The product breakdown structure

This seeks to identify all products to be generated by the project to confirm the scope of what it is required to deliver.

It starts with the single product that the project is intended to deliver, which is the sum of a list of components. For example, a desktop computer comprises a screen, a keyboard, a mouse and a processing unit, which is itself the sum of smaller components, such as the hard drive, the motherboard, the power supply and the case.

Figure 6.1 overleaf shows a training course as a collection of component products. The training course is a "starter" product, but everyone's expectations of it may be different. To understand these better, break this high-

* Office of Government Commerce, The Stationery Office Books, 2002.

A training course as a collection of component products

A training course as a collection of component products

level, poorly defined product into ever smaller component parts until it has been expressed as the entire set of building blocks needed throughout the whole project.

Initially, the training course can be split into three smaller components: the specified course, the prepared course and the delivered course. It may be possible to estimate the development time and cost of each of the three products but there is unlikely to be enough information about them, so the specified course is decomposed into the gathered requirements and the course definition document. These are difficult to subdivide further, so this "root" stops there. The prepared course can be subdivided into many further products, each of which becomes redundant as those below it describe it better. For instance, there is no need to describe delegate materials - they are the sum of exercise briefs, sample solutions and copies of slides.

Planning should be a team effort, so it is wise to involve interested stakeholders in creating a product breakdown structure. A facilitator, usually the project manager, should lead the process. It can help to post reminder notes on a board as products are identified.

The facilitator should recap frequently what has been described so that everyone has a clear and common understanding. There are usually differences about products that should be in or out of scope. For instance, some may wish to include post-course coaching sessions (product 3.2) at which delegates meet the lecturer after the event; others may disagree. Each product identified will take time and money to develop and deliver, so a conclusion must be reached when the plan is created. If a product is to be excluded from the project but its development is still necessary to it, it remains on the product breakdown structure as an "external" product that must be accommodated in the plan eventually.

What began as a single deliverable is now much better defined as a list of component parts that together describe the scope of the project. The starter product has been decomposed into:


Gathered requirements


Course definition document


Course schedule


Course bookings


Lecturer notes


Presentation slides

Exercise briefs

Sample solutions

Copies of slides


Trained users


Post-course coaching sessions


Completed course appraisals

How detailed should a product-based plan be? The answer is the same regardless of whether the plan focuses on products or activities. As the plan will be used to delegate and control the delivery of products, the products that make up the end product should be subdivided only so far as the project manager can monitor their progress regularly and frequently. Project managers should ask themselves - and their project steering groups - how long they would be prepared to wait to discover whether a product had been completed or not. A good rule of thumb is 2-3 weeks.

Figure 6.2 overleaf shows some common errors in a product breakdown structure.

Some common errors in a product breakdown structure

Product Breakdown Structure


1 It is not designed to show a sequence, so arrows should not be used.

2 There is a one-to-one relationship. Is "trained users" another name for "delivered course" rather than a component of it? If it is a constituent part, the product breakdown structure should show what other components make up "delivered course".

3 "Book courses" is an activity not a product. The product breakdown structure, the product flow diagram and the product description should identify the outcome, not the process that produces it. This product title should be "course bookings".

4 The level of detail in this root is inconsistent. It suggests that more time or expertise has been devoted to developing this area of the project, possibly at the expense of others. Eventually, all products should be taken to a similar level of detail so that the work delegated to participants is consistent in size.

5 The product has been mis-numbered.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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