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Creating a Work Breakdown Structure

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We all work on personal and professional projects every day of our lives. We use tools to assist us as well, whether they are formal or informal.

In a more formal project, Project Managers rely on some upfront steps, such as having a project charter and developing a project scope statement and project scope management plan. Once those preliminary steps are in place, then the Project Manager can develop a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Creating a WBS is an initial step that prepares you to complete other critical steps in the project, such as developing a schedule in Microsoft (MS) Project or some other tool.

One of the best definitions I’ve seen for a WBS comes from the Association of Project Management. It is, “A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) defines all the things a project needs to accomplish, organized into multiple levels, and displayed graphically.”1 The WBS breaks down all the complex activities into smaller, more manageable parts. “Everything you need to accomplish in the project is displayed in a single, easy to understand chart. The purpose of this chart is to break down complex activities into smaller, more management constituents.” 2

Subsequently, the WBS then helps to:

  1. Estimate the cost of the project
  2. Establish any dependencies within the project
  3. Determine a project timeline and develop a schedule
  4. Write a statement of work (SOW)
  5. Assign responsibilities and clarify roles
  6. Track the progress of a project
  7. Identify any possible risks

Instead of listing the tasks or actions themselves, a WBS is meant to list the nouns that describe an end product or deliverable (real or virtual) in the project. For a WBS to truly be classified as a Work Breakdown Structure, it needs to have four primary characteristics, which are listed and defined in the sections below.

Hierarchy

“The WBS is hierarchical in nature. Each ‘child’ level exists in a strict hierarchical relationship with the parent level. The sum of all the child elements should give you the parent element.” 3

100% Rule

“Every level of decomposition must make up 100% of the parent level. It should also have at least two child elements.” 4

Mutually exclusive

“All elements at a particular level in a WBS 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.” 5

Outcome-focused

“The WBS must focus on the result of work, i.e. deliverables, rather than the activities necessary to get there. Every element should be described via nouns, not verbs. This is a big source of confusion for beginners to WBS.” 6

I believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s show an example of a WBS for a common life occurrence. You can do this in a list format (as shown below) or you can use a more graphical format, such as the one shown in the image at the beginning of this blog.

Project: Move Your Home or Business

1.1Movers

1.11Names of moving companies

1.12 Better Business Bureau Ratings

1.13 Estimates

1.14 Chosen Moving Company

1.2Boxes

1.21 Number

1.22 Sizes

1.3 Packing Materials

1.31 Newspaper

1.32 Bubble Wrap

1.33 Markers

1.34 Labels

1.4 Packing

1.41 Rooms

1.42 Least Used Items

1.43 Most Used Items

1.5 Furniture

1.51 Pieces

1.52 Current Locations

1.54 New Locations

1.6 The Move

1.61 Date

1.62 Time

1.63 Trucks

1.64 Movers

 

Obviously, there are more steps to be done before the project is completed. Those steps will have to be discussed in subsequent blogs.


About the Author

Sandra Glanton is the owner and managing consultant of Projects Accomplished!. Sandra worked in a local multinational company, culminating with over a decade as a cross-functional project manager. If you have any project questions, Sandra can be reached at sg@projectsaccomplished.biz or 585-230-0649.

  1. Cohen, Esther (March 15, 2018), A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS), Retrieved from https://www.workamajig.com/blog/guide-to-work-breakdown-structures-wbs
  2. Cohen, Esther (March 15, 2018), A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)
  3. Cohen, Esther (March 15, 2018), A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)
  4. Cohen, Esther (March 15, 2018), A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)
  5. Cohen, Esther (March 15, 2018), A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)
  6. Cohen, Esther (March 15, 2018), A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)
Posted in: Business Tips & Advice, Eastman Business Park
Tagged: productivity, project management