Tips for WBS

Tips for Work Breakdown Structures


A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a hierarchical approach to define project work components. The top level of the WBS is the total project or programme. Each descending level breaks the project work into more manageable pieces.

The lowest level of the WBS is referred to as a work package. On very large projects, work packages may be handed-off to other project managers.

Generally, the project managerís role is to facilitate the creation of the WBS, while the team members are the ones who are best equipped to decompose the project deliverables into smaller, more manageable components. The project manager and client should approve the WBS and WBS dictionary document.

The WBS should include no more than six levels, and only very large projects require six levels. Projects that require more levels should be broken into subprojects. Many small projects need only three levels.

Each level of the WBS should have a consistent organizing principle. These principles include but are not limited to functional or technological disciplines, organizational structure, systems or subsystems, vendor responsibilities and physical location.

  • A WBS organized by subsystem does the best job of setting the stage to monitor and control the project; its upper levels are the project milestones.
  • A WBS organized by functional discipline may be advantageous because it may closely parallel your organizational structure.

The WBS is a tool that helps ensure you don't miss any tasks, but it only works when the organizing principle is consistent. Maintaining consistency sounds simple, but in real life it is very difficult. This is the most common mistake made by teams that develop a WBS.

The WBS is cosidred controllable when elements at the bottom level are between .5 and 2 percent of the total project budget.

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