7 reasons to create WBS

WBS is an acronym for “Work Breakdown Structure”. Simply said it is the work required to break PM down.

It is true that PMs are usually overburdened with project work they are on the verge of breaking down. However, WBS makes PMs life easy. WBS is the breaking down total scope of work into smaller more manageable components

WBS is a fabulous tool delineate and represent total scope – project scope as well as product scope.

However, in my experience, WBS is rarely used by practicing project managers. Many find it cumbersome to draw, others think it is useless while a large community just do not understand how to draw it.

WBS is very easy to understand and quite easy to draw. Moreover, it has immense utility – it is a proverbial pillar for successfully completing the projects. There are many books/articles that can guide you to draw a WBS. I will not repeat those things; I will rather concentrate on understanding the importance of a WBS.

Should it be drawn? Can I just make it by representing as bullet and sub-bullet points?
A WBS can be drawn/represented either as a hierarchical (like an inverted tree) structure or as bullet points. Both techniques have certain advantages as well as disadvantages but either one can be used by PMs.

What is the formal definition of WBS?
WBS is deliverable oriented hierarchical decomposition of total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create required deliverables.

There are few keywords in the above definition:

  1. Total scope – WBS represents total scope of work. The work, not represented by WBS, is not part of project. The WBS should be drawn completely to delineate complete scope; nothing should be left out.
  2. Hierarchical decomposition – The scope of work is decomposed (divided & subdivided) hierarchically. A higher level node represents bigger chunks of work while the lower level node represents smaller chunk (or a division) of work. All the child nodes roll up to the parent node. Project will finish if the team completes all the work represented by the lowest level nodes.
  3. Deliverable oriented – One should always think about deliverable while defining any node and breaking down (decomposing) a parent node into child nodes. A deliverable is an outcome that can be perceived and holds some value. A deliverable is required by stakeholder(s). A deliverable represented by a WBS node can be intermediate outcome leading to the final outcome or the final outcome itself.

WBS is NOT task oriented and it should not be represented by tasks or activities.

    What is the difference between a deliverable and an activity?
    A deliverable is the result or outcome of series of activities. An activity, by itself, may not produce any tangible result.

    Why is WBS important?

    1. WBS is a pictorial representation of scope; it represents total scope of work. A picture is worth thousand words and hence easy to understand & follow.
    2. WBS represents total scope and hence it can act as a checklist for the project. A PM can easily tell what all has been accomplished and what is remaining in the project.
    3. Each successive level of WBS provides a basis for more accurate estimation of effort, duration, resources and cost.
    4. The deliverable, as represented by WBS, can be easily monitored and tracked.
    5. Historical WBS can act as a templates for future work – specifically for some repetitive processes. It results in easier and faster project planning.
    6. Smaller work can be easily assigned to individual team members and they can be made accountable.
    7. Most important it reduces the project risk.

    Think about “nouns” (deliverable) while drawing WBS and it will not be painful. Remember WBS does not break you down, it rather breaks the work in smaller pieces to make your life easier.

      Praveen Malik, PMP is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) with a rich 20+ years of experience. He is a leading Project Management Instructor and Consultant. He regularly conducts Project Management workshops in India & abroad.

      12 thoughts on “7 reasons to create WBS

      1. Hi Praveen Sir,
        Please can you elaborate WBS bit more with generic example like “Setting up a PMO”

        Thanks in advance.

      2. Breaking up the chucks of work is essential for your planning. WBS is nice, however the PBS (Product Breakdown Structure) and PFD (Product Flow Diagram) are the planning techniques I use to make my Schedule and finally my activity based project sheet. WBS is more used as an allocation of work (work package) to a certain party. PBS and PFD are both techniques from Prince2.

      3. Hello, I am making use of the Sticky Tab method of taking in account everything that is in Scope into a Numbered WBS. We just did it this week with a new project on a program I am currently working on and it is very beneficial. What we do, just after we’ve recorded it into a PMIS, is to go back to the original WBS on Sticky Notes, draw dependencies with another color and now draw our RBS from bottom up onto the WBS on another color, to start of with high level Risks and what we will do in the following month is now to explore those dependencies and add it to the Dependency Log, add all the assumptions to the Assumption Log, explore the risks further and add to the Risk Log. We will also now go via the Agile Approach and explore our work packages further for specifically the Technology Development piece’s of work.

      4. While I believe WBS is important, in some environments, I have been challenged with this due to experience level of BA & QA’s. OR a sponsor who is new to PM methodology, challenged to define scope or time in advance or sometimes there are those who don’t care.. What suggestions do you have when it comes to issues such as these?

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