Defining a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Dictionary

When you manage an enterprise level project, one of the deliverables of the project planning phase is the work breakdown structure. The ultimate level of the work breakdown structure is a work package. In an enterprise level project, the work breakdown structure is quite large and has a large number of work packages. It is not only the large number of work packages that is a matter of concern, but the fact that you might need to make frequent changes to these work packages is another concern. Therefore, it might involve a lot of efforts and confusion to track the current status of these work packages. As a result, you need some mechanism that enables you to manage these work packages efficiently. Moreover, a work breakdown structure is a graphical representation of the project to provide its bird’s eye view. You cannot add much detail into it because it might impact clarity of the graphical work breakdown structure.

Work breakdown structure dictionary is such a mechanism that enables you to efficiently track each element of the work breakdown structure, including work packages of a project. Similar to a dictionary of a language that organizes and provides details of the words that make the language, a work breakdown structure dictionary organizes and provides complete details of all work packages of a project. A work package usually has a small name comprising of one or just a few words. Such name does not provide complete details about the work package and is open for interpretations, which can be ambiguous and add to confusion. This can further result in miscommunications in the team. The dictionary enables you to provide complete details of the work package. These details include a detailed description of the work package, its identification number, acceptance criteria, dependencies, schedules, and other details related to the work package.

A work breakdown structure dictionary entry of the work package not only enables you to identify and track the work package, but also provides complete information about the work package to the team to understand what the work package is and what its deliverables are. These details help the team to be on the same page to understand the work project and avoid any miscommunication. You can use it to control the work done for the work package, and make sure that its scope is not changed and adhere to the schedule specified for the work package.

Depending on the organizational policies, you can design the data dictionary entry and details you need to add to it. You can either create a worksheet in an Excel or any other spreadsheet application, or create a table for each entry that consists of all details of the entry. Following is a sample template for a work breakdown structure dictionary entry along with the details required for the entry:


Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary Entry
Control Account No.

<Specify an identification number for the control account that the work package belongs to>

Work Package No.

<Specify an identification number for the work package>

Updated on and by

<Specify the date when the work package was last updated and the person who requested or made the change>


<Specify the name of the person or organization responsible for the work package>

Description: <Add a detailed description of the work package>
Acceptance Criteria: <Specify the details of the criteria to be used as an acceptance for the work package>
Deliverables: <Specify the details of the deliverables expected from the work package>
Resources: <Specify the resources assigned to the work package>
Assumptions: <Specify the assumptions made for the work package>
Duration: <Specify the planned duration for the work package>
Milestones: <Specify the details of the milestones scheduled for the work package>
Cost: <Specify the planned cost of the work package>
Due Date: <Specify the planned end date for the work package>

Previous work Package: <Specify the work package that must be complete before this this package. >

Next work package: <Specify the work package that depends on the completion of this work package. >

Approver: Project Manager <Signature of the project manager> Date: <Date of approval>

Note: To keep track of the changes made to the work package entry, make sure that an incremental update is made rather than overwriting the existing content. This would help you to trace the changes made in case of any conflicts in the future.