Planning an OSS Project with WBS

Q. How do you eat a giant OctopOSS?
A. One mouthful at a time

How do you go about planning a large, multi-disciplinary project from scratch?

I start every significant project with a WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). It helps to brainstorm ideas and visualise the project, with all its inter-dependencies, as a whole. I start at the top of the tree and work my way down into the details. If (when more like it) I reach the limit of my knowledge on any given branch, I call upon the experts within that branch for help.

Once the draft is completed, the whole project is planned out on a page and the WBS goes out to all of the experts on the team for their critique and suggested improvements. They can see where they fit within the overall project and can identify key details that have been overlooked.

As you’ll notice in the following samples, I’ve refined my WBS method over the years. The more recent templates use colour-coding to designate the participants (ie the people, companies or business units) responsible for each activity in the WBS. I also use ticks to show which activities have already been completed. In some cases, I even indicate time/schedule against key activities.

The WBS numbering scheme can translate directly into a Gantt chart. I export from Visio as Excel / CSV files and then import into Project but I’m sure others have more efficient workflows. Whilst a Gantt chart is great for showing sequencing and duration, I find the WBS much better for visualising the whole project and communicating it to others.

There are some samples below:

  • Generic OSS WBS with multiple sub-projects (master on page 1, sub-project template on page 2)
  • Broader OSS WBS with a bunch of less common domains under management including BMS (Building Managment Systems)
  • Preparing an OSS Product Selection WBS including the process of running a Request for Proposal (RFP) and Proof of Concept (PoC) demonstration. This WBS is in one of my more modern formats with colour-coding and ticks
  • OSS Process WBS when preparing a carrier from scratch, this WBS shows a sample of all the different business units, processes and technologies that must be evaluated

I personally use Microsoft’s Visio Organisation Charts for creating these WBS charts, but there are many other tools you could also use.

If you find these templates helpful, I’d love to hear about your story, your project and any other enhancements that you’ve made to these templates

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