WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE: How Does It Work In Project Management?

Work breakdown structure
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As a project manager, it is important to understand the concept of the work breakdown structure and how it can help you to effectively carry out duties in the workplace. We’ll explain the work breakdown structure in this post, citing examples to help you understand better.

What Is Work Breakdown Structure?

In project management, a work breakdown structure (WBS) is a strategy for finishing a complex, multi-step project. It is a method of dividing and conquering enormous undertakings in order to complete them more quickly and efficiently.

A WBS intends to make a complex project more manageable. By breaking it down into smaller parts, work may be done concurrently by different team members, resulting in increased team productivity and easier project management.

Characteristics of Work Breakdown Structure 

WBS is defined “a deliverable-oriented hierarchical breakdown of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables” by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Each WBS level represents a new, more precise specification of the work required to accomplish the project.

According to PMI’s definition, a WBS structure must be built in such a way that each new level in the hierarchy includes all of the work required to complete its parent task. This means that for a parent task element to be complete, it must contain more than one child task.

Work Breakdown Structure Examples

Each project may have a different work breakdown structure.

You may need to experiment as a project manager to determine which WBS works best for you and your team. The purpose is to show the project hierarchy and progress to everyone involved, whether they are team members or external stakeholders.

Here are some examples of a work breakdown structure. You can use any of them to create an outline for your work breakdown structure.

  • WBS spreadsheet: You can easily format your WBS in a spreadsheet by recording the various phases, tasks, or deliverables in columns and rows.
  • WBS flowchart: You can structure your WBS in a diagrammatic workflow. The majority of WBS examples and templates available are flowcharts.
  • Gantt chart for work breakdown structure. You can format your work breakdown structure as a Gantt chart, which reflects both a spreadsheet and a timetable. A Gantt chart-structured WBS allows you to link task dependencies and display project milestones.
  • WBS list: Your WBS can be structured as a basic list of tasks, deliverables, and subtasks. This is the simplest way to create a work breakdown structure.

The Advantages of Creating a Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure (WBS) aids in the identification of project work. It’s a different perspective on your project, almost like a puzzle. You try to find all of the jigsaw parts that make up the overall picture, and the puzzle will only be complete when you have all of the components. Alternatively, in project management, you will be able to complete your project successfully only if you have a clear picture of all the necessary work.

Once you’ve identified all tasks, you may construct a project plan and assign them to your team. When it comes to project planning, you may be wondering:

What Is The Difference Between A WBS and Project Schedule?

As previously discussed, the key objective for developing a work breakdown structure is to identify what activities and deliverables a project must address. There’s no planning here. It’s essentially just trying to comprehend the structure of a project, much like trying to understand the structure of a machine.

A project schedule, on the other hand, is produced to schedule project activity. It allows you to see when a specific activity will take place. The timetable is also constantly updated as the project proceeds, whereas the work breakdown structure is more static. You make it once, pin it to your wall, and that’s all there is to it.

How Do You Create A WBS For A Project?

Before developing a work breakdown structure, it is critical to first assess the project scope by speaking with all stakeholders and important team members.

As the project manager, you must guarantee that all key information and deliverables are captured and prioritized transparently. To display the hierarchical framework of priority and connectedness between the tasks required to finish the project, you can use Gantt charts, flow charts, spreadsheets, or lists.

You may then allocate each task to a project team member after detailing the deliverables and tasks in order of completion. Spread roles and responsibilities among the team to ensure that no team member bears the majority of the project’s weight. Here are step-by-step measures on how to create a WBS:

#1. Determine the scope of the project 

You can only construct a work breakdown structure once you know exactly what you need to complete. That is, what the project is supposed to deliver, develop, or change. The project scope specifies this.

The scope of a cruise ship project would be described in some form of vessel specification. It would describe the ship’s purpose, capacity, planned routes, necessary entertainment amenities, and so on. You can create a suitable work breakdown structure using this information.

Knowing your scope is also important for another reason: the scope specifies what is NOT the responsibility of your project. Assume the cruise ship is only supposed to travel in warm places near the equator. As a result, you would not require the ice-resistant hull that a vessel traversing the polar sea would require.

On the other hand, some ship components may be supplied by a subcontractor. Consider the vessel’s engine. As a result, you wouldn’t have to plan the engine’s assembly down to the last screw.

#2. Record the key deliverables

List the major areas of work. These are the high-level tasks that your project is responsible for. For a cruise ship project, this would include vessel design, manufacture, interior design, safety, and other factors. It should be noted that there is also a job bundle called project management. This comprises all project planning and organization tasks.

#3. Breakdown work packages further

Once you’ve gathered the major work packages, you must break each one down further until you have subtasks and tangible deliverables that you can allocate to someone on your team.

This must be done for each area of work, such as project management, interior design, safety, and so on. The goal of constructing a work breakdown structure is to have a thorough overview of all project tasks.

How Detailed Should Your Work Breakdown Structure Be?

There is no general guideline, however, there are two questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you’ve gone far enough down the rabbit hole:

  • Do you have the confidence to establish a detailed project plan with specific action steps? If the answer is no, you must further divide the WBS.
  • What is the projected effort for the most basic elements? Assume you have a deliverable at the lowest level called electrical wiring. This includes ALL electrical wiring work performed on the vessel. Let’s suppose 150 person days of work total. That’s a massive undertaking in and of itself! In this instance, it is preferable to divide the labor into smaller chunks. For example, electrical wiring on the ground level, first level, second level, sky deck, and so on. You’ll obtain work packages that you can allocate to someone on your team this way.

Remember, a work breakdown structure is designed to assist you. I know you’re a perfectionist who wants to get the work breakdown structure just so. But don’t fall into the perfectionism trap. A work breakdown structure is designed to assist you rather than give you a headache. Spend as much time as you need to gain a sense of your project. Then proceed to plan your project.

What Makes A Good Work Breakdown Structure?

So far, we’ve discussed why work breakdown structures are useful, how to make them, and what level of detail to aim for. This is critical information. But you may be wondering how to tell if your WBS is adequate or if it needs to be refined further.

Here are some more suggestions to help you answer that question:

#1. A good work breakdown structure must be complete.

A strong work breakdown structure allows you to jump right into project planning. This is where you define the exact procedures and timelines for all tasks. This is only possible if your work breakdown structure (WBS) is comprehensive, which means you have included all deliverables and work packages. Using our ship construction project as an example, this would imply: When all of the WBS components have been incorporated, you will have a finished vessel ready for floating out.

#2. A good work breakdown structure must be detailed.

Consider the following example: There are eateries on every cruise ship. There are two Italian restaurants, one Mexican restaurant, three American-style eateries, and two Asian restaurants. To be detailed, identify all of those eateries in the WBS by their names.

How to Ensure Your Work Breakdown Structure Is Complete

What you absolutely do not want to do is leave out any vital details. This would result in more costs and effort, as well as a possible project delay. There are two strategies to reduce that risk:

  • Review similar projects and look at their work breakdown structure (WBS) or project plan. This information is widely accessible via Google. 
  • Indulge your team: People who will be doing the work are usually the most aware of what needs to be done. Request comments from your team on your work breakdown structure.

What tool should you use to create a work breakdown structure?

Creating a work breakdown structure (WBS) on your own can be difficult if your project is complex and has a large number of deliverables. Choose a tool that can handle hierarchical diagrams well, or you’ll be ripping out your hair in no time. Consider the following tools:

#1.MS Visio

If you have the budget, I recommend purchasing Microsoft Visio. It is the most effective method for developing work breakdown structures (and professionally looking charts in general). It also includes ready-to-use WBS templates, allowing you to get started quickly. Visio is available for roughly $15 per month.

#2. XMind

XMind is a mind mapping tool, but you can easily generate top-down style WBS as well. The current monthly cost is roughly $5.

#3. MS Project

MS Project includes WBS support. It’s also a difficult tool to use, and the license is extremely pricey. I would only use MS Project if you are in charge of multi-million dollar projects.

#4. Excel

Use MS Excel if you don’t want to pay for software. A basic lesson for constructing WBS in Excel may be found further down. There is also a ready-to-use WBS template for Excel.

#5. Powerpoint

Can you also use Powerpoint? Sure. The drawing technique is identical to that of Excel. I simply prefer Excel because it is more familiar to me, but you can use any tool. Simply ensure that you use a large page size to fit the entire WBS on the sheet.

Is WBS A Planning Tool?

WBS serves as a planning tool to help project developers plan, define, and organize their product structure.

In Conclusion,

After creating your work breakdown structure, the next thing is to plan your project. This includes outlining action steps, estimating effort, and assembling a team to accomplish the work for you. You can check out the examples we have given in this guide to help you begin.A

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the goal of WBS?

The goal of a WBS is to make a complex project more manageable.

What are deliverables in WBS?

Deliverables are tangible components that need to be delivered to complete a project.

What does the 100 rule in WBS mean?

The 100 rule states that the work breakdown structure (WBS) comprises 100% of the work outlined by the project scope and incorporates all deliverables in terms of the work to be accomplished, including project management.

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