The Work Breakdown Structure: A Key Project Management Tool

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is one of the most important tools you can use when managing a project.

What is a WBS?

It is simply a chart or outline of your projects deliverables. Large or complex deliverables are broken down into smaller components. The lowest level components for each deliverable are known as Work Packages.

Here's an example of a work breakdown structure...

Project Management Workbreakdown Structure ExamplesProject Management Workbreakdown Structure Examples

Here are four key aspects to keep in mind when you develop a WBS...

  • 100% Rule: Together, all of the Work Packages defined in the WBS make up 100% of the project's scope of work. This also implies that anything that is not in the WBS is not part of the project.
  • Mutually Exclusive: Each component in the WBS is a distinct, non-overlapping, component of work.
  • Non-Balanced is OK: You don't need to break down each deliverable into the same number of components.
  • No Sequencing: The WBS does not show the sequencing of work. It only identifies "what" work is needed.

Let's take a look at why the WBS is so important for managing projects.

Benefits of the WBS

There are several benefits to developing a WBS for your project...

The first benefit is that all of the work to be done by the project is identified. Because of this, by reviewing the WBS with project stakeholders you will be less likely to omit any work needed to deliver the desired project results.

Second, it allows for more accurate cost and schedule estimates. Having identified the key deliverables in the Project Scope Statement, it is possible to estimate costs and schedule. But because they are at a high-level, they will be "ballpark" estimates. Breaking down each deliverable into smaller components will enable you to provide a more accurate and detailed schedule and cost estimate for your project.

Third, the WBS provides a basis for resource requests and task assignments. By breaking down each deliverable into distinct work packages, you will be able to determine the skill sets needed to complete the work as well as the number of people needed for each task.

Finally, a WBS will enable you to provide clear status reports on project progress since each work package is a measurable unit of work.

In Conclusion...

Having a clear picture of your project's scope is critical for it's success. A project management work breakdown structure is a key tool for bringing clarity to your project's scope and effectively managing your project.

Related Articles About The Work Breakdown Structure

Project Management Scope

Project management scope refers to all of the products, services, and results provided by your project. Learn how a Project Scope Statement and Work Breakdown Structure can help prevent Scope Creep.

Project Scope Statement: A Key Management Tool for Controlling Scope Creep

Learn why a project scope statement is important and the key elements it needs to include to make sure your projects are successful.

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