That said, you can apply Kanban on a traditional waterfall project that heavily relies on a detailed work breakdown structure. In fact, the thesis that we defend in this article is that Kanban is a good fit for implementing the work breakdown structure itself.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the work breakdown structure as a “deliverable oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team.”
Let us explore how the typical work breakdown structure can be represented with the help of Kanban boards and Kanban cards. For the sake of illustrating the concepts better, we will use screenshots from the Kanban software solution that we develop – Kanbanize.
The first step in the process would be that we create a master “portfolio” Kanban board that represents the LEVEL 1 deliverable. It is the Kanban board that contains all level 2 deliverables and shows their current status (the position of each item shows % complete).
With the second level deliverables available, we can start adding the level 3 deliverables as nested work items. Nested work in a Kanban software tool like Kanbanize is presented via parent and child links between the Kanban cards representing the WBS deliverables. The interesting and KEY part is that we create the different levels in different Kanban boards and by that allow teams to work on the level they are expected to, without dabbling with the bigger picture. So, in reality, a WBS realized with a set of hierarchical Kanban boards would look like this:
4. Benefits of the visual WBS Approach with Kanban
4.1 SEAMLESS MONITORING & TRACKING
When you’ve got all the information about a project’s progress available at a glance, it is very easy to see where things stand. Imagine the example below:
It is more than clear that the Internal and Foundation deliverables are already completed and the only one still being worked on is the External part of the work breakdown. There’s no need for any report, just a quick glance at the Kanban board and that’s all. Now imagine this view:
Not only it is very easy to see that the “External” deliverable is in progress, but, by the color of the sub-deliverables, you can also tell whether they’ve been completed, whether they are still in progress or not started. The grey color stands for “not started”, the orange color for “in progress” and the green means “done”.
4.2 EASY PRIORITIZATION
A frequent issue when working on a large project is that priorities get mixed up and people don’t always know what item to tackle first. If all work items are fed into a Kanban system or Kanban software, it is easy to prioritize items by putting the most important ones at the top and pushing lower priority items to the bottom.
If you want to reprioritize some of the work items, just move the item to the top of the queue. This would also give a visual signal to everyone involved in the process that the corresponding item is now more important, which improves the communication flow throughout the organization.
Ideally, a Kanban board would be visible not just internally, but also to external stakeholders (customers, senior management, etc.). When you have the status of all deliverables on a Kanban board, it is irrelevant to report on the status, as everyone can look at the board and just see for themselves. This removes the potential for human error from the equation, making the status consistently accurate. In organizations that follow the Kanban principles, all Kanban boards serve as visual information radiators usually displayed on large LCD displays. Here is what we ourselves at Kanbanize do – not only do we use the big 65’’ screen as an information radiator, but we also use it to run the daily standup meetings for all teams.
Another artifact, which is specific to Kanbanize, is the visual representation of the work breakdown structure. When you have implemented the parent/child relationships, you can check the visual representation of the dependencies in the analytics section of each Kanban board. With this color-coded distribution, you can instantly see the items in progress (orange), what has been completed (green) and what is still pending (blue).
4.4 ONE SYSTEM FOR PROJECT MANAGERS AND TEAM
In many cases, the only person looking at the work breakdown structure would be the project manager of the project and the team members would hardly know that it exists. This creates a disconnect between the project manager and the team, which is sometimes a root cause for conflict regarding priorities and unidentified dependencies. The option to build and manage WBS via a Kanban software system ensures a productive environment where the project manager can create the work breakdown structure, prioritize and hand over the work to the team within the very same tool. All the value-added from visualization and metrics collected out of the box comes at no additional cost.
4.5 PROCESS AUTOMATION
An item specific to the implementation of WBS with Kanbanize is the automated business rules. Using the business rules module allows you to configure the system so that all parent items are automatically moved to the correct position, based on the position of their children or also blocked/unblocked when their children are blocked/unblocked. The animation below demonstrates these scenarios.
The ideas presented above have been tested numerous times not just by the team at Kanbanize but also by multiple customers of the company. The instant visibility, easy prioritization and the ability to automate all processes in an organization is an attractive incentive that outweighs the minimal investment in time and resources to get this approach implemented.
To get started with your own implementation of a Kanban work breakdown structure, follow the link below and create your free trial now!
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