Work Breakdown Structure

by on November 25, 2011 in Course Preparation, PMP®, Project Management

Work Breakdown Structure

While writing I am wondering how many people know about work breakdown structure or so called WBS. What is it? Why it is very important in project management? Let me explain you … WBS is known as work breakdown structure and it is a very important project management tool. It is a hierarchical sub-division of the work to be performed by the project team. WBS is a part of scope management in the planning stage just after collecting the entire requirement.

Generally after getting approved project charter a project manager prepares a list of activities to be performed in the project and this is a huge mistake because a list does not allow you to clearly break down the project into small pieces and it can be meaningless for your project.

What exactly is the WBS?

The WBS is a project management tool which breaks the project into smaller and more manageable pieces. It decomposes the deliverables/output into the small pieces called as work packages.

Sometimes we confuse that WBS is a PM tool which breaks the project deliverables into small pieces, it’s not like that exactly… WBS is a PM tool which breaks all the deliverables i.e., project scope, product scope, and project management efforts as a whole.

Point to be noted here is that work package should be designed in such a way that you can:

  • Estimate the cost for the created work package
  • Schedule the work package
  • Monitor and control the work package

 Unless and until you are unable to set a price and schedule the work package –  it is null and void really, you must break your processes into work packages and their must be a pricing and schedule fixed for that work package so that you can monitor and control the same effectively and correctly.

When to create the WBS?

 Ideally a project manager should create the WBS in planning stage after collecting all the requirements for that particular project. Please note that requirement here means not of the project requirements only but what stakeholders need from this project. Obviously, a project manager should align the stakeholders need with project objectives. This is a huge task for a modern day project manager. I can guarantee you – many of the project managers fails to do so effectively. That’s why you need to be a PMP certified!

 Whom to involve in creating the WBS:

 As per PMI, in creating WBS, the below-mentioned people should involve ideally:

  • Project Manager
  • Project Management team
  • Project team
  • All the identified stakeholders

The involvement of stakeholders in creating WBS is very critical and useful too.

ITTO required in the WBS:

Generally we need input as project scope statement, requirement documentation, and OPA information for creating the standard WBS. The outputs are obviously finalized WBS, WBS dictionary, and the scope baselines. Scope baselines are then monitored, verified, and controlled throughout the life-cycle of the project by the assigned project manager. And the tool used to create WBS is decomposition.

What is WBS dictionary:

It is really very interesting to know what WBS dictionary is. It is the work/activities defined for each and every work packages in WBS. Isn’t  interesting? So, if any new member joins your project in mid-way, you can refer him/her this dictionary for knowing his/her role.

When WBS can be used:

  • If a new member joins your project you can refer to the WBS to see their roles.
  • When client or any stakeholders asks for a scope change in the mid-way of the projects, you can use this WBS to see if there is any impact on the six constraints.


Overall, WBS is a very important tool in modern day project management as per PMI. The interesting thing to note down on WBS is it can be re-used again and again for several projects if the nature of the projects demands the same nature of output. If the nature of the projects is different than the current one, then also it can be used with some nominal changes. Isn’t interesting? Very interesting indeed!!!

Note for PMP aspirants:

Please don’t confuse the WBS with Network Diagram … WBS is totally different than the Network Diagram as the later describes the sequence among the activities while former only describes what work to be performed in each and every work package without sequencing the activities.

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