The first step to building a solid project budget and plan is to create a sound work breakdown structure (WBS). What a WBS does is two things – it helps flesh out the scope of the project (this is great for project profiles that your team has not done before) as well as firms up your budget. Conducting an estimating session is the heart of building a great WBS. Here are some tips for building your structure.
Identify the Right People to Help
The heart of your WBS is a detailed task breakdown. What you want to do is bring team members in who will be able to assist you in understanding how the tasks break down. Drawing on their experience, you will be able to quickly identify high-level milestones then begin to break those down into smaller bite-sized tasks.
Set Targets for Level of Breakdown
When building out your WBS you need to have a threshold of how finite your tasks will be in your breakdown. You don’t want your lowest-level task to be so big that it adds ambiguity to what is actually contained in it (ex. don’t have a lowest-level task that says “Design system”). The whole aim of the exercise is to understand at a manageable level what work needs to be done and how long it will take. The rule of thumb that a lot of project managers use is once you get to a task of 8 hours or smaller, then you’ve broken it down far enough. Remember that all of your tasks are going into a project plan – keep that in mind when you are breaking your tasks down. Clearly articulate these ground rules to your team at the outset of the estimating sessions to help get their minds focused on breaking those tasks down to that acceptable level.
Build Accountability with Authority
Regardless of the experience, how many times you’ve done this, or the perceived simplicity of the project itself – do not underestimate. Nothing will erode confidence faster in your ability to prepare a sound budget than low-balling your estimate. Make sure that your team knows that they have the authority to help dictate the estimates but with that authority comes a level of accountability that means the team members will need to ensure they either come in at those numbers or ensure that they have sound reasoning and explanations for why those numbers cannot be met.