Sunday, January 23, 2011

Red Team the WBS

The idea of the "red team" as an independent review team was the subject of a blog earlier this month. In a few words: Red teams are indispensable to achieving quality workmanship, but they are also a good practice for defeating group think about the project deliverables.

So, it should come as no surprise that applying red team techniques to the preparation of a WBS is a no-brainer, particularly so if the WBS is part of a competitive proposal.

Fill in the WBS:

A WBS is technically an organization of project deliverables, something we call 'nouns' to distinguish them from tasks that are properly on a schedule. Tasks are something we call 'verbs'. String the verbs and nouns together and you have the project narrative.

Now, most teams use the schedule tool to schedule the tasks required to produce the 'nouns'.  Then the schedule analyst applies resources to tasks or teams, and then levels those resources by skill, by time period.

My recommendation is  to export this information and use it for ancillary fill in the WBS.

Thus, each crosspoint in the WBS is a capture point for several bits of information: the 'noun', the resources required, the hours/cost of the resources, and the organizational source for the resources.

WBS Math

Now, "WBS Math" requires that a WBS add-up horizontally and vertically. That is, the number of hours/cost should be irrespective of view. Obviously, a spreadsheet or simple database that can do the row/column math is the way to go. You really don't need to invest in a red team for the arithmetic check.

In some enterprise situations, the WBS numbering scheme is an extension of the chart of accounts, such that the resources from the schedule, as captured on the WBS, feed directly in the accounting ledger.

I like to say that the WBS is the 'present value' of the schedule; that is: the WBS has no temporal dimension, but it can be a tool for adding up all the resources identified on the schedule which, of course, should match the cost proposal, which in turn, should match the ledger roll-up of the project.

Enter the Red Team:

 But, the red team, if familiar not only with the customary practices of the enterprise, but also with the customary expectations of the customer vis a vis a responsive proposal, as well as some idea of the likely practices of the competition, can do a lot of good looking at the WBS from these several points of view.

Consider this example to illustrate the point:
Let's say we are bidding competitively and the red team is aware of the special attention that the customer pays to 'data management'. What does the red team do?

1. Look at every workpackage for data management and add up the total effort of the WBS. Does it comport with the customer's expectations? [typically a benchmark as a % of the total program]. 

2. Identify workpackages that are either over or under resourced on this activity and recommend corrections that will avoid issues that could reasonably be expected to be raised by the customer.

3. Look horizontally -- in other words, in the functional view -- to get the big picture of the data management service/function/product being offered. Can it be proposed more effectively by distributing resources differently? Are there synergies that have been missed? Does the big picture hang together and make sense to a data management professional? After all, the customer is likely to have a data management specialist who is going to take this somewhat parochial view of the WBS

4. Look vertically -- in other words, in the product view -- to see if each product is adequately covered with this product of special interest to the customer. Would it make sense to the customer's product manager?

5. Finally, evaluate the WBS against an enterprise checklist of quality attributes that comport with the enterprise brand in the market.

In sum: walk a mile in the customer's shoes by viewing the proposed WBS in the same way the customer will.

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