you through an example.
And then at the end, I’ll reflect on what we’ve learned and some tips around how to come up with good, work breakdown structures. Here’s an example. Consider the project associated with manufacturing of a new product, a new cold press organic juice. From an empty facility all the way to having it on the shelf in a supermarket. When we started the project and we start thinking about this project, there are many different aspects of it. We need to think about the facility, we need to think about the manufacturing process. We need to think about the recipe that goes into the product and getting certified.
Listing these out, even on a blackboard in an old fashioned sense, allows us to get a gauge of what exactly are we going to have to do over the next few months in order to get our product to where we would like it to be. Once we brainstorm, either in the form of a blackboard, sticky notes, or on a white board. Then we can use certain tools and software in order to organize these thoughts in a more accessible way. Here’s a high level of the work breakdown structure for this specific Lumi juice plant example. At the high level, we see that the Lumi project will entail many different categories.
Activities to do with packaging, activities related to the liquid itself, activities that are associated with the financing, or the IT, the information technology that the plant will need to operate. Breaking it down even further to the level of the task itself, we can see that the project looks much bigger. And I know that you can’t necessarily see the detail that is on the screen right now. But it does give you a sense of the bulk of the sheer number of activities that might be involved, which of the categories have more activities associated with them. And where we might need to think about cutting down some of our scope, or adding certain activities.
Or maybe realizing that we neglected to think consciously around the bottling and the caps that have to come, have to be purchased and outsourced as part of our project. And so visualizing the project and looking at what the activities are, and what is their nature, helps us gain clarity on the exact scope of our project.
Another example, and I’m warning you, as I flip this slide, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of activities, and you might not be able to read each and every task. This is an example of a project that had many different components, hundreds and hundreds of tasks. And listing them out, while it takes time and effort to do that exercise, is so valuable and useful because we gain an insight as to areas that might be repetitive. Resources that might be needed in different domains, and activities that we might have not even realized were part of the scope of our project.
Now there are software tools that will allow you to automate and allow you to develop, work breakdown structures fairly simply. But the process of going through, the brainstorming process of going through and identifying what is part of our project. And what we might want to leave out of this specific project, is vital before we even start looking at the schedule.
So a few tips when you think about a work breakdown structure. First, start messy. Start with something that you can easily amend. Either by placing sticky notes on the board, reorganizing them. Use a team of people to brainstorm, and work together with individuals, including those who are actually going to do, be doing the work. Or your clients, who you might need to deliver the product to in order to make sure the that the scope is well defined. Also, you can think about and find out more information about automated tools. Microsoft Project has a work breakdown structure ability within it. WBSPro is another add-in that might be helpful for you as you start working on your work breakdown structure.
Now there is some guidance that we can use and some rules of thumb associated with how detailed we need to be. So I would tell you this, first, as you think about a work breakdown structure, each task at the end their tree, must be executed by a specific resource. Some like to think about the actual tasks taking no more than 20, 10 to 20 days of work. I like to think about it as a proportion of the broader project. Each task in my big tree should be somewhere between 5 to 10% of the work. Now if you can’t get to the level of detail that is required, it implies that you might not be talking to the right people.
And you might need to find out more information about the scope of your project. So the first step is coming up with a work breakdown structure. Now, we know the scope of our project.

Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne explains the importance of scoping the project properly. Once you’ve completed watching this video proceed to 1) reading The Virginia Festival of the Book case study, and then 2) responding to the discussions questions regarding why you think scoping is the most neglected phase and how you would explain the importance of this process to a boss/colleague/peer who does not understand its value.

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Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management

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