Product Breakdown Structure Toolkit
If your are familiar with PRINCE2 pre-20091, you’ll know that it recommended the use of a number of techniques, one of which is Product Based Planning. A Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) is an essential part of this, its purpose being to define the products (deliverables) of a project and how they relate to each other.
Product Based Planning has four components:
Product Description: a description of the overall project deliverables. In practice the Business case should describe what the project is to deliver, so MMU does not require a formal Product Description separately from the Business case.
PBS, which is the subject of this toolkit.
Product Descriptions: detailed descriptions of each product (deliverable) that goes to make up the final product. In practice a large project may have hundreds of products and it is felt that the creation and maintenance of individual Product Descriptions may be unnecessary. Each project manager should decide whether this is an appropriate part of their project documentation. A Product Description template is available if required.
Product Flow diagram: this shows the sequence that the products will be delivered. This is covered in a separate Activity Network toolkit.
2. Why have a PBS?
PRINCE2 describes a PBS as “a hierarchical structure that breaks down a final product into its constituent sub-products. It helps the planner to think of what other products are needed to build the final product, and to clarify all necessary work for the creation of that final product.”2 Another similar technique used by project managers is to create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). A WBS is the same idea, but instead of identifying the products, you identify the work. PBS seems a more logical approach as the aim of a project is to create the products, and the work is a by-product of that. So PBS focuses on products first – the work identification comes later. Thus the reason for creating a PBS is to help identify all the products you have to create within the project in order to deliver the overall product, and to link them in logical groups.
3. Creating a PBS
PRINCE2 defines different types of product and suggests creating PBS charts for each type – for example it differentiates between management products (e.g. the Business case, the project plan, the risk log) and specialist products (the things that the project is there to produce, e.g. the new IT system, the new building).
At MMU the focus is on the latter – it is not felt to be necessary to build a PBS for management products as the project management framework defines what documentation should be used for different types of project.
Specialist products comprise the top level products that make up the final product, plus all the subproducts that go into creating those top level products. If a top level product doesn’t need to be broken down into sub-products, it’s called a simple product. The ones that can be broken down are called intermediate products. The following diagram for a “project” to make a cup of tea illustrates the idea. 1
The newest version on PRINCE2, released in 2009, no longer includes specific techniques as part of the methodology, though it still states that an appropriate set of techniques is a requirement for project management. 2
OGC (2005) Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, TSO, London, p293
MMU Product Breakdown toolkit (v1)
The diagram shows that a cup of tea is made up of four products: the kettle intermediate group, the cup intermediate group, the tea simple product and the milk simple product. The kettle and cup each have three sub-products.
Note that the PBS does not show sequence, though for something as simple as this example parts of the sequence can be implied, e.g. you get the kettle, fill it with water and bring the water to the boil. Similarly you get the cup, wash it and then put the boiled...
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