The Complete Overview of Work Breakdown Structure

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Nov 08, 2021

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Introduction to Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Work breakdown structure is a method of structuring the allocation of work in an organization. A WBS, in essence, divides a project into small sub-parts or steps for easy implementation by workers. As projects in an organization are time-bound, an efficient and well-designed WBS ensures timely and quality results.

In general, a WBS details a project in the form of different levels and outputs. A well-designed WBS keeps in mind different timelines and costs involved in a project and assigns tasks accordingly. This also helps with the arrangement and scheduling required to finish the steps involved in a project. The main role of a WBS is to fulfill the needs of the final stakeholder and improve efficiency and delivery of outcomes. 

Fundamentals of Work Breakdown Structure

A WBS is divided into levels. At the top lies the final deliverable with lower levels detailing the various steps and tasks required to finish the project. At the controls account level, various critical periods of the project and outputs are included. The work packages level lays down the tasks needed to reach the controls account level and so on.

The various tiers of a WBS help with both organizing and overseeing projects. There are two types of WBS - Output-based and Phase based. The way the two types of WBS differ is in the structure: deliverable-based WBS contains a list of results, whereas the phase-based WBS is structured in the form of phases of a project.

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Critical Pieces of a Work Breakdown Structure

A WBS involves some important ingredients, which include:

  • WBS Dictionary: This, in essence, defines the various levels or subheads of the WBS.
  • Description of Task and Number of Task: Every task is given a number to identify it, and a description further provides guidance to the team during the execution stage.
  • Task Owner: A task owner is a person, organization, or department watching over the project.
  • Task Cost: Every task is assigned a certain cost to watch over the budget involved in a particular project.
  • Timelines of Tasks: This is self explanatory-every task has certain timelines which must be laid down to ensure all team members follow set dates involved in a project.
  • Task Status: Also self-explanatory, the task status helps pinpoint the stage of the task-assigned, in progress, complete, etc.

Creating a Work Breakdown Structure

There are certain steps involved in creating a WBS, beginning from big steps to smaller goals. Read on:

  1. First, it is important to collect all information regarding project outputs, the purpose, and the project's mission, various stakeholders, the final results required, etc.
  2. Next, the project must be broken down into phases starting from the origin to completion. 
  3. All deliverables needed to achieve the eventual project goal must be laid down. Further, steps involved to complete a particular deliverable and when it will be considered completed will be noted.
  4. Every deliverable will be broken down into tasks and sub-tasks, and a list of all the tasks involved will be made for clearer identification.
  5. WBS dictionary involves defining various work items in the WBS. The WBS dictionary should contain detailed breakdowns of the project, including outputs, project costs, etc.
  6. Lay down all tasks involved in a WBS and assign them to individual team members. Ensure team members have the necessary information and knowledge necessary to complete the jobs assigned.

The Different Types of Work Breakdown Structures

WBS may take different forms, which include the follows: 

Tree Diagram

This version of a WBS uses a tree structure to list and organize various phases, deliverables, and packages.


This form of a WBS uses a spreadsheet to list the various tasks and deliverables related to a project in columns and rows. 

Gantt Chart

A Gantt chart is used to set milestones and baseline. This is mostly used in project management software.

Work Breakdown Structure Software

A WBS software is used to outline a project's deliverables and the phases involved. Some software use network diagrams. A WBS software helps you organize outputs, tasks, deadlines, project phases, and much more.

Benefits of Creating a Work Breakdown Structure

  • The biggest advantage of designing a comprehensive WBS is to avoid any stop gaps or breakdowns in the project. As all the project deliverables are identified, meeting client expectations and delivering quality work is easier. 
  • WBS helps with getting an overview or framework of requirements for a project. That means it helps to identify the resources and personnel required to complete a project, ensuring quality delivery of work. 
  • A well-designed WBS helps with an accurate assessment of budget, costs, and timelines for the satisfaction of the final stakeholders of a project. 
  • WBS helps with creating effective progress reports during the duration of the project. As deliverables, resources, team members, etc., are identified in a WBS, it becomes easy to provide updated status of project and deliverables to interested parties.

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Things to Consider While Constructing a Work Breakdown Structure

  • 100% Rule: This means that a WBS should cover 100% of the work and every deliverable required to complete it. 
  • Comprehensive: A good WBS must be detailed and include all big and small tasks needed to achieve and complete the final deliverable. 
  • Avoid too many Sub-Tasks: It is essential to avoid confusion to keep the levels of a WBS to a maximum of three to five levels. 
  • Assign Each Deliverable to a Particular Person: The tasks and work in every WBS must be assigned to one team or individual. The WBS should be clear in assigning responsibilities for best outcomes.
  • Milestones should not overlap: No milestone should be repeated within a WBS, meaning that only one team or person should be assigned a specific deliverable. This is to reduce the chances of budget overrunning, time wasted, and repeat work. 
  • 8/80 Hours Rule: Ideally, tasks and work listed in a deliverable should take a minimum of eight hours and not more than 80 hours. 

In Closing

It is critical to understand WBS's meaning in project management. Project Management aspirants and those pursuing PMP training through the PMP course online must ensure they understand the concept and create a WBS in practice. This is important as the PMP Certification training and exam will expect you to have a reasonable knowledge of WBS project management to create WBS outputs.

A WBS helps organize and keep the project processes on track. By dividing a project into more achievable and feasible parts, it simplifies otherwise complicated tasks making them more manageable. A Project Manager uses a WBS to ensure potential problems such as missed timelines and budget overrun are identified at the outset and accounted for. A WBS also helps with overseeing and tracking deliverables better and ensuring smoother delivery.


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