Decomposition Helps to Increase Your Project Understanding

By Stanley E. Portny

Decomposition is the systematic process of separating a whole into its parts so that you can identify all elements of the whole and fully and clearly describe each of these elements. When planning a project, you try to identify and understand all relevant information at the earliest possible time. Decomposition helps you accomplish this.

You can use decomposition to investigate any piece of information that you can divide into two or more subelements. For example, you can divide the following project-related information into subelements:

  • Audiences

  • Objectives

  • Deliverables

  • Constraints

  • Assumptions

  • Work to be performed

  • Risks

The process of decomposing an information item involves

  • Selecting a hierarchical framework for subdividing the information into its component parts

  • Clearly defining what parts of the original information are included at each level of the hierarchy

The following example illustrates how you can use decomposition to identify the important audiences for a project to redesign a part for a copier that your organization produces:

  1. Choose a scheme for separating the total audience universe into subgroups.

    In most cases, you can choose any of several schemes to divide up the audience list. The only requirement is that every part of the complete audience list is included in one of the subgroups that you define. Then, instead of trying to identify all members of the entire audience group at once, you consider each audience subgroup in turn and ask who in that subgroup needs to be a project audience.

    In this example, you may divide your total audience universe into two subgroups – one that contains all audiences that are inside your company and the other that contains all audiences that are outside your company. If you choose not to divide the subgroups any further, you next try to identify those audiences that are inside your company and then the audiences that are outside your company.

    However, if you feel that you need additional detail in your audience hierarchy, you may consider dividing each audience list subgroup into subgroups of its own.

  2. Choose schemes for further separating one or more of the subgroups you defined in Step 1.

    For example, you may divide the subgroup of all audiences inside your company into separate subgroups that include all audiences in each of the departments in your company. You can then continue by dividing one or more of these departments into subgroups that correspond to the sections into which the department is organized.

    You continue in this way until you feel your lowest level of each branch of the audience category hierarchy is sufficiently detailed for you to identify anyone in a lowest-level category who’s an audience for your project.

In summary, the two requirements that you must satisfy in order for audience identification using decomposition to work are

  • Every time you decompose a category that you define, you must include all parts of it somewhere among its subcategories.

  • The guidelines for deciding the subcategories in which the different parts of a category you choose to further divide should go must be clear and unambiguous.