Creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for a Project

Work breakdown structure of a project is a created by decomposing its stages hierarchically and incrementally into various phases, deliverables, and work packages. It is an inverted tree structure that has branches representing subdivisions of all the efforts required to accomplish an objective that is represented by the root of the inverted tree.

You create a work breakdown structure of a project by starting with the end goal of the project and then keep dividing it into chunks of manageable components. You can create these components based on the size, duration, and responsibility. When dividing the project into manageable chunks, you must make sure that these include all steps that are necessary to accomplish the end goal of the project.

You usually start a work breakdown structure with the project tile at the top or the root of the inverted tree structure. Unless you have some specific stage, the next level of the structure is typically represented by various stages of the project life cycle, such as initiation, planning, execution, control, and closure. From the next level onwards, you keep breaking the stage into further level until you get a chunk that is small enough to manage.

The inverted tree looks more like an organizational chart of a company. However, it is not an organizational chart. When managing a project you would realize that it is too big for an individual to manage the entire project as a single chunk. Therefore, you use the work breakdown structure to break the project into small chunks that are easy to manage. The work breakdown structure is a top down effort of decomposing the deliverables along with the work that needs to be performed to produce these deliverables. These small chunks are known as work packages. When defining a work package, make sure that you define it based on the work package name, which should be a noun, and not an action, or verb, to be performed.

When creating a work breakdown structure, you assign an identity number to each unit in the structure. It usually starts with 1 for the root level and then an additional number separated by a dot, such as 1.1, 1.2 and so on for the units of the second level, as shown in Figure 1. The multilevel number continues to increase with each level of decomposition until work packages are defined.

A work breakdown structure is oriented toward the deliverables. However, keeping the work breakdown structure that is oriented toward the deliverables does not mean that you should include only customer deliverables. You must include the complete scope of the project in the work breakdown structure. This includes project scope, product scope, and project management efforts.

Advantages of a Work Breakdown Structure

One of the most important objectives of creating the work breakdown structure is to provide a framework for dividing work into definable units of work. You can use this structure for overall planning and control of the project and even to define the statement of work. Further, you can use the work breakdown structure to establish schedule, cost, and labor hour reporting.

A work breakdown structure also enables you to sum subordinate costs of the tasks and materials of the components into the tasks and materials of the parent component. You must provide a description of the tasks to be performed for each element of the work breakdown structure. You can also use the work breakdown structure to define the complete scope of the project.

Additionally, a work breakdown structure provides the team members a complete understanding of how their work fit into the overall project plan and what they need to do to achieve it. It also fosters a communication and cooperation among the team members.

Rules to Create a Work Breakdown Structure

When creating a work breakdown structure, you should consider the following set of rules:

  • You must involve and take help of the team to create a work breakdown structure.
  • You must complete the first level before you break the project further to the next levels.
  • You create a smaller chunk in a level with respect to the previous level.
  • Each highest level of the work breakdown structure represents the complete project. It is not necessary for you to break each level further down unless you can break it further into smaller manageable chunks.
  • You must include only deliverables that are actually needed for the project in a work breakdown structure.
  • The deliverables that you do not include in a work breakdown structure are not part of the project.


Identifying a Work Package

When creating a work breakdown structure, you can identify a work package when they include deliverables that have following characteristics:

  • You can estimate a work package realistically and confidently.
  • You can complete a work package quickly.
  • You do not need any further information for a work package and can complete it without any interruption.
  • You can outsource a work package.


Sample Work Breakdown Structure

Following is a sample work breakdown structure for an Android application project up to the third level of decompositions:

Work Breakdown Structure for an Android Application

Figure 1 Work Breakdown Structure for an Android Application