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The WBS – A Key to ERP Implementation Success (Part 2 of 3)

The author of this entry,  Brian Sakamoto,  is a senior ERP Strategy Consultant with QStrat.

In Part 2 of the series, I offer my thoughts how to conduct an effective Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) workshop to ensure your ERP implementation success. As mentioned in my previous blog, incorporating a WBS for your ERP project will help you better organize your project as you decompose deliverables into manageable components. In doing so, you will alleviate some (but not all) of your initial trepidations.  The WBS workshop provides the perfect opportunity to engage and educate your project team.

Conducting a WBS Workshop

Prior to running a WBS workshop, it is crucial to identify a facilitator that has experience implementing ERP solutions with a clear vision of the expected outcomes for the workshop. Ideally, the facilitator is the Project Manager, but I have worked in tandem with client Project Managers to help them plan and execute successful workshops.

The facilitator must have the following characteristics:

  • Understands the overall roadmap from project inception to post cutover and all major phases and milestones (e.g. Planning, Requirements Gathering, Vendor Selection Process, Solution Design, Training, Commissioning, Post Cutover Support, etc.)
  • Knows or is familiar with the industry lingo, and of the client/company. Some examples are listed below:

o   Manufacturing Shop Floor Modes (e.g. Job Shop, Repetitive, Lot Controlled, Regulated, etc.)

o   Automotive (e.g. ANSI for EDI 830’s (Planning Schedules), 862’s (Shipping Schedules), 856’s(Advanced Shipment Notifications))

o   Distribution & Warehousing (e.g. Cross-Docking, Logistics LTL, Bill of Lading, etc)

o   Interfaces required to existing in-house systems (e.g. Data Warehouses, Bar Coding, MES, etc.)

Running the WBS workshop is an exhilarating experience. Here are some tips that I find helps to make the workshop a success:

Prior to the Session

  • Identify major phases of your ERP project and put each heading on a sticky note and put it on the wall. For example:







  • Prepare sticky notes for each Level 2 deliverable and put them up under the appropriate Phase heading (sequence is not important at this point)
  • Have plenty of sticky notes and non-bleeding markers (yes, I learned the hard way) available for the workshop.


At the Session

  • Provide context and purpose for the meeting, which is to identify all the key deliverables for the project
  • Note the Rule – Items added to the WBS must be nouns, NOT verbs
  • Involve the entire project team and make the session as interactive as possible
  • Designate one or two people to scribe the sticky notes (this controls the discussion and prevents people not listening to other people’s ideas)
  • As team members identify deliverables, have the scribes write them down on sticky notes
  • Each sticky note represents a deliverable. If the deliverable is large, the project team may want to add sub-deliverables (decompose). For example, Training Materials may have sub-deliverables: Classroom Power Point Presentations, Training Rosters, Training Exercise Books, and User Guides.
  • Be courteous and allow team members time to express their thoughts uninterrupted
  • Listen carefully for concerns and add project deliverables that will address concerns / worries (you don’t need to solve the concerns, but adding a WBS deliverable to deal with it will keep it from being forgotten). For example, a deliverable might be ‘Backup Procedures for Unplanned System Outages’
  • Don’t worry about sequence – Sticky Notes that can be easily reorganized


Once you have exhausted the idea pool,

  • Step back – Reorganize the sticky notes.
    • You may find duplicates or similar ideas that can be consolidated.
    • If there are sub-deliverables, indent them as a subset of the associated major deliverable
  • In each Phase, put the deliverables in sequential order starting with those needed first on the top
  • If possible, leave the sticky notes on the wall for future reference and discussions


Benefits of WBS Workshop

The benefits of an effective WBS workshop are clear.

  • Project team engagement & excellent team building exercise
  • Project Manager learns about nuances / constraints / opportunities for the project from the input of others on the team
  • Project team expresses concerns and commits to delivering solutions that address them
  • Project team sees the big picture and get an appreciation about the size and effort needed for a successful project
  • Project team members learns about and appreciates each other’s responsibilities and concerns
  • Project team sees where their involvement is crucial to the project
  • The smaller well-defined WBS components (work packages) make it easier to get started and assign ownership


Now that you’ve gathered a lot of information from the project team and have a work of art on the wall, it’s time to capture this information in a document. In the next article, I will share my approach to creating the WBS chart and using it to create your project schedule. Yes, I suggest that the project schedule is created AFTER the WBS chart.

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