GANTT charts – pt. 2. – Make the Work Breakdown Structure effective

A project plan contains many basic information, one of them is the list of tasks to be completed for a successful result and this is where the Gantt chart can assist you.
Never forget it is just a tool. And tools are always used and controlled by a person.

If you organize a simple event you can take a blank sheet and make the task list. If you make a dinner for your friends, you probably make your shopping list, you consider when you have time to clean up the flat and try to avoid any other meetings that day, because you need time to cook. Together with your tasks you probably plan how much time and money you will need to have everything ready when the first guests arrive.

And if you do so, you completed your dinner-project.

But what if, you do not organize a dinner with your friends? What if you have a team with about 20 persons working on different fields, with different tasks for a two day conference with around 1.000 participants and an additional official dinner?

I hope you don’t think you can handle all these easily with a blank sheet with some sketch with your pen during the whole organizing process.
But for first, you really have to sketch some. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) means what it means. You consider your work and you break it down into logical steps. The ‘deepness’ you break the procedures down depends on you and depends on the system of your tasks. There is no rule set in stone how to built it, but you have to be logical and clear with an identified responsible person.

Our imaginary event let say to be a conference on animal protection and well-fare. It lasts two days with ten invited presenters from all around the globe. The audience is going to be around one thousand, there is a list of about 150 persons to be invited and the rest of the audience can register, and on the first day you have to organize an official dinner.

So first take an empty sheet and collect all the major phases you have to complete.
The logical structure depends on you. It is natural in case of your dinner party, that completing the  shopping and the cleaning are different phases of your ‘project’, but in complex tasks there can be many different aspects and every project manager would build up a structure which differences in some parts.
There is nothing like it-should-look-like-this type of WBS. But it has to be comprehensive, comprehensible and easy to track.

In case of your conference project if you take your blank sheet, you can break down the tasks into the following main phases for instance:

  • Location
  • Presenters
  • Invited guests
  • Registering participants
  • Official dinner
  • Marketing, PR, Press

Let’s say you consider these ones the major phases of the tasks to be completed. After that you can take every phase and collect what sort of sub-phases or sub-tasks they include:

Location: find the best one, sign the contract, plan the design and logistics of the conference, plan and equip the conference room, etc.

Presenters: checking the appropriate itinerary and booking flight tickets, booking hotel, transport from airport, check the schedule of presentation and equipment needed, collecting material for the notes for the audience, invitation for the official dinner, etc.

Invited guests: sending out invitation, checking if they can participate, reserve the seats at the conference, etc.

Registering participants: handling applications, sending out information, etc.

Official dinner: find the best location, choose the menu, plan the decoration, send out invitation, transport from the conference to the venue, decoration, plan the protocol, etc.

Marketing, PR, Press: have the official communique, choose advertising forms, designer completes the advertising, invite press, open facebook page and event, run a webpage, etc.

Each phase can be divided into following sub-phase for sure, depending how complex the phase is. Many times it happens that the phases and tasks are to be determined by another outsider or a member of the team as they have the precise knowledge about the nature of the procedure you have to manage and control.

When you finished with collecting,  shaping and forming your ideas into a logical structure, you are ready with your WBS and it looks like this in the task list part of a Gantt chart:


As you see, so far it is not more different from a table you can build up for example in an Excel sheet.

But managing your tasks contains further steps and possibilities, so next time I show why Gantt charts can give you more than a sheet of paper or an Excel sheet.

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