What is Decomposition technique in Project Management?

In 2004, during my PMP exam preparation, tutor told us that decomposition is a technique for WBS creation. Till that time, I have heard about decomposition when I was in school only in subjects like biology and chemistry.

Biology says – Decomposition refers to the reduction of organic materials into simpler forms of matter.

Chemistry says – Decomposition is the dividing a chemical compound into elements.

From above, we can generalize the definition of decomposition – it is dividing a large piece into smaller and simpler pieces.

Now, it is turn of Project Management on decomposition. Decomposition is an important technique used in WBS creation (Scope Management) and definition of activities (Time Management).

Decomposition in Project Management

In scope management, project deliverables are subdivided into smaller and more manageable components until the work and deliverables are defined to the work package level. This is called as decomposition.

Decomposition of project scope generally involves the following activities:

* Gather information on major project deliverables and analyze related tasks

* Start development of work breakdown structure(WBS) at the highest level

* Decompose the upper WBS levels into lower level detailed components

* Identify each work package & WBS components with unique code, and

* Verify if the degree of decomposition of the work is necessary and sufficient

* No. of Levels of WBS need not be same for all deliverables

But excessive decomposition may lead to more work without much value for the time spent. It can also leads to inefficient use of resources, and decreased work efficiency. So, knowing few basics about work package helps us in deciding the level of decomposition. Few of them are:

* Work package is the lowest level of WBS

* Usually, a work package is the quantum of work which is assigned to a single resource as a whole and produces a verifiable outcome

* Project’s cost and schedule estimation is done at work package level

* The accuracy of these estimations depends on the level of detailed work package that is defined

* The level to which work packages need to be detailed vary from project to project

In Time Management, each work package within the WBS is decomposed into the activities required to produce the work package deliverables.

Take this scenario:

You are a software developer. You need to solve a customer bug. What do you? You will:

First, identify the activities you need to execute to reproduce the customer issue.

Then, modify the software code to rectify the issue.

Lastly, deploy the fix at customer end.

Congrats! you have performed decomposition & activity sequencing successfully.

Your list may contain more activities than what I listed above. Here, we subdivided a work package into smaller and manageable components of activities. This is often performed by the project team members responsible for the work package. Activities are vital input in performing a work. Correct level of decomposition in time management can produce accurate estimate of schedule & timely completion of project.

Always remember, next level of decomposition is possible only when we have clear understanding of deliverables at a particular level.

3 thoughts on “What is Decomposition technique in Project Management?

  1. Cost and schedule planning can be done at any WBS level, even level 0. If you’re rolling out a software bug fix, you should add a testing step in the WBS. I recommend spell/grammar check.

  2. Babou, it’s a nice article!
    I like how you used both definitions of decomposition to draw a new definition in terms of PM.
    A clear, big-picture view of the decomposition technique is given; I found it very useful for me.
    I would add that work decomposition along with WBS technique is widely used in projects managed under the ideas of PMBOK.

  3. Decomposition follows what scholars often refer: ‘reductionist’ approach. You breakdown a system into smaller, more manageable elements and deal with them in isolation.

    Despite its usefulness, the approach is often criticized due to its inability to handle ‘systemic’ problems.

    boed | budihartono.wordpress.com

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