Imagine you’re about to embark on a big project, like building a house or launching a new product. It can be pretty overwhelming to think about all the tasks that need to be completed in order to reach your end goal. That’s where a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) comes in. A WBS is like a road map for your project. It breaks down all the objectives, deliverables, and tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks, so you can see the big picture and understand how all the pieces fit together. It’s like taking a complex puzzle and breaking it down into smaller parts so you can easily see how to put it all together.

A Work Breakdown Structure helps you stay on track and ensures you don’t miss any important steps. It helps you plan and organize everything from the big-picture goals to the smallest details. Not only does it make your life easier, but it also helps you identify potential risks and issues early on, so you can take action before they become bigger problems. Plus, it allows for better communication and coordination between team members and stakeholders, so everyone is on the same page. All in all, creating a WBS helps you stay organized, focused, and successful.


Table of Contents

What is involved in creating a WBS?

How to create a WBS

Benefits of using a WBS

Final thoughts

What is involved in creating a WBS?

There are several elements that go into creating a WBS. It can be a time-consuming process, but it is well worth the effort. Here are some of the key components involved in creating a WBS:


Break down the project into sub-projects

Imagine trying to build a giant jigsaw puzzle without first breaking it down into smaller pieces. It’s the same with a project, if you don’t break it down into smaller, more manageable parts, it can be overwhelming and hard to see the big picture. That’s why the first step in creating a WBS is to break down the overall project into sub-projects. Whether you prefer a top-down approach, starting with the main project objectives and breaking them down, or a bottom-up approach, starting with individual tasks and grouping them into larger sub-projects, the key is to make it manageable and easy to understand.


Assign deliverables and responsibilities

Once you have your sub-projects, it’s important to drill down even further and come up with specific deliverables and responsibilities for each one. This is like handing out the different puzzle pieces to the team members, it helps to clearly define what needs to be done and who is responsible for doing it. By doing this, you ensure that everyone on the team knows what they need to do in order to complete the project successfully.


Establish project milestones

Establishing project milestones is like setting up signposts along your journey. These are specific, measurable, and time-bound goals that you aim to achieve throughout the project. They help you stay on track, monitor progress and ensure that you’re headed in the right direction. Just like how signposts help you navigate a new place, project milestones help you navigate your project and address any issues early on.

project milestones

How to create a WBS

Creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a vital part of project management – it helps you take a complex project and break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces, giving your project team a clear understanding of all the tasks and deliverables required to complete it. This visual depiction of a project’s deliverables, tasks, and dependencies is what makes up a WBS.


Gather and analyze project information.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, gathering and analyzing project information requires you to gather all the pieces and study them in order to get a clear picture of what the project entails.

It includes:

  • Understanding what the project is trying to accomplish
  • Understanding how it will be done
  • Identifying any challenges that could stand in the way

In order to manage a project well, the manager should get information from many sources:

  • Stakeholders
  • Team members
  • Outside experts

By carefully considering all aspects of a project, managers can formulate an effective plan to meet its goals.

Identify activities needed for completion.

The next step is to identify the specific activities that will be needed in order to complete the project. This includes breaking down tasks into smaller components and determining which tasks must be done first, second, etc. Think of it like a recipe, where each step is an ingredient that needs to be added in the right order. By identifying all the activities needed for completion, project managers can ensure that their plans are clear and comprehensive enough to account for any unexpected tasks.


Estimate the time and cost for each activity.

Once you’ve finished creating your list of project activities and resources, it’s time to estimate how long each one will take and what resources will be required. This is like budgeting for a trip—you need to estimate the length of each leg before buying tickets. The project manager can estimate how long each activity will take and the resources needed, allowing them to create a realistic schedule and realistic budget. The information gathered can be used to identify and address potential problems early on in the project.


Define the scope of the project.

Next, it’s time to define the scope of the project. This is where the magic happens – by creating a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition, you’ll break down the project into increasingly detailed work packages, organizing them into a hierarchical structure. This structure is often represented in a WBS chart or template, which can be created using a project management tool or software.


Different approaches to work breakdown structures.

There are different approaches you can take when creating a WBS. One helpful approach is to use a phase-based approach, which breaks the project down into its various phases, ensuring all required deliverables are identified and the project stays on track. For larger and more complex projects, rolling wave planning offers greater flexibility in the planning process.


Other considerations in the process.

Once the WBS has been created, it’s important to establish a WBS dictionary that describes all of its elements and relationships. This ensures that everyone on the team understands how it works—and can use it as a planning tool.

It’s also important to remember that the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is not a one-time document that is created at the beginning of a project and never looked at again. Instead, it is a living document that will change and evolve as the project progresses. The WBS should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect the actual scope of the project, identify risks it may encounter, and implement a risk management plan to deal with those risks. The WBS is your blueprint, guiding you through the project, so make sure it’s a helpful project management tool for you and your team.


Benefits of using a WBS

Using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in your project management strategy can bring about a host of benefits. These benefits include:

  • Improved project management: Breaking down a large project into smaller pieces makes it easier to plan, coordinate and complete.
  • Increased efficiency: A clear, organized plan will save time and resources and can lead to a more successful project outcome.
  • Improved coordination: A WBS helps team members view the project from a common perspective. This in turn improves coordination, which is essential for any successful project.

In short, a well-constructed WBS can help you and your team stay on top of a complex project by breaking it down into manageable chunks. This will improve its management, increase efficiency—and coordinate better among the people working on different parts simultaneously.

Fun fact

Did you know that Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) in project management have a military past? That’s right, the WBS method was first developed by the United States military in the 1950s to plan and organize the production of complex weapons systems. And you know what? It was so successful that other industries quickly caught on and now it’s a staple tool in project management for breaking down big projects into manageable chunks. Just like a soldier breaks down a big mission into smaller steps, a project manager breaks down a big project into smaller tasks using WBS.

Final thoughts

All in all, creating a WBS is a crucial step in ensuring your project runs smoothly. It gives you a clear understanding of all the tasks and deliverables needed for success and helps you stay on top of things as the project progresses. And let’s not forget using a WBS can lead to improved project management, increased efficiency, and improved coordination among team members. Just remember, the WBS is a living document, so be sure to review and update it regularly to ensure it accurately reflects the scope of your project, and that any project risks are identified and addressed through a risk management plan. With a WBS in your back pocket, you’ll be able to easily conquer any project!

Was this helpful?

Thanks! What made it helpful?

How could we improve this post?