Work Breakdown Structure

The work breakdown structure approach allows us to visually see the work that is needed in order to complete a project.

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®), and the Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures – Second Edition from the Project Management Institute (PMI), the work breakdown structure can be used to effectively decompose the project scope, to improve estimating, to better control the project execution and to more accurately verify project completion. In addition, using a work breakdown structure approach summarizes project information to improve the opportunity for use of historical information, which, can aid in both speed and accuracy of future projects. The work breakdown structure is a repeatable process that can be used as a template for future projects.

the PMBOK® describes the work breakdown structure as “a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the team”. This is a way of describing the work so that the team knows exactly what work is needed in order to meet the goals of the project. In many cases, a work breakdown structure is the first transition of organizational goals into real work that people can actually perform. It helps to provide clarity of the scope for the project and “breaks down” the scope into whole work units.

A work breakdown structure is deliverable-oriented. So what is a deliverable? In a word, it can best be described as a noun.

A work breakdown structure is a hierarchy. That means that deliverables can be further decomposed into parent and child relationships.

The work breakdown structure technique is described in the Project Scope Management section of the PMBOK and further elaborated in the Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures – Second Edition. A scope definition is necessary to decide what all should and should not be covered with in the project. When complete, the work breakdown structure lowest level components called “work packages” can be delegated to teams for further development and estimating and a work breakdown structure dictionary can be developed. In this way, project responsibilities can easily be distributed and committed to. This information can then be placed into a scheduling tool. In addition, the work packages can be used to create a project baseline that assures all the work can be evaluated for completeness.

A work breakdown structure is typically presented in the form of an organization chart-like structure. It can be presented as a list, idea map or outline form as well. The key is to put it in a form that can most easily be used by both the team members and organizational leaders with the tools that your company uses most easily.