WBS (work break down structure) is a critical phase in Project Management. The first question : Why do we use WBS for Project Management?

  •   Enables more readable projects
  •   Work is simplified and looks straightforward
  •   Indicates the project milestone and checkpoint
  •   Helps estimate project scope, time, risk, and other factors
  •   Gives a better understanding of the project to stakeholders and customers
  •   Provides a framework for managing and delegating work
  •   Serves as a great decision-making tool
  •   Ensures that no unnecessary task is included in the scope

WBS can be severed as input to five key project management activities:

  •  Cost estimating
  •  Cost budgeting
  •  Resource planning
  •  Risk management planning
  •  Activity definition

Let’s understand the work break down structure by taking an example of the Aircraft System.

– Level 1 (This is level one) This is the first level. Now dividing the system into sub part named: Air Vehicle & Training

Level 2 (This is level two) We can further divide the Air Vehicle into sub parts and Training into sub part like: Air Vehicle into Receiver, Fire control & communication & Training into Equipment and Depot

Level 3 (This is level three) Now that we've understood the importance of WBS (work break down structure), let’s focus on the approach that we follow in creating WBS.

Approaches to develop WBS:

  • Guidelines: When organizations prepare guidelines to create the work break down structures (WBSs)
  • Analogy Approach: This might be very helpful - If you have a similar project, you could tailor it to your project. For example, if I have an eCommerce website and I have already worked on similar kind of project. That is simple for me to break down based on past experience.
  • Top-down Approach: Top-down approach states that you need to take the biggest task or module in the project and break them down. It requires more logic and structure and generally it is a preferred method for creating WBS. This approach will identify the solution first and then dissect the solution into smaller steps required to implement it.
  • Bottom-up Approach: This is very straight forward. Pick the specific task that can be easily done and complete it. Bottom up method is ideal for brainstorming a solution to a problem.
  • Mind-mapping Technique: This is a very useful technique used by most Project Specialists and especially for the Project Managers. In this approach, we need to write the task in a non-linear, branching format and then create the WBS structure. There are many mind-mapping tools available in the market. Just Google it! You will get a lot of cool tools. It allows you to write and draw pictures of your ideas in a non-linear format.

Points to be noted when making a WBS:

  •   Ensure that the WBS is the sum of all the work involved in your project
  •   While the WBS list is for an individual, multiple people can work on this
  •   The Work break down structure must be consistent in the way work is going to be performed
  •   Project team members need to be included in the WBS so that things run smoothly
  •   Each WBS must be documented in a WBS dictionary to ensure the accurate understanding of the scope of the project.

Hope this has given you a detailed idea about WBS in Project Management. Do share your views and thoughts.

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About the Author


Mukund is a Project Management professional with more than 5 years of IT industry experience in various technical and cross functional roles. He holds an M.B.A (Information Technology) and B.Tech (Information Technology) degrees.

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