Norveld Nugget — Adaptive Project Plan

Is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) your detailed project plan? If so, you might be missing the forest for the trees.

Sometimes, too many details can get in the way of project success. The secret is to do just enough planning to get the project started on the right track, and then to adapt to changing requirements and conditions to stay on the right track.

A WBS can be your best friend or worst enemy, depending how you use it. It’s a good tool for justifying effort by displaying all the tasks and time to do them. However, problems can occur when the WBS contains so much detail that there is little or no room to adapt to any changes in the project. And we all know that every project plan will change over time.

Regardless of how well initial requirements are stated, changes will occur, whether from change requests for new features or whether from actions taken when unplanned or unforeseen events occur.

In many projects, the WBS is out of date almost as soon as the project starts and usually there’s nobody available to update it. The more detailed the WBS, the more work is wasted. Even worse, there can be a lot of pressure to follow the WBS regardless how out of date it is. If you’ve experienced that, you know that the end result is project failure.

An adaptive project plan is more than the WBS. It’s an estimate for justification, the rolled-up version of the WBS for each of the major tasks you’re going to need to do and when to do them—at a high level. It allows you to adapt the project to meet changing requirements while still providing enough details to keep management happy.

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