Project Managers use what is called a work breakdown structure to keep projects organized. This valuable tool can lead to a successful project from the initiation phase to the final close-out.
The work breakdown structure can have different layouts, from an outline or list to a tabular view to a tree structure. For visual people, a tree structure makes the most sense because it is basically a visual diagram that allows you to see items at a quick glance. But, some people prefer lists to imagery, in which case an outline is the most useful layout.
Work Breakdown Structure Basics
Traditionally, the work breakdown structure (WBS) has been a tool used by project managers to do exactly what the name suggests—break down a project into workable pieces. Its hierarchical design divides the scope of a project into components in terms of size, duration, and responsibility. This outline assists with creating a project schedule by defining deliverables, resource allocation, and even cost.
This structure decomposes your project into bite-sized chunks for easier implementation and can be used in different ways, depending on the project or final product. There are some points you should note when starting your WBS:
- It’s important for you to include all parts of your project in the WBS.
- While a WBS is used by individuals, you can invite others to work on it.
- You should always ensure the WBS is noted in a way that is like the workflow being performed.
- All project team members will need to be added to make sure no steps are missed.
- Each WBS will have its own WBS dictionary, which will help explain the project. You can learn more about what a WBS dictionary looks like from Projectmanager.com.
With all of this in mind, a work breakdown structure does not have to be complicated and really can assist with almost any type of project. The following steps may not follow the traditional approach to using this helpful tool. However, for those who are interested in using this structure, and for breaking down and simplifying a complex project, they can be quite useful.
How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure
1. Identify Project Deliverables
Classically, there are only five stages to every project life cycle. These are the initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing stages, and each stage is just as important as the rest. You can color-code every stage, and appoint team members to one or more stages.
2. List Subtasks, Describe Task Owners, and Describe Tasks
A subtask is a task that forms part of a larger project, and is often connected to tasks associated with certain stages of a project. For instance, if you need to paint your office, the project would be Painting Office, with subtasks ranging from Clear Fittings and Fixtures to Contact Suppliers.
The subtask of contacting the supplier could be assigned to Person One, while actually purchasing the items could go to Person Two, and so on. The task itself can include anything from finding a minimum of three quotes, choosing a color scheme or wallpaper, and confirming which tools will be needed.
3. Linking Dependencies
Certain tasks might be dependent on other tasks to be completed before they can begin. In the example of painting the office, Person Two is only able to purchase the items needed once Person One has made the relevant phone calls and received quotes, then deciding which supplier to purchase through.
4. Set Resources and Cost
Having an overall budget for a project is always the best thing you can do, although sometimes you may get things a little wrong—that’s okay, provided you allocate for this margin of error. In this example, you may have decided to go with a more expensive wallpaper, which also comes with someone to install it.
While you may be spending more on wallpaper than on paint, it’s possible you have saved money on labor. This is a very important step and helps you to complete the project without running out of funds near the end.
5. Set Your Start and End Dates
You may have a goal in mind for the project to be completed. Once you have created your subtasks, you can see if this is something that is achievable. In the instance of purchasing wallpaper—is there a manufacturing timetable you need to be aware of, and what about shipping? Once it has arrived, are the relevant people for the following subtasks available then to do their portion of the project?
6. Track Status of Control Accounts, Tasks, and Work Packages
At any time during the process, you will be able to track the progress. Most work breakdown structures will have various options on how to do this, including pie charts, calendars or bar graphs. In the image below, we look at how Asana allows you to view real-time data for this purpose.
7. Create Notes
A WBS is usually very thorough, but some don’t allow you to add general notes for everyone to see. If this is the case for the system you choose, we recommend using something like Microsoft’s OneNote—in the article we list here, you can read up on how to create and share a notebook in OneNote, making it perfect for keeping project notes organized.
8. Generate Reports
While it’s useful to see the different tasks each person or department has, generating a report based on specific information is always handy. Reports can either summarize specific data or show you broader real-time information. In the image below, we use ClickUp’s reporting page to show you what some platforms offer.
Now that you know what to look for in a WBS platform, find one that suits the needs of your project and your team. Some recommended Project Manager Software that you can try are:
Keeping It Simple
A work breakdown structure does not have to be intimidating to use, as you can see. And, it does not have to follow any strict rules. It really just comes down to the best way to manage your personal or home project.
Depending on your style, visual or written, or your project, large or small, using this technique helps to ensure that your project is well-organized, which helps you to keep it on track.