Most project managers place their focus on a project plan comprised of a network of tasks and/or work packages. These work packages are part of a hierarchical decomposition of the project effort known as a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). A variety of management techniques and tools are used to define and baseline this project plan and track and manage execution of the plan against this baseline. (Earned Value Management, critical path/chain, rolling wave planning, risk/opportunity management, Technical Performance Measurement, etc.). Depending on your industry, you may have used all or a few of these techniques and very likely have participated in debates over which of them are central to project success.
Product development projects begin with requirements analysis and design phases. During these phases, the fundamental work performed is thinking, i.e. planning the decisions (fundamental questions that demand an answer or solution) that will spell success for the project. So rather than jump right into a Work Breakdown Structure when planning this effort, I recommend that you first create a Decision Breakdown Structure (DBS). As I have described in many other posts, all the knowledge created when doing forward-looking thinking can be modeled as a network of decisions. Requirements, solutions, models, risks, opportunities, issues, assumptions, analysis tasks and implementation tasks all fit precisely and unambiguously in the context of this decision framework.
The tasks in your project plan should closely align with the value-creating thinking that you have to do; not just the documents or other work products that are created as containers for this thinking. A good Decision Breakdown Structure can help you create a Work Breakdown Structure that is a more effective management tool.
If you have a proven decision pattern, it doesn’t take very long to create a DBS that highlights the top 20, 50, 100 decisions that your project will make. You can create a decision baseline in just a few days that will enable you to maintain 100% traceability between your decisions and your plans (explicit decision-to-task or decision-to-work-package links). When decisions are made or revisited (by you or your customers), you then will have the ability to do a rapid impact analysis to localize the ripple effects of these changes on your project plan. Focus on managing your decision baseline and the rest flows downhill from there.
Ignore your decision baseline at your own risk! Begin by defining your DBS in the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) before you define your WBS. Start your free trial of DDSF by contacting the Decision Driven® Solutions team at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.