Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management

Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management

In project management, WBS stands for Work Breakdown Structure. WBS is a fundamental tool that will help you estimate, plan, execute, and assess large projects. So, let’s explore it in more detail. 

What is Work Breakdown Structure?

The name is itself self-explanatory, right? A WBS starts with a larger project or milestone and breaks it down into smaller, more digestible pieces that you can reasonably estimate and assign to different teams. 

Instead of focusing on different activities that your team needs to carry out to accomplish an objective, a Work Breakdown Structure mainly focuses on deliverables, measurable milestones, and a concrete plan. You can call these deliverables different things – work packages, chunks of work, groups of tasks, tasks, sub-tasks, elements, items – you name it. 

Why you should use WBS in project management

Well, there are different reasons for you to do so. WBS helps to: 

  • Estimate the cost and timeline of a project 
  • Establish dependencies 
  • Assign responsibilities to different team members or different teams within your organization
  • Track the progress of a project 
  • Identify and measure risks 

How to make a Work Breakdown Structure?

The steps are easy – first of all, define the objective you want to achieve. In software development, that objective could be developing a new software feature, in marketing, that can be doing market research for a particular product. 

As a next step, divide the objective into smaller pieces. But make sure you don’t focus on every little item or action. Instead, try to focus on concrete deliverables. Remember that it’s a WBS, not an action plan. 

Then, based on the nature of the objective you want to accomplish, start thinking about project phases and specific big deliverables within the project. 

Tips for creating an effective Work Breakdown Structure

My many years of experience in managing software development teams and building software for various companies has taught me a few things about how to create effective WBS. 

Sharing my tips below: 

  1. Great WBS is mainly developed in a team. Of course, project managers can oversee the project’s progress and maintain communication with the external stakeholders. Still, they are humans, and they can potentially overlook details that other team members won’t. That’s why, on Dowork.ai, we allow project managers and executives to add several estimators to create the WBS together.
  2. The work represented by your Work Breakdown Structure should include 100% of the work needed to complete the given project. I should bring an example from Dowork.ai again. So, on Dowork.ai, you can add staffing information as well as info about other resources. Under “staffing,” you are going to add all the departments and details associated with them. And under “resources,” you can add any other things you’ll need to do (e.g., purchase a tool) to complete the project. 
  3. As a rule of thumb, a specific phase in a project should not take more than 80 and less than 8 hours of effort to complete. In project management, we call this the 8/80 rule.
  4. Since a Work Breakdown Structure is the basis of further project planning and execution, it’s key that you can present it on a single page. Hence, to tackle this, we have implemented the Share functionality on Dowork.ai. It allows you to share a live link or a so-called one-pager with external stakeholders. The one-pager will include information about the timeline and the cost of the whole project. And should you make any changes to the WBS itself, the one-pager will update in real-time. 
  5. It’s also key that each team member or department in a larger organization get to work on a different chunk of the project. Deliverables should be mutually exclusive, meaning that you should avoid duplicating phases or group tasks or assigning the same thing to two or more people or teams. 

Summing up 

Work Breakdown Structure is a great tool to get your project going. With the right tool under your hand, you will effectively create a WBS and evaluate any project. At Dowork.ai, we strive to provide project managers and executives with all the tools they need to estimate, plan, track and assess each project accurately. Have you already given a try to Dowork.ai? If not, it’s time you do. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions for us. We love feedback, and we love acting upon it!