Bryan’s Blog: Why Use Work Breakdown Structures and Process Flow Diagrams as Risk Tools

There are many disciplines that can learn from risk management and quid pro quo, risk management can learn from other disciplines. Project management and process engineering are two disciplines that have delivered tools that I find extremely useful – Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) and Process Flow Diagrams (PFDs).

Below are a number of internet references to information about what Work Breakdown Structures (WBSs) and Process Flow Diagrams (PFDs) are and how to create and use them in their traditional roles. Both help in detailing design and implementation requirements.

WBSs and PFDs are useful in risk assessment because they help identify risks using the lateral thinking technique coined by Edward de Bono as “focus”. By focusing in on each area of the project or process, team members can concentrate on considering the risk factors associated with the individual element of the project or process rather than as a whole. It may help to identify key issues that are not evident at the higher level.

In space shuttle–speak,, it is focussing on each component, down to the smallest “o” ring.

Whether you use a WBS or a PFD is really a choice of whether you wish to treat the subject of the risk assessment as a project or a process. For example, if you are assessing risk for introducing a new accounting system you could do a WBS (as it is a project), or a PFD (as it will most likely be a new process) or both if the project is important enough to you.

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)

  1. Wikipedia – This is a good summary.
  2. Google Images – A number of good examples of what a WBS may look like.
  3. – Significant detail about building a WBS for advanced project management purposes.

Process Flow Diagrams (PFDs)

  1. Wikipedia – PFDs emanated from the process industries eg oil and gas. This is a good summary from the point of view of such a process. It is equally applicable however to other processes, such as a manufacturing production line.
  2. Google Images – A number of good examples of PFDs.
  3. – Explanation of some common symbols used in PFDs and their usual meaning.

UPDATE April 2018: As we all know things move on and lo and behold a new process flow app has come to my attention – Creately. Check out their great blog about the art and the detail of process flow diagrams.