The breakdown is nothing short of a nightmare for project managers. On one hand, it affects productivity, and on the other hand, it prevents your company from meeting deadlines. A work breakdown structure can lend a helping hand in avoiding breakdown and accomplish the project objectives effectively. Let’s dig deep into the details of Work Breakdown Structure or WBS. 

First things first. It has nothing to do with work breakdown! As defined by the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) guide, a work breakdown structure is a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the necessary deliverables. Simply put, a work breakdown structure involves all the elements that a project requires to accomplish. 

WBS is different from the project plan and project schedule. Let’s understand the difference between these three major aspects of project management. 

How WBS, Project Plan, and Project Schedule are Different than One Another?

WBS is a deliverable-based breakdown of the entire project into smaller elements. It is designed to organize the team’s workflow more conveniently. As a hierarchical structure, WBS is a single-page document for the project scope. 

The project plan includes multiple aspects for a given project. It is a collection of documents and discusses everything related to project management and execution. Resources necessary to achieve the deliverables, scheduling, and risk management are a few important aspects included in the project plan. From the level of detail viewpoint, the project plan is the broadest structure of all three. 

The project schedule supports planning for the project by providing dates for commencing and completing the project. It also identifies dates for other project’s elements and gives the entire timeline for project completion. 

Before moving to the benefits of work breakdown structures, we will go through the types of it. 

Types of Work Breakdown Structure

We can classify work breakdown structures into three types- deliverable-based, responsibility-based, and phase-based. However, among these types, the deliverable-based approach is the most commonly used. 

1. Deliverable-based WBS

It identifies connections between the deliverables and the scope of the project. It is the most common type of work breakdown structure. All the characteristics and benefits of WBS that we are going to discuss are for 

2. Phase-based WBS

Its first level will be of project elements of typical phases. The second phase consists of distinctive deliverables. For this type of WBS, work related to different elements will be divided into work unique to the element in the first level of WBS. 

3. Responsibility-based WBS

It defines elements of the project based on the organizational units. The first level of this structure will be the organization units, and the rest of the levels follow the same format as deliverable-based and phase-based WBS. 

Major Benefits of Work Breakdown Structure

It is fair to mention that a work breakdown structure is the first step in developing a complete project schedule. It can assist your team members to understand the scope and deliverables of the project at every level. Also, it can keep them updated with changing deliverables. 

Big benefits of WBS include-

  • Acts as a guideline- Work breakdown structure can show the deliverables and scope of the project, thereby enabling your team to be guided through what is necessary in an organized manner. 
  • Assists to keep focus on scope- As a clear and concise document, WBS assists your team to focus on the scope and deliverables of the project at hand. Your team can keep the scope in mind using WBS. 
  • Prevents changes in project- WBS is about breaking down the entire project for highlighting its scope clearly. It enables the team members and stakeholders to remain updated with every change in the scope. 
  • Gives proper estimation- WBS is known for giving easy estimation for both time and resource management. With the help of robust project management software and WBS, you can easily find out the connections between the deliverables. WBS also facilitates project managers to delegate tasks and setting timelines for every task to accomplish the given project on time. 
  • Enhances accountability- In WBS, project elements are mutually exclusive. It generates accountability and your team allocated to the work or tasks remains completely accountable for project completion. It also enables project managers or team leaders to avoid any responsibility overlap. 

You can make a work breakdown structure for your organization in different ways. It depends on elements that work for you and your team members. The work breakdown structure usually follows the outline consists of five important aspects.

They are- 

  • Proper understanding of the project’s scope
  • Define key deliverables of the project
  • Make work packages (Deliverables given at the lowest level of the WBS)
  • Create a WBS dictionary to explain the definition and scope of every element
  • Finalize the format and make a work breakdown structure

Other formats are also available for making the WBS. However, you should pick up the right format that can benefit you as a project manager and your team can easily understand. A more visual tabular structure is also useful. You can also use the task management tool to make a list of tasks and delegate them. 

Finally, here are some of the top characteristics of an effective work breakdown structure. 

Key Characteristics of WBS

  • It is a deliverable-based structure for project elements
  • It is made by those who are working on the project
  • It includes the complete scope of the work with the list of all deliverables that need to be accomplished
  • It describes the work and project scope clearly
  • It has at least two levels
  • It has mostly nouns and adjectives with no or minimal verbs
  • It is a single document with a chart, illustration, or an outline
  • It arranges all deliverables in a hierarchical pattern
  • It is highly adaptable and keeps on improving over the period

Concluding Lines

Work breakdown structure plays a vital role in accomplishing the project seamlessly at the given deadline. In the coming years, WBS will also get more advanced and productive with the help of advancing technology integrated into the project management software.