Why you need a Work Breakdown Structure

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is considered to be the heart of a project. One definition of the WBS goes as follows: “A WBS in project management and systems engineering, is a tool used to define and group a project’s discrete work elements in a way that helps organize and define the total work scope of the project.”

The WBS provides the project manager and team with the necessary work packages to not only create detailed cost estimates, but also detailed and accurate information contained in the WBS Dictionary, for task scheduling. Work Packages comprise the lowest level of the WBS, not tasks or activities, because there could be hundreds of them, too much detail to fit onto a one-page WBS. Work packages are defined under scope management, while tasks are defined under time management.

By going through the WBS motions, the project manager and team will have a pretty good idea of whether or not they’ve captured all the necessary work to get the job done, based on the project requirements.

There are four key benefits of developing an appropriately detailed WBS:

  • It creates a structure for the subsequent development of a detailed schedule, risk analysis and budget. A well-defined WBS enables resources to be allocated to specific tasks, helps in generating a meaningful schedule, and makes calculating a reliable budget easier.
  • It forces the project manager, team members, and customers, to delineate the components  required to build and deliver the product or service. This exercise encourages a dialogue that will help clarify ambiguities, bring out assumptions, define the scope of the project, and raise critical issues early on.
  • It breeds excitement and commitment to the goals and completion of the project. Although the project manager will often develop the high-level WBS, he/she will seek the participation of the core team to flesh out its finer details. This participation will spark involvement in, and commitment to, the project.
  • It creates team and project stakeholder accountabilities for the completion of project work packages and tasks. With a defined WBS, people cannot hide under the “cover of broadness”. A well-defined work package or task can be assigned to a specific individual, who is then responsible or accountable for its completion.

The task of developing a WBS is not a quick one to undertake. A large WBS can actually take many hours to create . Of course, the larger the scope of the project, the larger the WBS will be. Plus, more people must provide input and then approve the portion they are responsible to perform. Finally, the WBS requires continual refinement - as the project changes, so does the WBS.

A good WBS makes planning and executing a project easier and lays the groundwork for the schedule, tracking, budgeting, and accountability. It’s part of project management best practices to create one and to use it as you begin to map out the detailed project plan and solution. Don’t be tempted to skip this step!

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