The Work Breakdown Structure is a process of dividing complex projects into smaller, simpler, and manageable tasks. As its name depicts, the WBS is used to break the process of completing a project into smaller steps or milestones. It lets the team focus on a single task rather than worry about the entire project. It makes the large project more manageable by defining it into smaller subprojects or milestones that the project team could achieve within the given time. It can also be called a visual, hierarchical, and deliverable-oriented approach to completing a project.
Work Breakdown Structure is the visual representation of the project milestones and timelines. It is a chart representing simplified steps to be followed by the project team to complete the project successfully. It is an essential project management tool because the project managers use it to break down their project scope and visualize all the tasks needed to be completed. Creating it is the first step in creating the project schedule, as it defines all the work that needs to be completed and the order in which each task will be done to fulfill the project goals and accomplish the project objectives.
The Need for Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
Creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is important as it displays the entire project in a single chart. It helps understand the project scope and allocate the human and material resources to the project.
It also helps in project planning, scheduling and budgeting, risk management, change management, task management, resource management, and team management.
Types of Work Breakdown Structure
There are two types of WBS:
- Deliverable based WBS
- Phase based WBS
Deliverable Based WBS
This type of WBS first breaks down the project into major project scope areas and then further divides those areas into deliverables and milestones.
In phase-based WBS, the project’s final deliverable is placed on top of all the other levels, followed by the five phases of the project lifecycle.
Elements of a Work Breakdown Structure
Following is the list of elements that make up a work breakdown structure:
1. WBS Dictionary
As its name depicts, it is simply a dictionary that defines the terminology used in the WBS. It helps the project team and other stakeholders to understand the Work Breakdown Structure.
2. WBS Levels
The WBS levels determine the hierarchy of WBS elements. Most WBS has three levels:
- Level 1: It contains high-level tasks or major tasks.
- Level 2 includes the subtasks that need to be performed to complete the tasks mentioned in level 1.
- Level 3: Mentions the dependencies of each task on other tasks or resources.
3. Control Accounts
Control accounts are used to control the areas of the project scope by grouping the work packages and measuring their status.
4. Project Deliverables
The desired outcome of the project tasks and work packages are called the project deliverables.
5. Work Packages
A work package is a group of related tasks that are small enough to be assigned to a team member or a department and could be completed quickly.
The work packages are further divided into smaller tasks related to each other. The WBS defines the requirements associated with each task. It also mentions the status, description, task owners, dependencies, and timelines for each task.
Creating a WBS
Here are the steps for creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS):
- Defining project goals, scope, and objectives
- Identifying the project phases and Control Accounts
- Listing out the project deliverables
- Defining WBS levels
- Creating Work Packages
- Choosing Task Owners