Why a Work Order Breakdown Structure is Necessary… In Home Improvement Projects!

I was recently engulfed by a swell of home improvement projects. My husband and I generally tackle these projects ourselves. This has gotten more complicated since I started the weekend program, as you can imagine. I usually act as the ‘project manager’ because of my past experience working with my family’s construction company.  I’ll tell you now, I’m not a great project manager – I tend to keep everything stored in my head and with me being so busy with grad school this has complicated things.

We were moving out of our two flat and moving into a single family home. The two flat is a vintage 1920’s building and needs pretty routine upkeep and repairs. To make things a little more complicated, the single family home we bought is a fixer upper. The floors had to be done before we could move in but the ceiling had to be scraped, mudded, sanded, primed and painted before we could do the floors. Once we moved out of the two flat we had to clean up and paint out unit so the upstairs neighbors could move downstairs and then we had to clean up the second floor unit to list it and rent it. As you can see, a long chain of activities was developing!

There are priority jobs and wish list jobs. Without us both being focused on the priority jobs we both were a tending toward wish list jobs and experiencing scope creep!!! We had a couple of To-Do list floating around that we were both checking items off of as we went.

I realize now that, if we had started by making a work break down structure and then creating a project network, things could have been more efficient and smooth. Perhaps it would have been less overwhelming had we taken more time on the front end to map out our tasks! I went back to our To-Do lists and made a partial work breakdown and process map. The hubs agreed that it would have been easier had we done this at the front end.

Upgrade from To-Do Lists!
Upgrade from To-Do Lists!

Since the work break down structure is not a project plan but a list of the deliverables, taking the time to both create the work break down structure and the project process planning is highly advantageous!

There are lots of projects in our future but I don’t think I’ll ever again tackle another project without a written out and communicated on work break down structure!!

The Process!
The Process!

Now, on to the next project!

What other non-work spaces can you use a work breakdown structure and project network?
What mishaps have you had that could have been avoided if you had used a work breakdown structure?


7 thoughts on “Why a Work Order Breakdown Structure is Necessary… In Home Improvement Projects!

  1. This is a great post! I have done many renovations to my condo in the past few years, and would agree a Work Breakdown Structure would have been beneficial! Specifically this January, I was renovating my master bathroom at the same time I was installing new flooring through the entire unit. As the days approached, I begin to see I should have scheduled differently, because I didn’t take into account my normal, everyday living! I pretty much lived out of my bedroom for an entire week.

    I could also see a WBS being beneficial in other areas of life that require detailed planning. Throwing a party might also be a good example, as there are always things that get forgotten or left behind.

  2. Awesome post Emilie! First of all, congrats on the new home! It sounds like you two had a wonderful time together 😉 The after pictures make you guys look like pros! If you’re ever interested in some painting gigs on the side I know someone who can use the help…

    I can definitely relate, especially over the past two months. We just wrapped up a major basement remodel and at the same time we were remodeling our master bath. The funniest issue we ran in to was not being able to shower at home for two days due to my poor planning. We have another full bath, but the shower drain needed to be disconnected when they were doing the basement ceiling. My wonderful wife woke up, stepped into our downstairs shower, and then realized there was a gaping hole where the drain was supposed to be. I won’t elaborate on what she said to me next… Boy, a work breakdown structure sure would have saved my virgin ears from that abuse.

  3. That’s so funny Damion! We had a similar experience when we first bought the two flat back in ‘09. We closed in the beginning of September and moved in right away. There was still the original boiler from 1920 in the place; it was the size of a small car! We were having a new, super small, energy efficient one put in but they couldn’t get us on the schedule until the 2nd week of October. Of course there ended up being a brutal cold snap those couple of weeks, it was a rough!! I took a lot of showers at the gym that month! Luck would have it that as soon as boiler when in the weather warmed right back up. We didn’t end have to kick it on until way late November! Ah, such is life under construction!

  4. Speaking of boilers, ours was also original (1928) to the fixer-upper we bought right before my husband and I both started our masters programs (great timing). It seriously looked like the boiler from Home Alone. Anyway, of course it worked in the home inspection and not when it got cold. After a week of cuddling with our puppy under blankets, I finally called a repair guy. Of course, we decided to replace it instead of repair. What should have been an easy one day job turned into a day of hauling out the old boiler, a day of installing the new, and then 4 days of looking for our expansion tank. During this time, my in-laws came to stay with us, we had to have a hole cut into the attic (it wasn’t there), we had about 8 different guys traipse through our entire house, and I missed days of work for all of this. In the end, there was no expansion tank and after 2 weeks, we had heat. Granted, they also lectured us on replace the air filter monthly – which we don’t have in a boiler. I am not sure a work plan would have helped us in this situation, but it may have helped the company. For one, definitely disconnect between what the sales guy promised and what the workers could deliver. I see this as a problem in many projects.
    Side note to all contractors – don’t just speak to the men you see in the house. The guys kept talking to my father-in-law instead of to me. I was equally angry that he answered, but so not cool.

  5. So funny. I feel your pain!

    The good news is it gets easier. We are on property number four now and have benefited from the “lessons learned” portion of our home improvements.

    The best thing we did with the current house is…bought it early. We used a bridge loan to buy it three months ahead of our August move in date. There was plenty of time to do all the major work involved.

  6. This is awesome! I’m glad to see that you were finally able to give your plans some structure. My husband and I are going through the same thing. Our house is a mere 41 years old and most of all of the interior is original. Needless to say, 1970s decor is in no way “timeless.” It is atrocious. This awful decor is most noticeable in the bathrooms and kitchen. Each bathroom has a different theme color. The powder room has a pink toilet, pink sink, and pink wallpaper with flowers. The hall bath: medium blue toilet, tub, and sink with powder blue wallpaper. The master bath has a canary yellow toilet, tub, and sink to accent navy wallpaper with yellow stripes AND pink, purple,and white flowers. I have no idea what material was used to make the counter tops, but I know it is not naturally occurring.

    Then there is the the kitchen, three words: avocado green sink. Unfortunately, that is the least egregious feature of the whole kitchen.

    I say all of this to illustrate that we have tons of projects and have neither the time nor budget to tackle them all at once. We have been working on getting estimates, prioritizing the work, and planning what makes the most sense to do and in what order to do them. I think that after I am done with this program, I will follow your lead and use the project management tools to create a WBS of the individual projects.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. I think this is an awesome practical use of our WBS, and shows that these tools can be applicable to all types of projects. I personally liked the WBS because it did allow you to list off the thoughts and action items, and then allows to group or order them to help tackle a project with multiple components. My husband and i just spent a year renovating our new house and wish I knew about this tool for that project as well, as it would have helped us to prioritize and monitor or budget better. Thanks for highlighting this practical application.

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