Work Breakdown Structure

Work breakdown structures help you eliminate unnecessary work and increase efficiency, so you can deliver work on time, every time.

What is a work breakdown structure?

If there were a bridge between planning work and doing work, it would be called a work breakdown structure. It’s a way for you to build out a flowchart that breaks all of the deliverables down into manageable tasks and provide your team with a guide for developing a product or completing a project.

Although you can make work breakdown structures by hand or in flowchart tools, it’s often time-consuming and isn’t easily updated. Using project management software to build a work breakdown structure keeps all the information up-to-date and gives your team clarity while you have the flexibility you need to plan work.

Benefits of work breakdown structures

See the Big Picture

A clearly defined work breakdown structure allows you to make sure every detail and phase of a project is accounted for before you begin. It visually communicates the big picture, and helps everyone stay on the same page throughout the entire project.

When all of your deliverables are broken down into smaller tasks, it’s easier to establish dependencies and create an accurate project timeline. You can also write a more detailed statement of work (SOW), which keeps the plan in scope and sets clear expectations for your team and stakeholders.

Since the work to be done is already defined and broken down into manageable pieces, your team can get to work immediately instead of waiting for instructions. They can be more productive, and you’re able to hold them accountable for the work they do.

See the Big Picture

Important parts of a work breakdown structure

When you create a work breakdown structure, you start by outlining the desired outcome. Working backward from completion to kickoff, you divide the project into smaller deliverables then break down each deliverable into manageable tasks and subtasks.

There are three general components that make up a work breakdown structure:

Deliverables

Deliverables

Define the end products that make up the WBS at a high level. You’ll break them down into smaller pieces later so you can assign work to individual team members.

Work Components

Work Components

Group similar tasks and make some general milestones or work phases. You’re still not at the individual task level yet, but you’ll be able to conceptualize how the process will go.

Individual Tasks

Individual Tasks

Also called “work packages,” these are the most detailed level of your WBS. They should be assigned to one deliverable and completed by a single person.

Work Breakdown Structure Best Practices

The 100% rule

Your outlined deliverables should include 100% of the work packages needed to reach the overall project objective. Each deliverable should account for ALL of the work packages needed to complete that phase.

“What” not “how”

WBS focuses on what is being done, not how it's being done. If you’re on a product development team, a deliverable would be “market research” and the work packages would be surveys, focus groups, or research analysis.

8/80

Work packages should take no less than 8 hours of effort and no more than 80. If a work package takes less than 8 hours, it should be combined with another work package. If it takes more than 80 hours, it needs to be broken down into smaller pieces.

Hierarchies

WBS elements should be numbered in a sequential order. An easy way to do this is to use a use a decimal system to label elements from top to bottom. Defined hierarchies help you contextualize tasks and communicate how work packages fit together.

Dictionary

A WBS dictionary provides a high-level visualization of your WBS. It follows the same structure as your hierarchies and should include a brief description of each work package so there are no miscommunications.

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