Effective Ways to Create a Work Breakdown Structure

April 13, 2022

What are the three constraints that define a project’s success? First is timely completion, next is delivering the output within the stipulated budget and finally aligning it with the scope.  

The next pertinent question is, how do we ensure and meet these criteria? 

The thumb rule is to create a detailed plan before initiating the project.  

Managers should create a schedule by defining all the tasks, estimated timeline, and required skillset against each of them. 

To structure this plan, managers can create a hierarchical network diagram. In the project management realm, this diagram is known as the work breakdown structure, and it also serves as a project tracker.  

This blog highlights everything you need to know about the work breakdown structure and how you can create one. 

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1. What is a work breakdown structure (WBS)?

As the name suggests, a work breakdown structure entails breaking the work into smaller, manageable chunks. In other words, a project/final deliverable is broken down into doable sections, also known as work packages. Further, these work packages are assigned to teams, and their progress is evaluated. 

As per the PMBOK Guide, 

“The WBS is a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.” 

The structure defines and covers all the project scope details, and project managers can use it as a reference document to monitor progress. Instead of emphasizing each task, the WBS focuses on the milestones. 

Now that the definition of WBS is clear, let’s understand why it is important in project management. 

2. Significance of a WBS

By facilitating managers to create a detailed project plan, the WBS covers all the granular level tasks without overlooking any necessary detail. Additionally, it helps the team members to understand how their respective tasks help achieve the final deliverable, thus enhancing transparency.   

Furthermore, breaking down the project into phases and tasks provides numerous benefits. It helps,  

  • Identify the scope of the project and create a systematic schedule. 
  • Estimate the time and cost of the project accurately. 
  • Assign responsibilities diligently to the project team members. 
  • Visualize the project milestones and other sub-deliverables.  
  • Recognize the critical path of a project and also identify risks. 

Lets’ now delve into the different components of the work breakdown structure. 

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3. Components of a WBS

The WBS is essentially divided into three major components. These are deliverables, control accounts, and work packages.  

Here is a detailed description of each: 

A. Deliverables

These are the outcomes or results that you will get after you complete all the project activities. Each activity may have single or multiple sub-deliverables. It’s essential to note that the deliverables should be measurable and exclusive, i.e., no two deliverables should be similar. The project as a whole is known as the final deliverable. 

For instance, let’s consider that you are heading a software development project for an eCommerce company. You are expected to create a website. In this case, the website is the final deliverable. On the other hand, there will be multiple sub-deliverables such as the creation of the home page, services page, skeleton of the site, etc. 

Importance of project milestone

B. Control accounts

Control accounts are usually positioned at selected levels within the WBS. They are a management control point that integrates key elements of a project such as scope, cost, and schedule and compare them to the earned value for performance measurement. Moreover, these can be used for cost management and reporting within a project. 

C. Work packages

Work packages are the lowest elements in a work breakdown structure.  

They are a collection of related tasks and typically comprise the nature of work involved, specific stakeholders, results of the tasks, technical material used, duration, etc. 

Each work package is assigned to only one control account. And these packages are further broken down into activities, which will be assigned to the specific project team members. 

Before delving into the steps to create a WBS, let’s first discuss the rules you should follow while developing it. 

4. Rules to abide by while creating a WBS

As a project manager, you should adhere to certain hard and fast rules while creating the work breakdown schedule. These rules are: 

  • The 100% rule: According to this rule, the WBS should consist of every aspect of the project. You should not miss out on any information, be it the deliverables, control accounts, or work packages. 
  • The 8/80 rule: This rule states that the work packages should not take less than 8 hours and not more than 80 hours for execution. 
  • The mutual exclusivity rule: While creating the WBS, you should ensure that all the tasks and sub-deliverables are exclusive and none is repeated or duplicated. 
  • The three-level rule: As per this rule, every WBS should have at least three levels, i.e., the final deliverable, the control accounts, and lastly, the work packages level. 
  • The outcome-focused rule: This rule states that you should ensure that the WBS is focused on the results after each stage and not on the tasks/activities done to produce them. 

Now that the rules are understood, let’s delve into the necessary steps to create the WBS. 

5. How to create a work breakdown structure?

Creating a WBS is a tedious task as every detail, task, sub-task, deliverable, its timeline, etc., has to be defined with utmost accuracy. Following these steps will help you form an ideal WBS,  

A. Identify the project objective

The first and most crucial step while developing the structure is to identify the objective and understand the goals and expectations clearly. The project objective is the reason behind its execution and serves as the final deliverable or the first level of the WBS.  

For instance, you’re heading a construction project of building an apartment. Then building the apartment as per the client’s expectation is your goal and the final deliverable. Once you have a clear picture of the objective, you can plan the further steps. Moreover, it will also assist you in ensuring that you’re on the right path. 

B. List down the control accounts, planning and work packages

Once you define the objective, it’s time to go to the second tier of the WBS, i.e., the control accounts. As stated earlier, these are an integration of scope, cost, and timeline.  The control accounts will be developed against every work package. For instance, if you are managing an IT project, a control account with estimated scope, budget, or timeline is formulated against work packages such as designing, UAT, beta stage, etc.  

They allow the project manager to collect and analyze work performance data at every stage and take course corrective measures in time. The next step is defining the planning package between the control account and the work package. It has a list of tasks, but the schedules and skills are not iterated. Lastly, managers can define the components at a granular level with specified skills and duration against each task and form the work packages. 

steps create project scope document

C. Create a WBS appendix with necessary information

To reduce the complexity of the WBS, project managers often denote the work packages with codes or numbers. However, with no background knowledge about the codes or the work, it may create ambiguity within the team. Moreover, certain stakeholders may not be familiar with the technical terms used while creating the WBS, which may lead to discrepancies and misunderstandings.  

To avoid this, consider creating a WBS appendix or dictionary towards the end. It provides a detailed description of the work package and also lists the acceptance criteria for each deliverable. Hence, anyone can refer to the appendix to resolve their doubts, if any. It will also mitigate the chances of scope creep and help ensure successful delivery. 

D. Assign the activities to different teams

Once the WBS is created, you move closer to initiation. The first step is to assign the relevant tasks to team members. And to do so, project managers have to raise a timely request to resource managers and provide them enough leeway to identify the competent resources who have the right skills, capacity, and experience needed for the job.  

Once the resources are allocated and scheduled, you must clear the roles, responsibilities, and client expectations to avoid potential bottlenecks. 

Consider implementing a resource management tool to streamline the resource requisition, allocation, and scheduling process for the tasks. The solution will provide you with 360-degree visibility of all resource-related information on a single platform. With that, you can optimize resource schedules and avoid over/underutilization.  

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6. Conclusion

It is well established that WBS is a critical element that sets the foundation of the project. Thus, managers must create it diligently, follow the right rules, and steps.  

This article works as a guide for you and will help you ace your WBS. So, are you ready to create an effective and comprehensible WBS that will serve all the necessary purposes?  

7. The Glossary:   

 

glossary

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Create a detailed WBS to set the right foundation of the project