Creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is an essential part of organizing a plan-based project (although they may also be used in agile). Once you understand what a WBS is and how it can help you succeed in project management, you’ll always want to have one in place for each project.

In our previous post, we covered the essential element of developing a project scope statement, which describes, in detail, the deliverables and the work needed to create a product, service, or result. Now, let’s cover the what a WBS is and the benefits you reap from creating one.

Creating a Work Breakdown Structure

  1. What Is a Work Breakdown Structure?
  2. Do You Need a Work Breakdown Structure All the Time?
  3. What are the Biggest Reasons for Using a WBS?
  4. Work Breakdown Structure Guidelines
  5. How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure?

What Is A Work Breakdown Structure?

A WBS is a graphical decomposition of project deliverables. It takes the form of a “family tree.”

It organizes and displays deliverables to achieve final project objectives, and it breaks down project deliverables into smaller, more manageable components or work packages. Like the scope statement, it is an essential part of a plan-based project’s scope measurement baseline.

Work breakdown structures provide the basis for more accurate scheduling, budgeting, communicating, and allocating of responsibility. They also help with identifying and avoiding risks, and they assist with procurements and quality. Plus, controlling a project can become easier with the help of a WBS.

Do You Need a Work Breakdown Structure All the Time?

For a plan-based project, yes! Large agile projects may also use them. A WBS is so valuable that it should be done even for the smallest project.  Creating a WBS can help you clearly define requirements and help you manage project scope. The graphic representation of project deliverables helps your team and stakeholders what is and what is not in the project. It also provides a basis for creating a network diagram, which helps everyone see what deliverables are dependent on one another, and helps you create the project schedule.

What Are the Biggest Reasons for Using a WBS?

There are many benefits to using a WBS. For example, it:

  • Ensures that deliverables are not missed, helps prevent changes, and supports identifying risks by work packages.
  • Provides the project team with an understanding of where they fit into the overall project management plan.
  • Facilitates communication, stakeholder engagement, and cooperation between the project team and other stakeholders.
  • Provides the basis for estimating staff, cost, time and physical resources.
  • Focuses teams on what needs to be done, which can improve project performance.
  • Provides the basis for continued project planning and work assignments.

Work Breakdown Structure Guidelines

Every WBS is unique, and every project manager will approach creating a WBS in their own way. But there are a few guidelines that every project manager should follow when creating a WBS:

  • A WBS should be created by the project manager using input from the team and other stakeholders.
  • Each level of a WBS is a breakdown of the previous level.
  • An entire project should be included in the highest levels of a WBS, including a branch for project management activities and deliverables.Many levels will be further broken down.
  • A WBS includes all project deliverables that are required; deliverables not included in the WBS are not part of the project.

During planning, the project management team and subject matter experts break down the scope description until the work package level is reached on the WBS. This occurs when the deliverables:

  • Can be realistically and confidently estimated (including the activities, duration, cost associated with them).
  • Can be completed quickly.

How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure

The scope statement, WBS and WBS Dictionary make up a project’s scope management baseline. So, even if you’ve never created a WBS or worked with one before, learning all about it is an asset to being more effective.

A Work Breakdown Structure can improve efficiency, it can help you plan a project much more effectively, and it can be a useful tool that can help you successfully complete any project, so it’s worth taking the time to use it on your projects.  You can also learn more about the WBS and the WBS Dictionary by listening to Rita Mulcahy’s take.

Learn how to create a WBS and other essential project management skills by brushing up on your Project Management Fundamentals.  RMC offers Project Fundamentals three-day instructor-led course or our Project Management Fundamentals digital book . Choose which option best suites your learning style and budget.