WBS of Small Things.

WBS is not only for Large Projects

 

Way back in 2005 when my daughter was all of 3 yrs old, my wife and I were planning to organize a birthday party. We both wanted to get the party done at home. We were not the kind who would book a fast food joint or some other such place and ask them to do the decoration and get the invitees to come to that place. Serving pizzas or burgers or some such meaningless snack to small kids was not really our cup of tea. We wanted to truly get involved and make kids feel truly at home. But how could we do that when everyone we knew opted for “outsourcing” their party. I was in a job then and handling a rather troublesome program, which made it kind of difficult to spend a lot of time on this birthday preparations. For nearly a week when things did not move forward I decided to sit with my wife early morning on a weekend (yes! We are one of those, who rise early even on a weekend. We both are morning persons.) and opened my favourite WBS tool called WBS Chart Pro on my oversized Dell latitude laptop. Those things were heavy then.

My wife was very sceptical about this whole exercise. She was a go getter kind of a person who valued action over planning. However, since I had made a special masala tea for her she grudgingly obliged to work with me on my oversized laptop. Very soon she was totally drawn into the exercise of making the WBS. After carefully ensuring that we had all the major deliverables in place we set upon breaking down each of the deliverables down one by one.

I had to explain the main rule of WBS, that while breaking down we never think in activities but in “Nouns” / deliverables. It took some getting used to for her, but soon she got into the rhythm and was literally crushing it. The more we would breakdown the different deliverables the more fog was lifting off our vision. We could literally envision the party at home. We even realized that we would need to request some aid to help us with the party and we zeroed in on some teenaged kids in our relations, who we could rely on. We were planning at very granular level and taking some very real decisions. By the time we finished the WBS we realized that we had been at it for over 4 hrs and we were seriously delayed in our breakfast timings.

Later that evening, instead of getting cosy after dinner, we decided to have a relook at the WBS we had made for the Birthday Celebrations that morning. I was already regretting my decision of getting my wife involved in making the WBS. Any way, once we opened up the WBS, we started simulating the entire birthday based on the smallest level deliverables (Workpackages). We soon realized that we would have to give the cake specifications such that the cake would fit between the shelfs in our refrigerator, or which room would the magicians would be asked to change in, from where to obtain the larger bin for safely collecting all the soiled disposable plates and cutlery once the kids finished eating. We went into so much details that we could make exact budget for each of the elements. We even organized a rudimentary first aid kid because we would have a ton of 3, 4 and 5 year olds running around our house. And when we saw that it was going out of budget we knew exactly where to cut down without affecting the overall quality and features of the birthday. With such amazing view of the entire project, we could even decide the exact games that would be conducted before food and which ones after, because kids cannot be expected to jump around a lot after consuming several helpings of food.

Prizes, return gifts and entertainment as well as the props of the entertainment identified and budgeted for. This took another 2 hrs.

What followed over the next week was one of the easiest execution we have ever seen for a personal project. We had divided the workpackages among us. There would be no overlap. The workpackages were so detailed that it was like a checklist and we did not have to connect with each other to reconfirm things. Every day we could see how things were getting done. We even tried out different magicians and tattoo artists to see which ones had the personality to work with kids. We even managed to invite our relation’s teenage kids and teach them how to take pics, what was their other roles and when to play the “Birthday Songs” etc. The prizes were marked and so were the return gifts. We were really ready.

I had already got a very beautiful and tasteful invitation card sent out to the invitees that were “Palm and Foot” stamped by our daughter. People just loved that novelty of idea.

The kids came over with their parents on the appointed day and at the appointed time. The parents went back and the party started. None of us was busy. The food was at the right places, the cutlery was all there, the sequence in which all the events would be held was all in place. My wife and I were completely involved with the invited kids. My mother was telling them stories and my father became the judge for the various competitive events. We had the cake cutting, the food, the games, the competitions, the prize giving, the singing and dancing and yes all this while every aspect of it was getting photographed by teenaged kids who were getting creative with cameras.

In fact the party was such a huge success that hardly any kid wanted to go back. The parents literally had to drag them out of our apartment and into their cars. After the party we knew what to get disposed off and how, what went where and who would clean up the house etc. We did not miss anything in the entire party. None of us had to make a sudden dash to the market to get something that we had forgotten or got too busy in taking care of firefights then and there. The entire birthday hardly cost us anything and yet it was one of the most amazing party the invited kids had ever seen.

What followed was year after year of birthday parties organized at our home and only by us. What changed was the new suggestions (read that demands) from our daughter and we would lightly alter the WBS for the birthday and voila, we have the entire plan ready for the birthday in just under 15 minutes.

The only time the invited kids felt a little let down when on my Daughters 13th Birthday we did not conduct the party at our home. It was done in an adventure park. During the years so many other parents had taken copies of my Birthday WBS from me, having come to hear the unbelievable praises about the party from their kids.

 

We have been invited to so many parties where we found parents missing something completely, or so busy rushing around for the last minute firefighting that the invitees were feeling neglected, even in some cases we found an instant face-off between the inviting couple because each thought that certain work was to be done by the other. Lots of money spent, celebrations not up to the mark, neglected invitees and all this coupled with conflicts and stress. Whatever happened to those celebrations? This is one of the reasons why a lot of people “outsource” entire event which, well, get a tad bit impersonal. Well that is just our thinking and may not be a rule.

My wife was also hooked to WBS soon. She would use it for our travel plans, other parties and even during the time when my mother got sick due to cancer, to ensure she had the best medical care possible, and she did. However the cancer did take her away from us. Somethings in life one just cannot overcome.

When my daughter turned 16 yrs old, we were to take her on her first international trip. I introduced the WBS to her and told her my budget and then she got going. She would come back from school to spend some time planning and researching on the internet for a few hours and after 2 months of her work she told me that she was ready with the plan. I was ready to punch holes in her plans but soon I found that it was very difficult to do so. She had made a very granular WBS and made such a researched plan that she was actually saving some money from the overall budget. She had even come down to the level of daily list of locations and sites to visit, using which combination of trains and busses and by using which tourist pass. I was impressed. But to be honest, it was not so much the skills of my daughter but the use of a proper tool called WBS that allowed her to make such an amazingly detailed and practical plan. WBS helps you see your entire project in front of you in such details that you are able to get creative and do some alternative analysis as well. WBS gives you the luxury to become creative. Without WBS people become too busy just doing basic stuff and that too under immense stress.

Since in our entire life we have never ever opted for a “Package Tour” and plan everything ourselves, I gave the “tour guide hat” to our daughter and when in Japan it was her duty to chart out the route entirely herself right down to the “T”.

WBS is one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal or project management. However most people are so busy using it in large professional projects that they do not realized that WBS can be used for smaller personal projects too that would end up making life much easier and lot less chaotic.

Start using WBS even for smaller things and see how you end up utilizing your time better, have far lesser stress and start enjoying even the smaller things in life.