Taking a project and breaking it down into manageable, measurable parts is essential to complete any product. A product breakdown structure, or PBS, is one of the tools project managers use to make what might seem an overwhelming project an achievable, organized task. Despite their similar names, a product breakdown structure (PBS) and a work breakdown structure (WBS) should not be confused, as that will limit the effectiveness of either structure.
A PBS is a hierarchical structure that breaks down a product into its required components. The top is deliverable, and each subpart contains the necessary elements to make the final product a reality. A PBS is often visualized as a tree; the root is the final product, each node representing subcomponents and the leaf nodes being the most fundamental parts needed for each subcomponent to come to life.
A PBS helps illustrate each part or completed goal required for a project, ensuring every aspect is clear and that the connections between the deliverable and each subcomponent are understood. Having a PBS can demonstrate to clients or board members that the team tasked with the associated project has a clear picture of what is required.
While a PBS focuses only on things or completed goals, a work breakdown structure represents the necessary activities to acquire those things and results. It breaks down the project into stages, stages into tasks, and tasks into subtasks. The structure of a WBS is the same tree structure used in a PBS, but the tree's content focuses on the work needed to complete the project.
The distinction between these two indirectly related structures is critical; the clarity of purpose in both structures hangs on the assumption that actions needed to make parts stay separate from the parts themselves. Not being able to rely on this assumption undermines the utility that comes from their distinct goals; a PBS illustrates the complete picture of required parts that make up the whole, and a WBS, a clear layout of necessary work to complete the parts that make up the whole. Project managers use both for planning different aspects of the project.
Product breakdown structures enable a top-down design plan and verifiable project requirements and goals. The PBS establishes a deliverable that is agreeable to the team and client. It lays out what needs to be built or outsourced. Project managers can use a PBS to outline natural product milestones and maintain traceability.
In conjunction with a WBS, a PBS streamlines the planning process to maintain coherent goals and assignments to team members on the project. During the project proposal phase, it can allow for any underdeveloped components to be caught and better detailed for potential clients. It also helps team members maintain an overview of how the system works together as a whole while still being able to hone in on the particulars of their assignment, gathering all necessary information in one place for easy referencing. A PBS supports a logical delivery plan and confidence in a project's timeline and success.
Once a project is underway, a PBS can serve as a progress tracking tool, ensuring verifiable progress and providing natural quality control points for each subcomponent. Once each team’s assigned subcomponent is complete, that subcomponent can be tested for required functionality to ensure confidence in each subsequently completed component and the final product.
To the uninitiated, generating a PBS for a complex engineering project may be daunting. Flow is a globally distributed hardware development platform designed by SILSYNC to provide hardware teams with a single source of truth to accelerate the pace of project development and delivery. A key feature in Flow is a collaborative approach to starting and refining a PBS.
When creating a PBS with a team, Flow allows quick and easy restructuring of the components and subcomponents for the project, making the process of coming up with a final PBS document much quicker than in ordinary design iterations. It provides an interactive and intuitive way to navigate through a completed PBS by clicking on each node to expand the branches and a centralized point to see any associated files like engineering requirements. Removing potential friction points in the generating process makes an arduous task more manageable and quick.
Flow also allows for an easy reference for the development team for any accompanying data they may need in one place. It is simple and reliable to view the system as a whole or navigate to their specific component assignment with all the requirements, outsourcing, and other additional information in the same place.
The product breakdown structure, or PBS, lends powerful tools to project managers and engineers to verify that plans for a project are correct, coherent, and comprehensive, no matter how large or small. Ensuring that WBS attributes do not find themselves in the PBS maintains low risks of completing work without meeting the required goals. The PBS becomes a vital tracking tool throughout the project lifecycle, keeping a clear idea of progress and expectations for clients and the design team. Flow allows for a more collaborative process in designing a PBS on a globally distributed platform, removing common obstacles faced in remote hardware design.
Our vision is to accelerate the development of hardware to benefit humanity. If you’re interested in using SILSYNC Flow, please apply for early access here. For other questions, please email us at email@example.com.