The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A solid Work breakdown Structure (WBS) is the key tool for the entire project plan. It is the cornerstone for the overall project management. A WBS at the right level of detail can help you negotiate scope trade-offs. It’s the one thing that no good project should be without.

Tips on the Creation and Use of Your WBS

A WBS is not a statement or a narrative. The work breakdown structure is often confused with scope statement. Both come early in a project’s life cycle. WBS is an outline of work to be done.

Exclude the Distractions and Details. A well-crafted WBS is worded to include all of the work needed to complete the project and purposefully excludes all the anticipated, but unnecessary, diversions and distractions that would slow it down. Don’t include technical specifications or work instructions inside the WBS. Don’t try to write the WBS using full sentences.

Know the two key terms. There are summary tasks and work packages in a WBS. Summary tasks are just there for organizational purposes. The work packages are where the actual work resides. Work packages get estimated and delegated. Summary tasks do NOT get estimated and delegated.

Beware the stand-alone work package. A summary task with just one work package under it is a huge red flag that your WBS work is incomplete.

Think deliverables. A WBS specifies the major and subordinate deliverables so it is best to write it in terms of nouns as opposed to actions. Remember that project approvals from a project sponsor, or executive management, are a deliverable.

Decompose to the level of delegation and to where you can accurately estimate. Make sure that each WBS element has someone who is clearly accountable for its completion. Decompose that deliverable to the point where the time and cost can be accurately estimated.

Bigger projects demand longer legs. WBS levels increase when a project is large, complex and time-consuming. These increasingly more detailed levels are often referred to as “long legs.”

Later deliverables may be further decomposed in the future on long-legged projects. Creating a WBS that is not deliverables-focused may lead to project failure. Starting with a full vision does not mean that you have to understand every detail of the scope of later deliverables. Elaborative decomposition occurs over time. At the time the work is assigned, one person is responsible for one independent element, and there are clear, objective criteria for measuring the element’s progress and completion.

Plan to Use your WBS as you manage the project. The WBS is the document where a project manager will do work completion tracking.

Example WBS

1.     Web site redesign for XYZ Company

1.1.  Planning/Project Definition

1.1.1.     High-level plan

1.1.2.     Assign a PM

1.1.3.     Stakeholder Analysis

1.1.4.     Project Charter

1.1.5.     Project Scope Statement

1.1.6.     Divide Large Web Site Project into Phases or Smaller Projects

1.1.7.     Consult with SMEs

1.1.8.     Solicit Other Stakeholder Input

1.1.9.     Approach Analysis   Technical Approach Requirements Requirements Design Methods Evaluation  Determination of What to Do Internally and What To Hire

1.2.  Conceptual Design Development

1.2.1.     Business Logic Design

1.2.2.     User Interface Design Design Concepts – Alternative Creative Treatments Treatment Feedback Design Draft #2 Design – Final

1.2.3.     Internal Design Standards Consultation

1.2.4.     Industry Design Standards Consultation

1.3.  Construction

1.3.1.     Staging/Development Server Set-Up

1.3.2.     Production Server Set-Up

1.3.3.     Graphical Asset Placement   Graphical Splitting & Optimization   Template Structure/Coding

1.3.4.     Navigation

1.3.5.     Special feature coding

1.3.6.     Application Programming

1.3.7.     Content Population

1.4.  Testing

1.4.1.     Test Plan Development

1.4.2.     Testing Execution

1.4.3.     Analyze Defects/Correct

1.4.4.     Production Readiness Verification/Approval

1.5.  Deployment

1.5.1.     Files Transferred

1.5.2.     Retest

1.5.3.     Analyze Defects/Correct

1.5.4.     Domain redirected to new site

1.6.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

1.6.1.     Written text optimization

1.6.2.     Meta tag entries

1.6.3.     Search Engines Seeded

1.6.4.     Ranking Monitor/Report

1.7.  Marketing/Announcements

1.8.  Content Management Training

1.9.  Project Closure


“Running a project without a WBS is like going to a strange land without a roadmap.”    – J. Phillips