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Using Mind-Mapping Software for Creating a Work Breakdown Structure

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This post was originally published on the PMI Legal-Project Management Community of Practice members-only blog.

Most lawyers would benefit from the project-management practice of decomposing their legal matters--breaking down the work into more manageable and easier-to-measure components. An important tool for doing this is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). A WBS is an excellent device to help ensure you have accounted for all work to be done for a matter and is an effective communication aid when discussing a matter with your team members and clients. It is an important part of scoping out your work and an early step in estimating the time and resources required to complete the work.

The creation of a WBS, however, can be a rather involved process. The Project Management Institute has even published a Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures (also, the PDF version is free for PMI members). At 123 pages of less-than-riveting process descriptions, most lawyers will find it more useful as a sleep aid than as tool to help them manage their cases. Like all of the PMI standards, it is targeted at professional project managers, seeks to capture best practices that apply to most industries, and is most useful for very large and/or complex projects. 
For many legal matters, the formal WBS process described in the WBS Practice Standard creates an unnecessary amount of process overhead. The WBS Practice Standard is a great reference to have on hand to get general idea of how a WBS is used by professional project managers and to give you some ideas on how to break out your work, but most legal professionals won't have the time or interest in learning and applying PMI's WBS standards. The good news is that you do not have to have a PMP certification to reap the benefits of a WBS; nobody is going to arrest or fine you if your WBS is not "standard"; and you do not need to buy and learn expensive and complicated software to create one.
A WBS is basically an outline of all work that needs to be done on a project, broken down by deliverables, which are further broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces of work, called "components." The planned work in the lowest-level WBS components are called "work packages," which are components that, according to the PMBOK Guide, "can be scheduled, cost estimated, monitored, and controlled."  A WBS is often confused with a task list. It is not. Whomever is responsible for a given work package will likely further decompose the work into activities. While professional project managers typically key these activities to the work packages, a process that software like Microsoft Project makes fairly easy, it is not necessary to have a fully integrated system to make good use of a WBS.
A good trick I've found for getting legal teams to make time for developing a WBS is to use mind-mapping software in matter-planning meetings, projecting the mind map onto a screen to serve as the focal point of the discussions. Mind-mapping software makes it very easy to quickly capture information during a discussion. It takes care of the formatting for you and is designed to make it simple to quickly input and move components around. Many mind-mapping applications offer an organizational-chart (also called "tree structure") format. I prefer a top-down org-chart format for my WBS charts. My favorite mind-mapping application is XMind, which offers a free version and a subscription-based professional version that provides additional presentation and export options. A solid open-source option is Freemind.


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On November 3, the Project Management Institute's Legal Project Management Community of Practice will host a webinar on how to brainstorm to create a legal-project plan, presented by Mark Lassiter, a partner at Davis Miles PLLC, and Amanda P., Directo... Read More

On February 9th, the Project Management Institute's Legal Project Management Community of Practice will host a webinar on how to avoid common mistakes when communicating to influence lawyers, presented by  Skip Weisman, owner of Weisman Success R... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on February 4, 2011 11:00 PM.

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