Last updated on January 6, 2016
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Each successive level of WBS provides a basis for more accurate estimation of effort, duration, resources and cost.
- The deliverable, as represented by WBS, can be easily monitored and tracked.
- Historical WBS can act as a templates for future work – specifically for some repetitive processes. It results in easier and faster project planning.
- Smaller work can be easily assigned to individual team members and they can be made accountable.
- 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.