How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in Project Management
How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in Project Management

Today, project managers are more frequently finding high value in the creation of work breakdown structures (WBS) as they begin the process of project management. Project success may be attributed appropriately to the use of a WBS. Specifically, the planning process group starts with three essential steps: scope planning, scope definition, and work breakdown structure development. The precursor to effective project management is the original structure of work breakdowns. Hence, the more clearly the scope of the project is articulated before the actual work begins, the more likely the success of the project.

What is Project Management?

Project Management is the art of planning, organizing, motivating and controlling resources, which is very similar to managing a home with protocols; with a marked difference in achieving scientific goals. A Work Breakdown Structure on the other hand is the thorough and specific task of managing a project; one that requires critical planning.

Creating a work breakdown structure (WBS) helps you to be both comprehensive and specific when managing a project. Thinking each and every aspect is critical while planning your project, but you also need to look at the big picture. If you fail to recognize a major part of your project’s work, you won’t have the chance to detail it either.

What Is Work Breakdown Structure?

Typically, a project work breakdown structure is a framework that combines data, product or services or a culmination of all. This structure paves the way for a lot of important tasks that can be charted before the start of a project. It serves a road map for detailed cost estimating, resources, development of schedules, bearing in mind work schedules, deliverables and sometimes work packages. There are several types of structures though usually a traditional one would involve four definite elements. These are:

  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Deliverables and
  • Costs

The idea behind any work breakdown structure (WBS) is to organize several sections of a project into manageable sections. WBS is an extremely detailed plan that can be applied to any type of project management methodology. While creating the structure can be tedious, the completion of one can comfortably predict a project’s success. The construction of a WBS can be done by most fields though information technology projects fit perfectly well within WBS.
The PMBOK® defines WBS as “deliverable oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team.” Most project managers create diagrams in illustrating the project schedule and thereby their chain of thought. For example, the WBS clearly defines the scope in chunks that can be managed by several levels of people at the projected time. While this is true, here is what the WBS essentially takes care of:

  • Clarity

    The entire crux of creating a WBS is for everyone involved in the project to have an absolute clear picture about how the project needs to be executed. The WBS also includes scores of diagrams enlisting names, phases, duties and the effort required.

  • Organization

    Organizing a project is a mammoth task and its scope is further disintegrated into roles and number of people according to the phase.

  • Simplicity

    Because the phases are written down, the entire project can be tracked on the basis of its current phase as well as the succeeding phase.

  • Division of Labour

    All phases are equally divided with regard to size (number of people required) time (duration of activity) and roles (responsibility for each member of the project).

  • Diagrams

    The diagrams help in explaining hierarchy, with responsibilities fleshed out in detail.

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Steps to Create a Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management

The progressive approach to create a work breakdown structure can be summarized as inputs, tools, techniques, and outputs of the WBS.

  1. The inputs of the WBS consist of the project management plan, the project documents, enterprise environmental factors, organizational process assets, etc.
  2. The tools and techniques may include the decision-making, decomposition of project deliverables, etc.
  3. And, the outputs ideally include the scope baseline, project document update, etc.

Work Breakdown Structure Inputs

The inputs in the work breakdown structure include the following:

  1. Project Management Plan
  2. Project Documents
  3. Enterprise Environmental Factors
  4. Organizational Process Assets

Project Management Plan

One of the major components of the Project Management plan is scope management plan. Below mentioned is the importance of scope management plan in project management. The Scope Management Plan specifies how to create the WBS from the detailed project scope statement which focuses on how the project scope is defined, developed, monitored, controlled, and verified. Based on these features the WBS will be maintained and approved.

Project Documents

Listed below are the examples of project documents which can be considered as input for this process:

  • Project Scope Statement
    The Project Scope Statement contains the details of the work that is to be performed and the work that is to be excluded. The project scope statement also focuses on describing the specific internal and external restrictions or limitations that may affect the execution of the project.
  • Requirements Documentation
    A detailed requirements documentation is essential for understanding what needs to be produced or the deliverables that are to be achieved as the result of the project and also look into what needs to be done to deliver the project and its final products.

Enterprise Environmental Factors

Enterprise Environmental Factors influences the organization, the project, and its outcome. Every organization has to live and work within the EEF. The Enterprise Environment Factor can be either internal or external.

Here’s a look at both the internal and external factors that influence the WBS:

Internal FactorsExternal Factors
The Organizational structure of any organizations that are involved in the project.Industry standards that apply to products or services.
Information systems in an organization and their ability to share information.Governmental policies, restrictions, and political climates.
Human resources which involve their skills and availability.Marketplace conditions that influence pricing and availability of materials and services.
Portfolio management policies and processes.Competitor information, like number of competitors, opportunities, and threats based on the competition.
Project Management Office’s policies and processes.Availability of resources, both physical and labor.
Estimating, risk, and defect-tracking databases.Changes in the market, either from competition or economic factors.

Organizational Process Assets

  • Policies, procedures, and templates for the WBS
  • Project files from previous projects
  • Lessons learned from past projects

Tools and Techniques of Work Breakdown Structure

The tools and techniques include the following in the work breakdown structure:

  1. Expert Judgement
  2. Decomposition

Expert Judgment

To create an effective WBS, expert judgment is always essential, because the expertise of the experts is used to analyze the information needed to decompose the project deliverables down into smaller parts. Such analysis and expertise is applied to technical details of the project’s scope and used to reconcile differences in opinion on how to best break down the overall scope of the project.

Decomposition

Breaking down of the project deliverables into smaller, more manageable components is called decomposition. Breakdown should not be done until the cost and schedule for the work can be reliably estimated. The level of detail for work packages will depend on the size and complexity of the project.
To decompose the total project work into small work packages, the following activities are necessary:

  • Identifying and analyzing the deliverables and related work
  • Structuring and organizing the Work Breakdown Structure
  • Decomposing the upper WBS levels into lower-level detailed components
  • Developing and assigning identification codes to the WBS components
  • Verifying that the degree of decomposition of the deliverables is appropriate

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Work Breakdown Structure – Outputs

The outputs of the work breakdown structure include the following:

  1. Scope Baseline
  2. Project Document Updates

Scope Baseline

The scope baseline is the approved version of a scope statement, work breakdown structure (WBS), and its associated WBS dictionary, that can be changed only through formal change control procedures and is used as a basis for comparison.

Components of the scope baseline include:

  1. Project Scope Statement
    Project scope statement is a documentation which includes the description of the project scope, major deliverables, assumptions, and constraints.
  2. WBS
    WBS is a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be executed out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables. The WBS is finalized upon assigning each work package to a control account, which is a management control point where scope, budget, actual cost, and schedule are integrated and compared to the earned value for performance measurement.
  3. Work Package
    The work package technique comes with a unique identifier, and these identifiers provide a structure for hierarchical summation of costs, schedule, and resource information and form a code of accounts. Every work package falls under a control account. The control account is a management control point where the project’s scope, budget, and schedules are integrated and compared to the earned value for performance measurement.
  4. Planning Package
    The planning package is a work breakdown structure component below the control account and above the work package with known work content but without specific schedule activities. Also, a control account may include one or more planning packages.
  5. WBS Dictionary
    The WBS dictionary is a document that supports and provides detailed deliverable, activity, and scheduling information about each component in the WBS. Work dictionary can include information regarding the following aspects;
    • Code of account identifier
    • Description of work
    • Assumptions and constraints
    • Responsible organization
    • Schedule milestones
    • Associated schedule activities
    • Resources required
    • Cost estimate
    • Quality requirements
    • Acceptance criteria
    • Technical references
    • Agreement information

Project Document Updates

Project documents that may be updated include, but are not limited to, requirements documentation, which may need to be updated to incorporate approved changes. If approved change requests result from the create WBS process, then the requirements documentation may need to be updated to include recommended changes.

  1. Assumption Log
    The assumption log is used to update any additional assumptions or constraints that were identified during the process of Create WBS.
  2. Requirements Documentation
    The vital feature of requirements documentation method is that it will update and include the approved changes that result from the process of creating WBS.

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Conclusion

As the essential task of the project manager is to fulfill the stakeholder’s needs, as it is addressed in the Project Management plan, only a proper WBS lets the project managers plan their work more efficiently by characterizing the project by time-limited activities which are assigned with fixed time frames and costs. Thus, the WBS helps make the project management planning consistent and ensures it assists in effective project execution. Also, Give yourself a chance to enhance your Project Management skills with PMP certification training, and excel in your career.

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Lucy Brown has many years of experience in the project management domain and has helped many organizations across the Asia Pacific region. Her excellent coordinating capabilities, both inside and outside the organization, ensures that all projects are completed on time, adhering to clients' requirements. She possesses extensive expertise in developing project scope, objectives, and coordinating efforts with other teams in completing a project. As a project management practitioner, she also possesses domain proficiency in Project Management best practices in PMP and Change Management. Lucy is involved in creating a robust project plan and keep tabs on the project throughout its lifecycle. She provides unmatched value and customized services to clients and has helped them to achieve tremendous ROI.

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