Breaking down scope is a significant part of project management, a concept that is imperative for anyone preparing for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. The scope refers to the sum total of all products or services and their features that should be delivered at the end of the project.

Two pertinent methods of breaking down scope include the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and backlog.

Table of Contents

1. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

WBS is a crucial project deliverable that divides a project’s work into manageable chunks. It organizes the team’s work into sections which are easier to manage and control. This hierarchical tree structure gives a visual representation of what needs to be done, making it simple to track the project’s progress.

For instance, let’s take a project to develop a new website. The WBS for this project could be:

  • 1.1 Project Management (project planning, project tracking)
  • 1.2 Site Development (design, coding, content creation)
  • 1.3 Testing (functionality testing, user testing)
  • 1.4 Marketing (SEO, advertising)

Each of these major components would further be broken down for easier management. For instance, ‘Coding’ can be divided into ‘Frontend coding’ and ‘Backend coding’.

2. Backlog

The backlog is a list of tasks or features that need to be completed. Typically used in agile methodologies, it is a prioritized list that defines the scope of work. As tasks are completed, the backlog decreases and is often supplemented by additional items as they arise during the project.

A backlog consists of user stories, which are short descriptions of a feature from the perspective of the end user. For instance, using the website development example, the backlog could include user stories such as:

  • As an administrator, I want to be able to add and edit content easily.
  • As a site visitor, I want a responsive design so that I can use the website on my mobile phone.

Some consider the backlog a more dynamic and flexible tool than the WBS, as it allows frequent adjustments during a project’s life cycle.

Comparing Work Breakdown Structure and Backlog:

WBS Backlog
Static hierarchy Dynamic list of user stories
Focused on deliverables Focused on tasks and features
Plan-based Agile-based
Top-down approach Bottom-up approach

In conclusion, both the WBS and backlog are effective methods of breaking down your project scope. The WBS is ideal for larger projects, giving a complete top-down view of all tasks involved, making it easier to assign tasks and manage project costs. On the other hand, the backlog provides a flexible approach to scope management with regular reassessments, focusing on user needs and the value delivered by tasks. Recognizing the benefits of each, and understanding when to employ each method, is vital in effective project management and for the PMP examination.

Practice Test

True or False: The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team.

  • True
  • False

Answer: True

Explanation: WBS shows all the work that needs to be accomplished in a project and it’s indeed a hierarchical framework.

Multiple Select: Which of the following are components of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?

  • A) Work Packages
  • B) Deliverables
  • C) Activities
  • D) Control Points

Answer: A,B

Explanation: WBS contains work packages that break down from deliverables. Activities are not part of the WBS but are derived from work packages in the schedule development process. Control points are not a part of WBS.

Single Select: How many levels does a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) typically have?

  • A) 2
  • B) 3
  • C) 4
  • D) 5

Answer: B

Explanation: A typical WBS has three levels – the project, deliverables, and work packages. However, it can be more detailed depending on the complexity and size of the project.

True or False: The product backlog is a dynamic list of features, functions, requirements, enhancements, and fixes that constitute the changes to be made to the project.

  • True
  • False

Answer: True

Explanation: A product backlog is indeed a dynamic list that constantly evolves and changes throughout the course of a project.

Multiple Select: Which two of the following best describe the characteristics of a Product Backlog?

  • A) It is static and unchangeable
  • B) It is prioritized by value
  • C) It is dynamic and evolves over time
  • D) It is used only in waterfall projects

Answer: B,C

Explanation: The product backlog is prioritized by value and it’s dynamic in nature, continually changing and evolving as the project moves forward.

True or False: The WBS and Product backlog are same.

  • True
  • False

Answer: False

Explanation: WBS is a hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the team to accomplish project objectives and create required deliverables. The product backlog, on the other hand, is a prioritized list of features, requirements, enhancements, and fixes in Agile/ Scrum projects.

Single Select: What is the lowest level of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?

  • A) Sub-deliverables
  • B) Work Packages
  • C) Activities
  • D) Tasks

Answer: B

Explanation: Work packages are the lowest level of a WBS and they represent the work specified at that lowest level of the WBS for which cost and duration can be estimated and managed.

True or False: All elements of the WBS except the top level are in the form of verbs.

  • True
  • False

Answer: False

Explanation: All elements of the WBS up to the work package level are typically in nouns not verbs.

Multiple Select: Which of the following are benefits of creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?

  • A) Provides a clear picture of what needs to be delivered
  • B) Allows for better control of the project
  • C) Reduces the risk of leaving out tasks
  • D) Doesn’t help in identifying risks

Answer: A, B, C

Explanation: WBS provides a clear picture of what needs to be delivered, helps control the project better, and reduces the risk of forgetting tasks. It may also assist in risk identification.

True or False: A product backlog should be re-estimated after each iteration or sprint.

  • True
  • False

Answer: True

Explanation: The product backlog must be re-estimated after each iteration to account for changes in prioritization, new insights, technical debt, new tasks that have been discovered, etc.

Interview Questions

What is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in project management?

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.

What role does the WBS play in project management?

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) serves as a guide for defining work as it relates to a specific project’s objectives. Its purpose is to organize and define the total scope of a project, and to break it down into manageable chunks.

What is a project backlog?

A project backlog is a list of tasks or deliverables that need to be accomplished within the project, but which have not yet been started. It’s often used in Agile project management methodology.

How does a project backlog contribute to project scope management?

A backlog helps in managing the project’s scope by providing a clear list of tasks required to achieve the project objective. It provides a way of prioritizing tasks, managing scope creep, and keeping track of what’s been accomplished and what’s left to do.

How does a WBS help manage the project scope?

A WBS provides a clear and detailed outline of a project’s scope by breaking it down into smaller, manageable components. This makes it easier to estimate costs and durations, assign resources, monitor progress, and control changes to the project’s scope.

How should tasks be defined in a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?

Tasks should be defined in a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) using the SMART criteria – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Each task should be well-defined, independent, and self-contained.

How is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) related to the project scope statement?

The WBS is directly derived from the project scope statement. The project scope statement defines what needs to be accomplished while the WBS breaks those objectives down into detailed individual tasks.

What is a WBS dictionary?

A WBS dictionary is a document that provides detailed information about each element in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), such as tasks, resources, durations, and milestones.

What’s the role of a Product Backlog in Agile Project Management?

In Agile project management, a Product Backlog is a prioritized list of features, enhancements, and fixes for the product to be developed. This list evolves and is reprioritized during the project, offering a flexible approach to managing the project’s scope.

How are changes to the backlog handled in Agile project management?

Changes to the backlog are typically handled through the product owner in agile project management. They assess and reprioritize the backlog items based on feedback, changes in the project environment, and stakeholder inputs.

What is scope creep in project management?

Scope creep is the uncontrolled expansion to project scope without changes in resources, schedule, or budget. It can lead to project failure and hence should be managed closely.

How can a WBS help in avoiding scope creep?

A WBS provides a clear and detailed guide to the project’s scope. By referring to the WBS, project managers can identify if requested changes or additions fall outside the defined scope, helping to avoid scope creep.

What is the difference between a WBS and a project schedule?

A WBS is a hierarchical breakdown of the project’s scope into tasks or deliverables, while a project schedule is a detailed timeline that outlines when each task or deliverable will start and finish.

How does a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) assist in cost estimation?

A WBS assists in cost estimation by breaking down the project into smaller, manageable tasks, which makes it easier to accurately estimate the cost of each individual element of the project.

Why is the project backlog important in the Agile project management methodology?

In the Agile methodology, the project backlog represents a detailed and prioritized list of user stories or tasks to be completed. It guides the work for each sprint, helps in optimizing the flow of work, and assists in managing the project scope effectively.

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