Product Breakdown Diagrams with PMO Learning

Product Breakdown Diagrams

When working in a PMO, we often come across Product Breakdown Diagrams (PBD), a document which seeks to establish the components which will comprise to form the final project product. A simple way to understand Product Breakdown Diagrams is as the shopping list for the project – what items do we need to deliver the product? Whilst this may sound like a simple concept, when we delve into what products may actually entail, and what others in the PMO think such products should entail, complications can arise.

What should be included in a Product Breakdown Diagram?

The first thing that must be established is that the PBD must be comprised of “things” and not “work”. Whilst the diagram may be used to help produce a Work Breakdown Structure, which may be comparable to a project to-do-list, the purpose of a Product Breakdown Diagram is to dissect ‘a “Main Project Product” into its constituent parts in the form of a hierarchical structure’ (Association for Project Management)

Applying some context to a Product Breakdown Diagram

In the PPSO Essentials course, we are introduced to the idea of a PBD in the context of making a family meal; the trainer, Eileen, uses the example of sausage and mash. A seemingly simple product, that perfectly demonstrates where complications arise when producing Product Breakdown Diagrams.

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It might seem obvious what constitutes the ingredients for sausage and mash – surely the clue is in the title?

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However, we need to be very specific when producing such diagrams – what type of sausages should we use? Where some would choose a classic Cumberland, others may choose a chicken sausage, a flavoured sausage, even a vegetarian sausage?

The same can be said for the mash – during the course each delegate had a different recipe for mashed potatoes, some used butter, others used milk, cream, or left potatoes plain. Even the type of potatoes was disputed. Here we begin to understand where difficulties often arise in projects, each individual may have a different interpretation of the project brief, and so details must be specific.

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Furthermore, when producing a PBD we cannot assume that anything is “unspoken”. Is the meal complete with just sausages and potato? Probably not. What other components must be considered?

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We must also consider the boundaries of Time, Cost and Quality, the three constraints project managers are constantly driven by. Let us consider Quality and Cost. Adding cream to the mashed potatoes may, in theory, add a luxurious element to the dish, but does it comply with the agreed quality scope? Will it cause the project to go over budget?

Now let’s consider Time. Making the Yorkshire puddings yourself will add time to the project timeline, potentially diverging from the Activity Diagram, and even straying away from the Critical Path, meaning the project cannot be completed within the agreed time scope. Furthermore, if the Yorkshire puddings were not successful, the quality scope may also not be met by a significant margin.

A key, and often overlooked, part of creating a Product Breakdown Diagram is managing expectations. As mentioned before, adding cream to the mash might add an indulgent flair to the meal, however if it doesn’t meet the quality scope, it is not necessary.

Furthermore, we have only considered the ingredients required, and not the preparation and cooking equipment needed, adding a whole new layer of complexities. Should the sausages be cooked in the oven or fried? Should the vegetables be boiled or steamed? How do each of these methods comply with Time/Cost/Quality restrictions?

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These kinds of decisions also fuel further discussions for the project, such as a Work Breakdown Structure, sequencing, resource planning, staffing planning etc.

Understanding Product Breakdown Diagrams

Hopefully, we now have a greater understanding of the complexity of Product Breakdown Diagrams. If the PBD for a simple family meal is this complex, imagine how complex one may look for implementing a new IT system? Or for huge Government products such as HS2?

Such complexities demonstrate why Product Breakdown Diagrams are such a vital stage in project planning. It is pivotal that the scopes of the project are clearly defined, understood and adhered to, that all those involved in the planning have a universal understanding of the components involved in successful product delivery, and how specific the product breakdown must be.

Who knew sausage and mash could be so complex!

Looking to understand Product Breakdown Diagrams, Activity Diagrams, and gain an entry-level qualification in Project Support? Join us on our PPSO Essentials five day virtual course, or find out what PMO Learning’s virtual courses are all about!

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