Work Breakdown Structure

Work Breakdown Structure


To plan a project you need to be sure that you have captured all of the deliverables and tasks that make up the finished project in a Work Breakdown Structure< (WBS). The sum total of the parts of a project is the project scope, the WBS represents the project scope. The best way to produce a WBS involves post-its and a blank wall. Get your team together and ask them to spend 10 – 15 mins listing out all of the project tasks that they can think of. If you have a large project it may help to split the work into work streams or groups. To get things moving ask team members to focus on their tasks or their departments tasks. Write out your own project management tasks as well.

When you can see plenty of post-its and people are starting to slow down, Write the end product of the project and place it at the top of the wall or white board. Underneath the final product put up post its representing the key deliverables or workstreams.

Then ask your team to add their tasks beneath each main deliverable. You will have a mix of products, sub-products and tasks. Organise the products in a hierarchy so that each product is broken down into its component parts.

Don’t get hung up on how the tasks should be grouped. The key here is too identify, as far as possible, everything that needs to be done to deliver the project. These are just two of the workstreams and you can probably see other deliverables that could be added beneath the lowest level. For example, to book the venue it may need to be viewed, quotes gathered, and paperwork completed. To complete software installation permissions may be required for changing firewall settings and a specific resource may need to be booked to make the permission changes.

How low should the Work Breakdown Structure go?

At some point in this process you are going to wonder or be asked how far you need to breakdown the tasks. For lowest level tasks you should be able to:

  • identify a single point of responsibility for completing the task
  • clearly distinguish the task from other pieces of work
  • see interfaces/dependencies with with other tasks
  • estimate the effort required to complete the task

Breaking down the work to the right level will ensure you develop a detailed, high quality project plan.

Download a work Breakdown Structure template