Work breakdown structure (WBS) is the process of decomposing the project scope into manageable pieces of work. In simple terms, creating WBS is the process of breaking down the complete project into smaller pieces of manageable work units called as work packages. Create WBS is the process, where you determine all the work you are going to do as part of the project. The lowest level of elements in the WBS are called as work packages. And all other elements in the WBS are called as templates.
WBS is created in graphical format. This provides stakeholders more clarity on the project scope and the project deliverables in a more understandable format.
One of the misconceptions of creating WBS is that it is used to define the project activities. But instead work breakdown structure is used to simplify the project scope into smaller manageable pieces without losing the coverage of the project.
Why Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Is Required?
Work breakdown structure (WBS) process helps the project manager in simplifying the project into manageable smaller pieces.
- Work breakdown structure (WBS) is used by the project manager to
- Manage the project in the form of smaller pieces which are known as work packages
- Improves the clarity on project scope
- Reduces the surprises in the project scope, later in the project
- Use as input to define the activities, and in the process of development of project schedule.
How WBS is represented?
In most of the cases, WBS is represented in a graphical format. WBS is usually represented using hierarchical diagram. Each Level in the hierarchical diagram represents the next level of detail of work packages.
More importantly, each of the work package is represented primarily with these two elements.
WBS Package ID – An identifier to identify the work package.
WBS Package Name – Name of the work package in a precise and simple readable form.
Sometimes, you may have more information about each work package, that you wanted to record. For example, the high level cost estimation of the work package, Account code to be considered, milestones, quality requirements, etc…
So the question is where do you mention about all this additional information about the work packages. That is where WBS dictionary comes handy to record all this information.
WBS dictionary is an important output of create WBS process. It contains all the information about each work package in work breakdown structure. Typical information that a WBS Dictionary contains is shown below:
- Work Package ID – Unique Identifier to identify the work package
- Name of the Work Package – Name of the work package
- Work to be Performed (SOW) – Statement of work describes the work to be performed
- Quality Requirements – quality requirements from organization, portfolio, program, and project perspective.
- Milestones – Project milestones, if any identified for that work package.
- Code of Account ID – This is the most important thing. It describes account identified to which the work package must be billed.
- Resources to be used – Resources that are identified for this work package, if any.
- Effort Estimation – High level effort estimation for the work package.
- Cost Estimation – High level cost estimation for the work package.
Some of the above mentioned information might not be available at this state, which is fine. Only thing is whatever the information available pertaining to each work package must be recorded in the WBS dictionary. So overall, there will a WBS dictionary entry for each work package.
So if you perform, too many levels of decomposition, then you are spending more time in creating and maintaining the work packages and the corresponding WBS dictionary. Too much of decomposition into lower levels may work as anti-pattern for the project. So to save yours and others time and effort, project manager should be cautious enough to see what level of detail you should decompose the project, so that it will add value to project in terms of managing it.
How to Create Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?
Work breakdown structure (WBS) breaks down the work based on either phases or deliverables in a typical project. It varies based on organization and the project you are working on. The primary purpose of WBS is to see how other stakeholders of the project is visualizing the project work. If they are using phases to visualize the project work, that is the better way. And if they use deliverables to visualize the work in the project, then breaking down project into deliverables may be a better method.
Work Breakdown Structure Example based on Phases
The best example could be a software development project, where the project is broken down into multiple SDLC phases. There could be multiple iterations also. And each iteration may again follow the SDLC phases. In the above example, the complete project is decomposed into multiple project phases. Each of these phases are further divided into the next level of project phases. All the blue boxes are called as work packages. Everything that is going to be performed in the project will be part of the work packages.
Note: Important point to note here is that WBS does not show the order of work packages or dependencies between them. The primary purpose of WBS is the simplification of project scope of work into smaller manageable pieces of work called as work packages. There may be dependencies between the work packages, but WBS is not the place to show them. You will see dependencies in the project activities in Time Management knowledge area, when you are developing the project schedule.
Work Breakdown Structure Example based on Deliverables
Now let us consider the same software development project example to create WBS by deliverables.
Here the complete project is decomposed into multiple deliverables such as requirements specification, design document, code base, test completion report, deployment report. And each of these deliverables further divide into deliverables at the next level of detail.
The point here is that you decompose the project into work packages, based on how your project stakeholders wanted to see the project progress.
When To Perform Create WBS process in Project Management?
First, you need the scope management plan as an input for all scope management processes, as the scope management plan clearly defines how to perform, each of the scope management processes.
Create WBS requires to know the complete scope of the project to further decompose into work packages. So the scope statement and requirements document is essential.
So, you perform the create work breakdown structure process, after the Plan scope management, collect requirements and define scope processes.
Create WBS Process in PMP
The primary output of create WBS process is the scope base line. As we learned earlier, the primary inputs for create WBS process are the outputs of scope management plan, collect requirements and define scope processes.
- Firstly, scope Management Plan will be handy, as it contains the detail of how to perform, each of the scope management processes.
- Requirements document and project scope statement helps in understanding the complete scope of the project. You use these documents primarily as inputs to decompose the project into work packages.
- Organizational process assets might have historical WBS templates. These historical WBS artifacts will work as templates to start the WBS for your project.
- Enterprise Environmental factors could be how your organization and projects are decomposing the project to create WBS. It may be based on project phases or it may be based on deliverables.
Tools & Techniques
- Decomposition is the only technique in the create WBS process.
- As we have learned by now, the decomposition is the process of breaking down the project into multiple smaller pieces of work called as work packages.
- Scope baseline comprise of Project Scope statement, WBS and WBS Dictionary. WBS dictionary contains all the information about a work package. Each work package is associate with its WBS dictionary. Scope Baseline is the snapshot of the plan. And every new version of scope baseline will include the new scope changes for that baseline.
NOTE: Important thing to note here is, any time there is a scope change in the project, we know that it must go through the perform integrated change control process. Every time change control board (CCB) approves the changes, you must create the next version of the scope baseline. If you are not aware of change control board (CCB), please read through Integration management knowledge area for more information.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in Agile Projects
There is a misconception or myth that create WBS process may not work in Agile projects. The reason for this myth is that many a times, you may not have more information about the work packages. In agile projects, if you do not have information about a work package, then you still create WBS and work packages and whatever information available at that point of time. When ever you have more information on any work package, you record them into the scope baseline.
Work Breakdown Structure Guidelines
Here are some of the guidelines which helps us the create WBS in a proper way.
- Always better to create the WBS in a graphical format. It increases the ability for your stakeholder to quickly read and understand the work packages in the project.
- Essentially, the project manager should involve the necessary stakeholders while creating WBS, importantly the project team.
- You apply the decomposition to create relevant number of levels in the work breakdown structure. Too many granular levels of WBS may work as anti-pattern. This would waste everyone’s time, not just yours.
- Eventually, WBS Dictionary is there to record all the information about each work package.
- Bare minimum, every work package must have an identifier and a work package name. It is a best practice to create the WBS ID s as per the hierarchy of the WBS structure. This helps the stakeholders understand the structure of WBS and the work packages. For example, if you name the top level WBS ID as “1” and the next level WBS element would be “1.x”. And the next level WBS element would be “1.x.y”.
- As a matter of fact, WBS does not how the order of the work packages and dependencies between them. It’s sole purpose is to simplify the project scope of work.
- Every time there is a scope change, it must go through change control process. And once it approves, you create a new version of scope baseline.
- If you miss a work package WBS, then you will not deliver that work package as part of your project. So make sure that you have 100% coverage for the WBS with respect to the project scope.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Software
There are many Free and commercial software application around the web to create the work breakdown structure. Some of them has features to export the WBS into applications such as Microsoft project, to further define the activities for each work package. Some of the organizations use simple Microsoft excel to create the WBS.
While the post is about explaining more on how to create WBS, I would not go more detail on the WBS software. To start with, explore the organizational process assets in your organization for WBS in historical projects. This may help you to start with WBS for your project.
Work breakdown structure (WBS) simplifies the project scope of work, so that all the project stakeholders are on the same page in terms of how to see the progress of the project.
We have also seen the structure of WBS. It is always better to create the WBS in hierarchical diagram. You can create WBS either by phases or deliverables.
Eventually, the best practice is to look through organizational process assets and enterprise environmental factors to understand how other projects in the organization is creating the WBS for other projects.
We have also seen the examples of work breakdown structure creation by taking a software development project as an example. We have also learned that, the outputs of the plan scope management, collect requirements, and define scope processes in scope management knowledge area are the inputs to Create WBS process.
Finally, we have seen the ITTO s of create WBS process for the PMP exam. Also learned the guidelines to consider while creating the WBS for your project.
I hope this article helped you in understanding several aspects of work breakdown structure. If you have any queries on the same, please feel free to comment below. If you like this article, don’t forget to spread the word.