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Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) – Foundation of Project Success

December 17 2017

Developing Effective Work Breakdown Structures

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is an often misunderstood and underappreciated tool of project management.  I would argue that it is a critical piece of the foundation of any project management methodology.  Many misconceptions exist about what a WBS is, how it is used and why it is such an important part of the project management process.

A WBS is a deliverable-oriented, hierarchical grouping of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.  It organizes and defines the total scope of the project. Each descending level represents an increasingly detailed definition of the project work (ie decomposition).

  • No reference to WHO is doing the work
  • No reference to WHEN the work is being done
  • No reference to HOW the work is being done

Rules for WBS attributes:

  • Use NOUNS and ADJECTIVES to describe the work
  • No dependencies, durations, resource assignments

WBS = WHAT            Network Diagram = HOW         Project Schedule = WHEN and WHO

A good WBS will keep you on track for delivering the full 100% scope and prevent you from scope creep.

Once you establish the 1st Level of the WBS — the real project management process begins at Level 2 and below.

How many levels do you need?  Every project varies — so it should be decomposed to a sufficient level where there is a clear understanding of what the deliverable is.  Or as someone very wise once said to me “Stop when it starts to get silly”…