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Work Breakdown Structure for a Shipyard Project – Interview

On this article I want to share with you one of my interviews with Cornelius Fichtner (one of the most important person in project management world) about how to create a WBS for ship repair projects and also how to use my WBS approach for other industries as well.

Below you can find the audio of the interview and the interview script!! Enjoy it!!

Please click here to listen to the interview right now…

The PM Podcast™ – Episode 358

Work Breakdown Structure for a Shipyard Project (Free) Transcript

Presented by

Fernando Remolina, PMP

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM


The information contained in this transcript is a textual representation of a PM Podcast™ episode and while efforts are made to provide an accurate transcription, there may be material errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in the reporting of the substance of the lecture. Please refer to the original audio as the authoritative source.


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Episode 358: Work Breakdown Structure for a Shipyard Project (Free)

Podcast Introduction

About The PM Podcast: Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a project management trainer who helps his students with their PMP Exam prep, and since 2005 he has published hundreds of interviews with project managers from around the world.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #358. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at PM Podcast and I’m Cornelius Fichtner. Before we start, please don’t forget that we are a listener supported podcast. If you enjoy our interviews, then please visit Your subscription will help keep us going.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a powerful project management planning and controlling tool. It is the backbone to planning and managing scope on any project, and as you will hear in our interview, every ship repair project must have it.

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Fernando Remolina ( is a project management professional and works for the Curacao Drydock Company in ship repair, engineering and ship conversion. In his many years of working in shipyard project management, he realized that managing the scope is both central and vital and that the WBS is the tool to use, –and his successful projects are the proof.

So he set out to help others in his industry and wrote the article “WBS for Ship Repair Projects”. But here is the good news: First of all his article offers a fascinating look at shipbuilding project management and second, his review of how to apply and use a WBS can easily be applied to many other types of projects and industries.

So let’s cast off. Enjoy the interview.


Podcast Interview

Female Voice: Project Management Podcast’s feature interview: Today with Fernando Remolina, project manager at Curacao Drydock Company, project management author and public speaker.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Fernando! Welcome to the program!

Fernando Remolina: Hi, Cornelius!  Thank you for inviting me to this interview.  For me, it’s a pleasure.

Cornelius Fichtner: Wonderful! Before we get started, let me ask you a fun question because, it’s in the Caribbean, it’s just north of Venezuela. What is it like to live in a paradise? Or at least what many of us who live on a big continent think, “Curacao that has to be a paradise!” What is it like to live there?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah. Well, Curacao is an island located in the Caribbean and it is part of the Netherlands Kingdom. Living here is like a never-ending vacation. The sun is always shining and in a few minutes of driving, you can get crystal clear water beaches and all kinds of restaurants. In general, Cornelius, it’s amazing.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay. We are now all officially jealous.

Fernando Remolina: Yeah.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah. So the shipping services is one of the major industries, right?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah, right. Curacao has three major industries where ships are involved. Because Curacao is an island, normally all the goods are shipped by sea. So, it has a container port. On the other hand, the island also has a refinery where ships arrive for oil loading and unloading and of course, the last but not the least, we have the shipyard for ship repairs.

Cornelius Fichtner: And what prompted you to write an article about using a WBS, a Work Breakdown Structure for Ship Repair Projects? What was the reason for this?

Fernando Remolina: You know Cornelius, I have a personal mission in the ship repair industry. I have been working in this industry for almost 10 years and since five years ago when I got my PMP certification, I started to apply the PMI standard to my projects realizing that they were more organized, finishing on time and on budget.

I have worked for three different shipyards so far and none of them has used a recognized project management standard. But don’t get me wrong; they have set their own project management process, but probably all other shipyards in the world do so. My intention is to show the professionals who work in this industry that you can apply all the project management tools and have successful projects.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah. So to recap for everybody, would you please remind us:  What is a WBS? What is a Work Breakdown Structure?

Fernando Remolina: Yes, of course. The PMBOK has a formal definition for the WBS. Up here, I want to bring forward also the definition from the author of the book “Secrets to Mastering the WBS in Real World Projects”, written by Liliana Buchtik. I want to mix both of them. So my mixed definition is: A WBS is a hierarchical decomposition that tells you what to deliver in the project; not the “when” or “how” to deliver.

So the “when” and the “how” are parts of the schedule, actually. The “how” are the activities and the task relationships, and the when is the activity durations in a time frame. So you need both of them, the “when” and the “how” to achieve the “what”, it is being the scope that you have in the WBS.

Cornelius Fichtner: OK, So it is very important to remember this fact that you also stressed out in your article; that WBS doesn’t tell us the “how” or the “when” of what we deliver. Why is that? Why doesn’t the WBS tell us that?

Fernando Remolina: Yes, exactly. As I mentioned, the “what” is the scope and the “when” and “how” are parts of the schedule. So the “how” are the activities and the task relationship between them and the “when” is the activity durations that you set in a time frame. So we need both of them to achieve the “what”, and the “what” is the scope stated in the WBS.

Cornelius Fichtner: So much for the theory. Now, let’s move on into using the WBS, actually on a ship repair project. What are some of the top benefits that make the WBS so useful for ship repair?

Fernando Remolina: Well, here we have the #1 is to define the scope. This is the normal benefit that you get from the WBS, also you can apply for the ship repair.

The #2 is to create a logic schedule. Later I will explain how to use this to create a logic schedule.

And the #3 is to set priorities. Also, very important for me, when I have the WBS, I can see all the scope and I can start to set priorities. And then, I will use it in the schedule.

Cornelius Fichtner: Is it possible to perform a ship repair without a WBS?

Fernando Remolina: Actually, for me personally, it is not possible to perform a ship repair without a WBS.

Cornelius Fichtner: Why is that?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah, because you need it, of course. You need to see your scope. You need to graphically see the scope, but let me tell you something, Cornelius. In the beginning of my career as a project manager, I did many projects without the WBS. So at the end, it is possible but not correct.

Cornelius Fichtner: So now, we want to look at the four steps that you suggest in your article of how to use the WBS in a ship repair project. Step 1 is collect input documents. What are these documents that we collect?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah. Here we have two documents. One is the Tender and the other one is the requirement list.

The Tender, Cornelius, is a document that comes from the commercial department. It’s handed over to the assigned project manager. The Tender contains the job list with the description and the prices for each job but in a random order. To refer this document into project management language, I can say it’s like a statement of work.

Then we have the requirement list and this requirement list has been created by me actually, in order to control the project activities. But then I start to improve it with every project. And now, it is a very important document for planning and controlling. Why for planning? Because I draw first the information from the Tender to the Excel file with more relevant information.

So my WBS can be done easier for controlling because this is my checklist when I go on board for daily meetings with my client and project team.

Cornelius Fichtner: What exactly do we do with these documents? I mean, the step says “collect input documents”. Do we just gather them and put them in a binder or is there an analysis that we do? Do we read them? Do we disseminate them somehow?

Fernando Remolina: Exactly. You have to analyze it and keep it nearby because without those documents, you cannot create a WBS for the projects.  These documents are the requirements so you need it. You need to organize it in such a way and you organize it with your requirement list and then you can create the WBS.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right. And these documents are needed so that we can later on develop the WBS.

Fernando Remolina: Exactly. They are very, very important.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright. Step 2: divide the ship per location and systems. I have never worked on a ship so can you first explain: What do you mean by location and systems for someone like myself who has no background in the shipping industry whatsoever.

Fernando Remolina: Actually to divide the ship per location and system is like to divide the project in sub projects in such a way that you can manage them better.

For example, in a house building project, let’s take a very simple and common example. A house building project, you can divide it per location. That means you can have the master room, living room, main bath room, kitchen, etc. But then, also you can have systems in that house − that can be the electrical system, boiling system, drain, sewage, etc. − so that you can organize the project in such a way depending on the job requested by the client.

So you will see, you will receive, you will see the analysis and all the requirements and just start to define if you need to put it per location or per system, always thinking about the schedule.

Cornelius Fichtner: Do we have to do both? Do we have to do it by location and system or is there one preferred way?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah. That depends on the requirements, Cornelius.  They have to analyze what you have and then you will decide if you will take it per location or system.

I can give you an example with the ships. Example, if I have the engine room where the main engine, big engine of the ship is located but over there, you can have some mechanical jobs. You can have some steel jobs. You can have some cleaning jobs. So for me, this will be a location. The engine room is one of the big deliverables and you have to finish all the tasks that I mentioned so that area, that big deliverable or that project is finished.

But for example, let’s talk about the same main engine room. Maybe the client requests to work on the main engine and on the main engine, you can have bulb, you can have pipes, you can have painting. So this will be a system because the main engine is a system. So I need to coordinate that special system and in such a way you avoid interferences or safety issues, things like that. So that’s basically the idea to divide it per location or systems.

Cornelius Fichtner: And of course, everything overlaps like you have just explained. The engine is in the engine room, so location and systems overlap. Are we talking about sub-projects here?

Fernando Remolina: Yes, actually we can talk about sub-projects but just thinking about scheduling and scope. Not actually that you have to create, for example, according to PMI standard, to create a project charter and separate WBS on separate schedule. It is not intentional; I just call it sub-project because you have to see it in the way you can schedule and avoid interference and that overlapping. So you need to do it in such a good sequence.

Cornelius Fichtner: Absolutely. So we are talking more about developing the work packages for the WBS based on locations, based on systems and potentially creating those work packages based on sub-projects as well.

Fernando Remolina: Exactly.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright. So those were the first two steps: collect input documents and then divide the ship per location and systems. The third step is “define the software to be used”.  Do you have any specific criteria for us on how you select the software?

Fernando Remolina: Well, Cornelius, my recommendation is to use a software that is compatible with your scheduling software. If not, then you will spend a lot of time passing over that information from the WBS to a schedule. Personally, I use the WBS Chart Pro for WBS creation and this is integrated with the MS Project. So I export all deliverables from the WBS MS Project and there, I can start to add the activities, duration and task relationship. Actually, to work like this is very easy.

Cornelius Fichtner: So we’ve got everything, we have the software and of course, now the next step is “create the WBS”. What’s involved in doing this?

Fernando Remolina: There is no formal medium for WBS elaboration. The things that you need are only the input documents, industry knowledge and the software. Not much is involved here.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay. And who exactly does this because frankly, if you gave me the software and said create the WBS, I would be terribly lost. To me the person who is responsible to create the WBS, they have to have a lot of experience in the shipping industry.

Fernando Remolina: Exactly. The responsible is the project manager and some project team members can also get over it. Actually I have mastered WBS elaboration as you’ve said. Because in ship repair projects, in one year, you can make like a minimum of 16 WBS.

Cornelius Fichtner: Wow!

Fernando Remolina: Yeah. So for me, it’s very easy and it doesn’t take too long time to create it. Of course, you need to have the knowledge and experience in this kind of industry.

Cornelius Fichtner: And when you say 16 WBS, that also means you are repairing 16 different ships, right?

Fernando Remolina: Exactly. Minimum of 16 ships per year.

Cornelius Fichtner: 16 ships, so that’s roughly three to four weeks for a repair.

Fernando Remolina: Exactly.

Cornelius Fichtner: How long does it usually take you to perform these four steps that we have just talked?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah. To perform these four steps can take from three to four days.

Cornelius Fichtner: It’s quite a substantial amount of planning ahead of time considering that the whole project will take you three to four weeks to complete if you want to do 16 repairs. How many work packages at the lowest level in the WBS do you normally have for ship repair?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah. For complex projects, I can reach five levels of decomposition.

Cornelius Fichtner: Five levels deep! And how many activities or the work packages do you have at the lowest level there?

Fernando Remolina: Yeah. It can be per work package. It can be ten activities. You don’t have the complete project. It can have 300 activities, 300 lines in the MS Project.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay.

Fernando Remolina: It’s quite complex.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah. As we learned in the beginning, the WBS only gives us the “what”. So how do we integrate all the information that we have now created into the project schedule?

Fernando Remolina: This is the main issue of WBS creation because when I start to create the WBS, I immediately think about the schedule. So I organize it in such a way that I can easily define activities and do the sequencing in schedule. When you divide the ship into locations and systems, the schedule will be easier and effective.

What you have, Cornelius, in a ship, you can have actually 100workers at the same time, all around the vessel that you have to coordinate these tasks properly to avoid interference as I have mentioned before and to avoid safety issues and still finishing on time.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah. I was just going to say it because so far, we have just created the WBS. Somebody actually has to go and complete these work packages, right? So you’re saying a hundred people are out there.

Fernando Remolina: Exactly. Can be 100 people all around the vessel performing any kind of tasks − painting, welding, mechanics, all the things. So the real work is done by the project team and the workers.

Cornelius Fichtner: So we have several hundred work packages on the WBS. I assume that would lead to several thousand individual tasks that need to be completed for the ship repair.

Fernando Remolina:  Exactly. For more complex projects, it’s like that.

Cornelius Fichtner: A WBS, it is a document. It’s static but things change constantly. We know that. We’re project managers. How many times do you need to review and update your WBS during the actual project?

Fernando Remolina: Well, Cornelius, everytime I have a formal change in the project with this call in this industry, it means additional jobs and this can happen a lot of times. Actually, it can happen from eight to 20 times to 25 times each project within ten to 12 days. So you can imagine that.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right. So basically, you have one change request today, which means you have to go back to the WBS, which then changes the WBS, which changes the schedule which – so you have a whole avalanche happening right there and then.

Fernando Remolina: Exactly. You have to immediately to analyze what will be the impact of that additional job, that’s the most.

Cornelius Fichtner: So all of this is extremely interesting and it’s fascinating to hear you talk about your industry but I assume that just like me, only a small number of our listeners are really involved in projects that are similar to yours.  Do you think that your approach that you explained in the article is useful to other industries?

Fernando Remolina: Yes, of course. Any industry that receives any requirements for repairing and maintaining; can be facilities with men or goods in general; this can be applied. It even can be used in the construction industry if you want.

Cornelius Fichtner: So Fernando, in closing, how do you recommend that our listeners take your general concepts and ideas from the article and adapt them to their own industry?

Fernando Remolina: The best way, Cornelius, is trying and practicing steps stated on my article that can be adjusted to their own industry. If you don’t try it, it simply won’t happen.

Cornelius Fichtner:  Alright, and of course, we are going to have a link to this article on the website So please everybody stop by, click on the article, read the article, look at the steps, look at Fernando’s recommendations.

Thank you so much for your time today. That was very interesting, Fernando. I appreciate your time.

Fernando Remolina: Okay. Thanks to you, Cornelius.

Podcast Exit

Cornelius Fichtner: And that was our interview with Fernando Remolina González and why and how to use a Work Breakdown Structure.