Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management

work breakdown structure

Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management
Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management

Work Breakdown Structure

The concept Work Breakdown Structure is widely used by professionals to represent the project’s scope and deliverables in a hierarchical way. Creating a Work Breakdown Structure is one of the first steps in project planning and scheduling. Sometimes this concept may be confusing for beginners and candidates who are planning to build up a career as a project manager. This article discusses the concept and analyzes a Work Breakdown Structure example.



The Concept of Work Breakdown Structure

The Work Breakdown Structure is used for project control and management purposes such as planning, scheduling, reporting, cost control etc. It is applicable to all projects among all industries.

The Work Breakdown Structure is a subdivision of the project’s scope of work as a hierarchical structure. This concept falls within the Project Scope Management. Major project deliverables are represented at the upper levels and detailed project management processes are represented at the lower levels of WBS.

What is the Work Breakdown Structure ?

The Work Breakdown Structure is a tool used for project management which divides the project into manageable and minor components. The project deliveables are divided into smaller work packages as hierarchical groups.

Working with smaller work packages provides many benefits while creating and reporting a project schedule.

  • You can estimate the project’s cost by estimating the costs of each work packages.
  • You can schedule the overall project by analyzing each work package
  • You can create a monitoring and controlling system for the overall project relying on the work packages.

Because of these reasons the Work Breakdown Structure should be created at the planning stage after obtaining all the project’s and the stakeholder‘s requirements.



Why Should You Use the Work Breakdown Structure ?

Assume that you are a project manager of a dam construction project. After getting the approval of the project charter, you started to list the activities to be performed. Is this an efficient way to create a project schedule and track the performance without grouping the activities under different levels ? A list itself is not sufficient to clearly break down the project into smaller components. Because when you report the project’s performence you can not demonstrate the project’s deliverables in a hierarchical decomposition. Using a Work Breakdown Structure provides a clear view of your project’s scope of work.

In a workschedule activities are grouped under certain WBS levels. For example in a construction project schedule, electrical cabling activities are grouped under electrical WBS levels, piping activities are grouped under mechanical WBS levels. This improves the quality of scheduling, tracking and reporting.

Keep in mind that the WBS describes deliverables and activity groups not the activities in detail.

How to Create the Work Breakdown Structure ?

According to the PMBOK Guide, the Work Breakdown Structure creation process should involve project manager, project team, project management team and stakeholders.

Project scope of work (scope statement), Organizational Process Assets and requirement documentation are the essential inputs for Work Breakdown Structure creation process.

The WBS is an important tool for modern project management practices. Once it is created for a current project, it can be used for future projects which have the same scope and deliverables. If there is a change in the scope or the client asks for a scope change then the WBS should be changed.



What is a Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary?

A WBS dictionary is created based on the WBS of the project. It provides detailed information related with each WBS component. A WBS dictionary involves a brief information of the scope of work, start and finish dates, resources, responsible manager (or personnel), costs and technical information for each WBS element. It provides a quick view for the project’s deliverables.

A WBS Dictionary is required because WBS itself is not capable to provide enough information for the scope of work. It is a good idea to keep the WBS and WBS dictionary up to date in the same document so that the stakeholders and the project team can reach the updated project information easily.

Note that the WBS Dictionary concept is important for PMP Certification Exam.

Work Breakdown Structure Example

For better understanding, let’s analyze a sample Work Breakdown Structure for a construction project.

WBS Work Breakdown Structure
WBS Work Breakdown Structure

As shown in the figure, all the elements are listed under WBS levels. The lowest levels of the WBS shows the project deliverables. Tasks and activities will be grouped under these lowest levels. Level 1 is the overall project. Level 2 is the main phases of the project. Level 3 shows the major deliverables and level 4 is the minor deliverables. Keep in mind that activities are not the components of WBS.



Summary

The WBS is not a confusing concept and creating a WBS is not a daunting task. It provides a visual presentation by organizing the project deliverables graphically. The WBS displays everything required to complete the project on a single chart. The purpose of creating this chart is to breakdown the project’s scope into smaller components.

Many things may go wrong in a project even if it was planned successfully. A poorly established WBS may result in poor management and control practices. The WBS is a coordination tool between the client and the contractor describing the end product or service the project will produce. An well created WBS is therefore critical for project success. In brief, WBS defines the hierarchy of deliverables.



See Also

10 Essential Project Documents

Primavera P6 Work Breakdown Structure

External References

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.