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Are All Those Project Management Tools Really Needed?

April 17, 2015
Richard Perrin


The tools described in this white paper are essential PM tools. Tools that will best be used, regardless of the project, are the WBS, communication model, and the precedence diagram. The other tools will be needed depending on the project.


There are a number of tools useful in the execution of a project that are listed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)-Fifth Edition. Are all those tools always necessary and is your project at risk if you don't have them? We are going to examine some of the major tools listed in the PMBOK® Guide, find out how and where they're used, and see what it will take you, the project manager (PM), to learn how to use the tools.

The Work Breakdown Structure

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the work package supposed to take between eight and 80 hours of discrete effort to complete it. The idea in setting up a work breakdown structure is that all of the effort for a project can be described with a work breakdown structure. A work breakdown structure (WBS) is simply a pictorial representation of all the work needed to fulfill the goal of the project. An example is shown below.

You will notice the following about the WBS:

- It looks like an organizational chart, not a timeline.

- Cross-functional dependencies are not shown in the chart. If cross-functional dependencies between work packages were to be shown, the viewer would see a veritable rat's nest of wires crisscrossing the page.

- For every numbered work package, there is a corresponding "work breakdown structure dictionary page" (i.e., a detailed description of what goes into the work package, who is doing the work, etc.).

How necessary is this tool? Let's put it this way-setting up a work breakdown structure is the equivalent of creating blueprints for a construction project. If you've never done this before do not worry; the newest version of Visio contains a function for creating a WBS. Additionally, Microsoft Project has an add-in called WBS Pro that easily creates a WBS. Getting up to speed on this tool is just a matter of practice-the more you practice the better you'll be.

As Figure 2 shows, we are looking at a network diagram with logical relationships. While the PMBOK® Guide puts an emphasis on performing the precedence relationship manually, there are a number of automated tools such as Primavera and Microsoft Project that enable the creation of precedence diagrams easily.

How necessary are these tools? If the project plan is only 20 or 30 lines, you can probably get away with using Microsoft Excel as a project planning tool. However, if the project plan is a few hundred to several thousand lines (for example, a project plan of several hundred thousand lines might require a Primavera Master Scheduler), you may need a software tool to keep track of project elements. Creating a diagram (like the one shown above) in Microsoft Project might take the user a weekend's worth of preparation but it is well worth the effort. This is useful for a construction project (or a project similar to a construction project) where the product is fundamentally plan-driven. For agile or adaptive projects, it is recommended that an adaptive tool is used such as VersionOne.

In either case, it will take a few days of instruction or about a week's worth of individual effort to get up to speed tool like Microsoft Project or VersionOne. 

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