Work breakdown structure (WBS) in project management refers to a method of completing a multi-step, complex project. WBS is a deliverable-oriented hierarchical process of the work to be completed by the project team to meet the project objectives and create the required results.
It’s one of the best ways to divide and conquer large projects to get things done effectively and more efficiently. It is the cornerstone of seamless project planning, execution, controlling, monitoring, and reporting.
The task of WBS is to make a large project more manageable and doable. All the functions within WBS need to be carefully identified, estimated, scheduled and budgeted. Once you break it down into smaller chunks, it can be done simultaneously by multiple team members, leading to better team productivity.
What are the characteristics of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?
Not every breakdown of the project tasks can be classified as a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). For it to be called a WBS, it must have specific characteristics:
- Hierarchy: The WBS is hierarchical in nature. Each “child” level has a strict hierarchical relationship with the parent level. To sum up, these child elements should give you the complete parent element.
- 100% rule: Every level of the decomposition must make up 100% of the parent level. It must have at least two child elements especially.
- Mutually exclusive: All elements of the WBS at a particular level must be mutually exclusive. There must be no overlap in either their deliverables or their work. This is meant to reduce miscommunication and duplicate work as well.
- Outcome-focused: The WBS must always focus on the result of the deliverables’ work rather than the activities necessary to get there. Every element should be described via nouns, not verbs. In that order, it is a significant source of confusion for beginners to WBS.
Work Breakdown Structure Diagram; Explained
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is designed to establish a common understanding of the project scope. It is a hierarchical description of the work that must be carefully completed and show the deliverables of each project. Each descending level in the WBS represents an increasingly detailed and explained detail of the project deliverables.
Next, you define a set of planned outcomes that can collectively and exclusively represent the entire project scope. There are two levels of the WBS, the root node and Level 2. At each subsequent level, the children of a parent node solely represent the scope of their parent node.
Examples of Work breakdown structure
The work breakdown structure for each project can be entirely different. As the lead project manager, you may have to experiment with which WBS works best for you and your team. The idea is to show the hierarchy of your projects and make clear progress to everyone involved in the group – whether they are team members or external stakeholders.
Here are some examples of work breakdown structure examples. You can use any of these to outline your WBS.
- WBS spreadsheet – You can structure your WBS efficiently in a spreadsheet, noting all the different phases, deliverables, and tasks in the columns and rows.
- WBS Flowchart – You can structure your WBS in a diagrammatic workflow. Most WBS templates and examples you may find are flowcharts.
- WBS List – You can efficiently structure your WBS as a simple list of tasks, deliverables, and subtasks. This is one of the most straightforward approaches to making a WBS.
- Work breakdown structure Gantt chart – You can structure your WBS as a Gantt chart representing the spreadsheet and a timeline. With a Gantt chart-structured WBS, you can link task dependencies and show project accomplishments.
Benefits of Work Breakdown Structure and its Importance
One of the top features of a work breakdown structure is that it’s super beneficial to the project managers as they can perform their work much more organized and well-planned. They can just focus on scheduling, planning, executing, categorizing the tasks, and dividing them among the team.
The final aim is to complete all the tasks on time and meet all the stakeholders’ needs and specific requirements. Work Breakdown Structure helps make the work or project execution effective and faster.
Let’s look at some of the top areas in which the breakdown structure usually works at,
1. Boosts the productivity
The structure of work breakdown quickly helps boost productivity at your workplace and makes the tasks of every individual clearer and more defined. It assists in evaluating and understanding individual skills needed to complete an assignment over a particular time. It can quickly boost the employees’ determination required to complete the job.
Having the right set of people and the correct number of them on the job, the team members, in general, could quickly help others become even more productive and efficient in their tasks. It not only boosts people’s determination but also the best number of people needed for work completion. This leads to giving the right deliverables within a specific time and setting the required costs that sometimes exceed expectations.
2. Provides detailed steps
The structure of any work breakdown allows the team members to conveniently see the delineation of steps needed in giving the right products and services to all the stakeholders. The team members will quickly understand the relationships between the deliverables and measures.
All the discussions that are related to the delineation of steps can help a lot when it comes to handling the ambiguities and clarifying them, narrowing down the scope of projects, and bringing those assumptions which may lead to increasing the critical issues that may affect the performance of your team adversely.
3. Boosts accountability and transparency
The work breakdown structure often provides level details that will make it super easy for those managing the projects. It also lets them understand his team members and hold them responsible for all the tasks that have been completed. This can also be applied to all those members of the team who are concerning the manager of the project
Their own performance of work is defined as a two-way street, and it encourages better and more effective communication. A proper and well-defined work breakdown structure helps the team enjoy a much greater level of transparency. Everyone will have an idea of what others are doing and make sure to achieve all the phases that help boost a sense of unity and harmony among the employees.
4. Identifies risk in a better way
One of the top benefits of WBS is that it quickly and carefully identifies all the risks and dangers that are ahead of your project. Moreover, it assists in minimizing them or eliminating those risks as a whole. You must remember that boosting stakes in your project will not be eliminated entirely. However, they can be limited to pose dangers to the team’s accomplishment.
The risk can also be used to track a project log, reviewed during projects, and its execution. The best thing you can now do is to check threats, see all the branches in the breakdown structure, and identify one with fewer parameters to go.
5. Appropriate for allocating cost and time estimates
The structure also allows for dispensing cost and time estimates for those with specific work packages. Such assessments may also boost a much better and more realistic schedule and a budget the team members will follow, thus boosting the team and employee morale.
Once the project tasks have been executed, the manager of the projects, as well as the clients and team members, can track the cost and expenses which is concerning such allocation. There could be problems and concerns that can be identified quickly and addressed before they become the reason for timely procrastination in the projects.
6. Boosts progress in monitoring
Another benefit is that WBS can quickly and easily identify the deliverables affected due to project delays, specific work packages, or maybe sub-deliverables. The faster you learn the source of such delays, the better the impact will be.
You can easily take excellent and impactful actions much faster and save your project from getting into the trash. As all the projects are monitored, the team members will be more enthusiastic and feel more connected in accomplishing their tasks. Moreover, an excellent contribution to the evaluation of WBS will boost much greater employee performance and efficiency.
Why Use a WBS in Project Management?
The WBS ii project management visually defines the manageable chunks of a project that a team can fully understand, as each part of the work breakdown structure provides further details.
The aim of WBS in any project management is to make a large project achievable and doable within a team. It helps you to,
- Plan a schedule
- Determine the cost of the project
- Set the dependencies
- Write a statement of work
- Assign responsibilities and clarify the roles
- Track the progress of a project
Here are some top differences between the work breakdown structure, project plan, and project schedule.
- Work breakdown structure – it describes the ‘what’ of the project. It doesn’t include timelines or resources.
- A project schedule defines the project’s what, when and who, including the project’s deliverables, deadlines, and resource requirements.
- A project plan includes all the details on the project that will be executed and carried out, managed, and controlled, covering all the aspects of the task easily.
Essential WBS rules & requirements
- A WBS must include 100% of the work that has to be completed, excluding any work that is mainly not defined in the project’s scope.
- Do not include any amount of work twice. It will violate the rule 100% and can lead to miscalculations.
- Focus more on deliverables than the actions.
- The work packages should be designed between 8 hours of effort but not more than 80. You must also report your work every 30 days.
Wrapping it up
Nowadays, WBS is successfully implemented by all the creative and technical teams. It helps visualize and break down the project into different levels based on the dependencies. This approach is applicable in various industries, from construction and engineering to software development.
In the above article, we have described the different parts of a work breakdown structure and how to create one to optimize your work performance like never before. You have all the correct details and tools to start your WBS project – so start planning now!