Work breakdown structure (WBS), a tool of project management for legal departments

Your legal department has to ramp up to accomplish a large acquisition. Because large projects such as this involve many activities, your lawyers need some way to determine what will need to be done so that they can manage time, costs, and ultimately expectations. Skilled project managers often accomplish this, according to William J. Stevenson, Operations Management (McGraw-Hill, 2005, 8th Ed.) at 735, by developing a work breakdown structure, which is a hierarchical listing of what must be done during a project.

A WBS for a project (Level 1) looks like an org chart, with the major elements of the project at the next level down, Level 2. Each major activity (due diligence, corporate structure, tax coordination, financial issues) has several boxes below it, which are the Level 3 tasks. Level 4 lists the supporting activities for Level 3, and so on down if necessary.

It might take a legal department staff some time to develop a comprehensive WBS for a large acquisition, electronic discovery in a major investigation, or establishment of a joint venture, but the effort is the basis for developing time and cost estimates(See my post of June 24, 2007: project management with 5 references; and Dec. 2, 2007: Gantt charts.)

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