Articles, Netpoint

Is your team keen to utilize the most important project management tools when planning their projects? Statistics indicate that organizations that adopt robust project practices are more likely to achieve their project goals (77% vs. 56%), stay within budget (67% vs. 46%), and meet deadlines (63% vs. 39%), and much less likely to experience total project failure (11% vs. 21%).

If your answer is a resounding yes, then a work breakdown structure (WBS) template is what you need to help your team keep projects on the right course. A suitable template greatly facilitates the goal of specifying the organization and definition of your project.

The WBS is a valuable project management tool for defining and organizing the work required. It facilitates the development of a project schedule by clarifying the total estimated time for the realization of an activity for specific sections of the work areas. The WBS provides a visual of the entire scope and can identify potential scope risks if work areas are not well defined.

This guide will walk you through the essential characteristics of a Work Breakdown Structure and why you need one.  

What is a Work Breakdown Structure?  

The Project Management Institute’s PMBOK® Guide describes the WBS as follows:

“Its purpose is to give teams a visual deconstruction of their project. It is designed to look hierarchical and allows you to break down all the project’s deliverable actions.” 

Think of it as a diagram that gives you an at-a-glance view or breakdown of all the steps required for your project-related tasks. It’s an essential tool for project planning and is often used by project managers when creating a Gantt chart or project schedule.

Using Gantt charts and the WBS together greatly improves the successful planning, organizing, and executing of projects.

The primary purpose of a WBS is to make your project more manageable. It breaks your project down into more bite-sized pieces of work that can be carried out by more than one person.

Using a WBS inspires confidence in project managers and team members alike; namely, because they can confidently pinpoint pending and completed deliverables alongside their budget. 

Why Use a WBS in Project Management?  

The best question is, why not?

A WBS should be your first step when creating your project’s structure. It clarifies all the work that needs doing and in which order. This is imperative for ensuring all your team members are on the same page for meeting the project’s objectives and goals within budget.

As a result, a well-planned WBS helps you avoid common project management difficulties such as missed deadlines, going over costs, poor communication, etc.  

Key Characteristics of a Work Breakdown Structure 

The result can vary when you start with a downloadable WBS template. However, the ultimate goal remains the same:

  • To see a hierarchical illustration of your project 
  • Clarify pending tasks and milestones  
  • Communicate each task’s progress to all relevant team members

First, remember the 100% rule. This means your WBS fences in every project strand, including who’s working on each strand.

A WBS has a leveled structure. So, if we apply the 100% rule, level 1 describes the project’s entirety. It’s your top line; for example, “New Staff Intranet.”

After level 1, several levels will then break down the project into more detail and specify the deliverables, ensuring 100% rule is applied at each tier.

Examples of this, when applied to our “New Staff Intranet,” might be design layout, build content, and so on.  

How to Create Your Work Breakdown Structure 

Project planners break the scope of work down into work packets organized into groups. Common group breakdowns are phases of the project lifecycle, or the different processes required to run the project.

Below is a quick work breakdown structure guide. Here are our six steps for you to follow so that your WBS is effective.

Step 1: Define the extent of the project. This means setting your objectives and goals. It’s how you establish your project for all involved.  

Step 2: Identify each phase of the project. This is when you start to break things down, especially if it’s a large project.  

Step 3: List your deliverables. Itemize each deliverable and break it down into smaller categories, including tasks needing to be done, participants, etc.  

Step 4: Outline all your project levels. Here’s your 100% rule in play. Starting with level 1, you deconstruct your project. 

Step 5: Define work packages. Using your deliverables as a reference, break them down into all the tasks that need completing. Then group them into work packages.  

Step 6: Choose team members. In other words, choose who owns each task. This is when you give all your team members the work management tools to do their job.  

Voila, that’s it!

Some Examples of a Work Breakdown Structure 

We’ve established that not all work breakdown structures are the same. Here are some examples of tools you can use to help you create your WBS:

  • WBS flowchart: A diagrammatic workflow to structure your WBS 
  • WBS spreadsheet: To note down project phases, deliverables, and tasks, using the spreadsheet rows and columns 
  • WBS list: Structures your WBS as a straightforward list of deliverables and tasks 
  • WBS Gantt chart: You can use this to show project milestones, link task dependencies, and arrange your WBS, so it acts both as a timeline and asa spreadsheet 
  • WBS Swimlanes: organize project phases, deliverables, and tasks in colored rows spanning the width of the page, each lane containing activities within a work packet or group
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and Codes 

Both the WBS as well as codes can be used as a basis for swimlanes to lay out the network, and they can be exported or imported from Xer file or with Excel.

WBS Code Manager NetPoint Schedule

In project scheduling software, codes are also used for organizing or sorting but have limitations that the WBS does not. For example, codes can only have 1 level of sub-categories, or “values”. Also, values can be assigned to activities, but not codes themselves. Take a project with a code called “Area” with the values “North,” “South,” “East,” and “West”. An activity could then be assigned to “North” but not to “Area” itself. (If desired, an activity could be assigned to “North” AND “South” by choosing the assignment behavior Multiple). In general, codes are not necessarily related to one another and are optional; the WBS is a single cohesive hierarchy that effectively summarizes the project.

Are You Ready to Adopt a WBS Work Breakdown Structure? 

Having read this blog post, we hope you now have a better idea of a WBS work breakdown structure and how you could implement it to aid your project planning and execution.  

If you want help implementing your own, please feel free to register and download our WBS template. Try our project planning software and use an effective work breakdown structure. 

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