Work Breakdown Structure: Everything You Need To Know


According to Gallup’s study that analyzed more than 10,000 projects, Only 2.5% of companies complete their projects successfully. Most projects exceeded the deadline or budget. Even though the project failure rate might vary from industry to industry but it is important for businesses to know why projects fail so they can drive their projects to successful completion.

There could be a variety of reasons that contribute to project failure. Some of the main reasons that lead to project failure are:

  • Scope creep
  • Poor project handling
  • Unrealistic deadline
  • Lack of resources
  • Lack of stakeholder engagement

Scope creep and poor project management are two of the main reasons behind project failure. By creating a work breakdown structure, you can overcome these issues and streamline your project activities.

In this article, you will learn everything that you need to know about creating an efficient work breakdown structure.

What is the Work Breakdown Structures?

According to PMBOK, work breakdown structure can be defined as, “A deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.

Association of Project Management simplifies the definition, “Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a hierarchical structure of things that the project will make or outcomes that it will deliver.

Why Create A Work Breakdown Structure?

Work breakdown structure creates a focused breakdown of all the project deliverables needed to achieve project success. Here is why you should create a work breakdown structure:

  • Project Schedule
  • Reduces ambiguity
  • Accountability
  • Commitment
  • Makes task assignment easier
  • Improves communication between different departments

By creating a work breakdown structure, you can avoid ambiguity, as all the project activities are clearly defined. Additionally, it can prevent duplication and streamline the task assignment process while enhancing communication between different professional roles. With clearly defined roles and outlined tasks in front of them, it is easier to hold your team accountable and make them take responsibility for their actions. Once you know all the project deliverables, it is easier to create a budget, set deadlines and allocate resources.

Types of Work Breakdown Structures

There are three main types of work breakdown structures.

  • Deliverable based structure
  • Responsibility based structure
  • Phase based structure

As the name suggests, deliverable-based structure defines and organizes project activities based on the deliverables. Similarly, responsibility based structure arranges project activities based on responsibilities while phase-based structure streamlines project activities based on phases of the project.

Qualities of Work Breakdown Structure

Here are some of the characteristics of an efficient work breakdown structure have:

  • Independent: Little to no dependence on other project elements.
  • Adaptable: Flexible to scope changes
  • Manageable: Meaningful amount of work
  • Integrated: Seamless integration with other project work elements
  • Measurable: Monitor progress towards milestones

Work Breakdown Structure Best Practices

Before we look at how to create a work breakdown structure, it is important to know the guidelines and best practices you should follow when creating a work breakdown structure.

  • Use nouns instead of verbs
  • Follow 100% rule
  • Keep all elements mutually exclusive
  • Pay attention to details and depth

How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure?

Here is a step by step process you can follow to create a winning work breakdown structure.

  1. Know Your Project Scope
  2. Identify Key Deliverables
  3. Determine Work Packages
  4. Create a Glossary
  5. Use the Right Format

1. Know Your Project Scope

Work breakdown structure is an important document prepared at the end of the planning phase. This means that if you want to create a successful work breakdown structure, you will have to understand the project scope first. To develop a better understanding of the project scope, you will have to read and understand the project scope statement. Additionally, you will also have to dig deeper into project scope management plans so you can easily deal with project scope changes. If you don’t have a scope statement or scope management plan, you can use a project charter as a reference to create it.

2. Identify Key Deliverables

Once you have a sound understanding of a project’s scope, it is time to start work breakdown structure creation process. The first thing you need to do is to determine the key project deliverables. How can I identify key project deliverables? Here are two things you need to keep in mind when identifying major project deliverables.

  • Every key deliverable is necessary for the success of the project
  • Every key deliverable should be the responsibility of an independent team

If a project deliverable fulfills these two criteria, you can consider it as a major project deliverable.

3. Determine Work Packages

The next step is to determine the work packages. A work package is basically a deliverable that is at the lowest level of work breakdown structure. Here are some of the rules you need to follow for work packages:

  • Every work package should not be less than 8 hours and should never exceed 80 hours.
  • Restrict every work package to a single reporting period.

If a work package takes longer than one reporting period or 80 hours, you should divide it into smaller parts.

4. Make a Dictionary

A work breakdown structure dictionary is a document that defines and outlines the scope of every project element. The advantage of creating a dictionary is that it allows your project to develop a better understanding of every work package. This can come in handy especially if the project is complex, consists of many phases or have many different teams working on it.

Here are a few things you need to include for every item of work breakdown structure in your dictionary.

  • Name
  • Description
  • Department
  • Date of assignment
  • Due date
  • Estimated costs

5. Use the Right Format

There are many formats you can adopt to create a work breakdown structure. You can either opt for text-based hierarchical groupings, use a visual table or create a flowchart representing the work breakdown structure of the project.

How do you create a work breakdown structure for your projects? Let us know in the comments section below.