Developing a Work Breakdown Structure

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work breakdown structure research paper

  • Gus Cicala 2  

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Cicala, G. (2020). Developing a Work Breakdown Structure. In: The Project Managers Guide to Microsoft Project 2019 . Apress, Berkeley, CA.

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Impact of various work-breakdown structures on project conceptualization

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1994, International Journal of Project Management

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International Journal of Innovative Research in Science, Engineering and Technology


Oil and gas (O&G) industry contributes to the economic as one of the most important sectors by taking into advantages as being the most demanding, challenging and exciting engineering and technological advances which interests the engineers at large. As the O&G industry has become financially attractive yet risky to be implemented, it is important to investigate the effective way of managing the O&G projects. Hence, this project is emerged with the aim of reviewing the project management in O&G industry by determining the O&G execution phase as well as examining the O&G project management approach based on the typical O&G platform development stage. It is found that in the O&G project execution, a systematic for project management is developed with the aim to improve the decision making process and overall project execution, where typically, the systematic project management consist of five main phases, such as appraisal, selection and definition, which are both associated with planning phase, execution and first year operation which are associated with five control phase has been studied. Once project scope is determined and work breakdown structure (WBS) is created, the next step is to create delivery timeline. For each of the deliverable work item identified in the work breakdown structure (WBS), project planner needs to identify list of activities need to perform.The project schedule should reflect all the work associated with delivering the project on time. Without a full and complete schedule, the project manager will be unable to communicate the complete effort, in terms of cost and resources, necessary to deliver the project.

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A successful completion of a project entails the proper use of project management. Project management includes different areas of scope, as a major one which requires identification of the work that should be completed in a project. As such, this greatly can be applied using Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The first major step in the planning process after project requirements definition is the development of (WBS). Create a WBS of a chosen project according to PMBOK (2013). Describe in detail the inputs, tools and techniques needed accordingly. Identify the major criteria used by project managers in order to establish the work packages as the basic components of WBS. 1.0 Introduction, background and the criteria used in developing WBS with supporting literature review. The main responsibilities of a contractor's project manager remain that of delivering the project within time, budget and to the required quality level. While it is clear that this requires constant monitoring and control of various aspects of the project throughout its life span, the validity of the monitoring and control measures depend heavily on the accuracy of the plan against which performance is measured. The accuracy of the plans depends in turn on effective definition and structuring of the project. One of the tools available to the project manager for defining and structuring of the project is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS is a hierarchical representation of the work contents, whereby the project is progressively subdivided into smaller units. It is the basis for defining work packages and its importance in the planning and control of projects has been acknowledged by both project managers and researchers (Rad, 1999; Colenso, 2000). Garcia‐Forniels et al. (2003) assert that the WBS is perhaps the most important tool for project management because it provides a basis for planning, scheduling, control, responsibility assignment and information management. Given the level of importance, several organisations have embraced its use in managing their projects. The logic of the WBS is based on the premise that the product is not normally created as a " whole " , but is a collection of several " parts " that are created bit by bit. Indeed, this is the general nature of procuring construction projects. This, coupled with the fact that managing construction projects is a complex affair, clearly provide an incentive for the use of an appropriate WBS. Hence, several research efforts have addressed various issues relating to the WBS, including effective work package sizing (Raz and Globerson, 1998), alleviating workload associated with managing work packages (Jung and Woo, 2004; Jung, 2005), and the WBS as cost‐schedule integrating mechanism (Eldin, 1989). However, none of these focused on the development of a standard WBS for building projects. There are clear benefits associated with establishing standards and several researchers have stressed the need for the development of a standard WBS. For example, Voivedich et al. (2001) developed and implemented a standard WBS for offshore construction and concluded that this allowed for the reporting of cost data in a consistent format at various levels of detail. In addition, they asserted that standard WBS eliminates redundancy, thereby allowing crucial resources to be channelled elsewhere. Jung and Kang (2007) noted that standardising the WBS will significantly reduce the managerial workload associated with managing work packages, and this will greatly improve the accuracy of progress measurement. In addition, a key benefit of standardising the WBS relates to the need for the industry to embrace a truly computer‐integrated‐construction (CIC) approach to project management. As argued by Hua and Leen (2002), one‐way of ensuring CIC is to develop standardised systems of classifying information. Essentially, this relates to the need for a common language. The WBS as it is currently employed does provide this common language, albeit on a project‐by‐project basis,

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The improvement of the project management forced the industrial organizations to focus on using the project management techniques in their industry, to plan and control the workflow to achieve their targets, further to increase the satisfaction of their customers. One of the most common project management tools are used is the work breakdown structure (WBS), which provide a framework for the implementation of the project scope including project planning, scheduling, monitoring, control, and estimation. Depending on the top-down approach the project activities will be broken into smaller parts that can be measured and controlled during the project implementation. The well-defined construction of the structure contributes to making the project more realistic and visual. However, the misunderstanding of the project WBS among the project team creates deflection and misinterpretation of the project scope. The main issue of this research is to improve the WBS of the installation plan and develop a standard WBS for plant installation. The research was limited to Asphalt plant installation WBS as a case study to identify the weaknesses of the current WBS at the case company which leads to extra installation time and cost. The research is offering a template WBS based on the company logic, defining the frequent risks that affect the plant installation based on the WBS and suggesting a suitable response strategy by recommending a control framework to monitor and control the WBS schedule throughout all installation phases.

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Unplanned changes in the work scope are responsible for cost overruns in many projects. In managing a complex project, cost is normally used as the indicator to set work targets and measure progress. Different parties are involved in the creation and use of cost information. To make responsive and accurate project management decisions, these parties require an effective way of communication. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is an accepted method to represent the work scope of a project. In this paper, the relationship between the work scope of a project in the form of the WBS and the costs related to it, at different stages of the project life cycle is presented. The analysis of the scope-cost relati onship at different stages of the project life cycle provides a methodology to manage the unplanned activities in a project. In an industry where projects are awarded by competitive bidding, cost estimates govern profitability and a high degree of accuracy is essential. The aircraft m...

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Surgery and Research: A Practical Approach to Managing the Research Process

Peter r. swiatek.

1 Medical Student, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Kevin C. Chung

2 Professor of Surgery, Section of Plastic Surgery, Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Elham Mahmoudi

3 Assistant Research Professor, Department of Surgery, Section of Plastic Surgery, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Following a practical project management method is essential in completing a research project on time and within budget. Although this concept is well developed in the business world, it has yet to be explored in academic surgical research. Defining and adhering to a suitable workflow would increase portability, reusability, and therefore, efficiency of the research process. In this article, we briefly review project management techniques. We specifically underline four main steps of project management: (1) definition and organization, (2) planning, (3) execution, and (4) evaluation, using practical examples from our own multidisciplinary plastic surgery research team.


The healthcare landscape in the United States is rapidly changing. Today, with an increasing emphasis on improving access to quality care, reducing healthcare costs, and preventing surgical complications, there is an urgent need for medical professionals and surgeons to intensify their research efforts. From clinical trial studies [ 1 ] to economic analyses of different treatments, [ 2 ] new topics in surgical research range the gamut. Despite opportunities for surgeons to engage in impactful research, time constraints facing surgeons on a day-to-day basis hamper progress. Research requires a commitment to drafting literature reviews, writing grants, working with Internal Review Boards (IRB), managing study logistics, analyzing data, and writing manuscripts. Devoting bandwidth to such time-intensive processes is difficult for surgeons who spend more than 50 hours per week on surgery, patient visits, paperwork, and other administrative obligations. [ 3 ]

To effectively pursue their research goals, many surgeons choose to work with teams of clinical investigators, health economists, statisticians, and other health professionals. Although teams can augment the capability of any one surgeon in the research process, the additional responsibility of managing team dynamics and group workflow can pose significant challenges. For surgeons interested in collaborating with other researchers, there exists a set of project management principles and practices to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency in the research process. Borrowing from the realm of business and industry, project management is the combination of people, systems, and techniques required to coordinate the activities and resources needed to complete such projects within the defined parameters.[ 4 ] In addition to providing structure to workflow, project management enables principal investigators (PIs) to sense potential problems and course-correct before the problems become major setbacks or failures. [ 4 ]

Our aim in this paper is to discuss the specific systems and techniques surgeons can leverage to effectively manage the research process. Specifically, we discuss best practices related to defining and organizing the research effort, planning the project, and managing progress so that surgeons and their teams can deliver impactful results on time and within budget. Many of the management techniques discussed have been pressure-tested within our own multidisciplinary surgical research group. To ensure the generalizability of our study to surgical groups of all types and sizes, we dovetail practical examples from our group with general principles and paradigms of project management.

Projects and Teams

A project is defined as the unique set of activities intended to produce an outcome within the parameters of cost, time, and quality. [ 4 , 5 ] In surgery, projects can range from case reports, which might involve a half-day of work and minimal financial cost, to larger, more resource-intensive prospective cohort studies which can necessitate months to plan, approve, execute, and publish. [ 1 ] Every research project requires a different level of resource commitment from a PI and his or her team. It is important to highlight that different project types require research teams of different sizes, functions, and expertise. These teams, then, require various levels of management and engagement. For example, our surgical research group is unique in that we pursue a wide range of research interests within the realm of hand and plastic surgery. Thus, the composition of our research projects can vary from a team member working independently with minimal support from the research group to a team of three to six researchers from different fields of study who communicate on a regular basis. By employing some best practices in project management, we ensure that each project is completed on time and receive the needed level of oversight and attention for quality and effectiveness.

Engaging the Management Process Model

Regardless of project size and complexity, our group follows one management process model that provides the necessary structure and directionality to the project workflow. The four primary stages of the process model include (1) defining and organizing the project, (2) planning the tactical aspects of the project, (3) tracking and managing the project, and (4) evaluating outcomes ( Figure 1 ). [ 5 ]

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Management Process Model

1. Define and Organize

First, a PI spearheads the establishment of the research protocol, frames the team’s organizational structure, defines team norms for communicating and collaborating, and identifies a funding source for a project. [ 5 ] In our lab, for example, a PI takes a primary role in staffing the project team based upon availability within the resource group and the specific skills and expertise needed to tackle the research project. For larger teams, the PI may designate one team member as a project lead. The project lead plays a surrogate role for the PI in managing day-today responsibilities. After recruiting a team, the PI assigns roles and responsibilities to each team member and establishes a reporting structure within the team. For larger teams, knowing “who reports to whom” is imperative for ensuring accountability and minimizing unproductive communications.

To kick-off the project, the PI communicates high-level project goals to the team, sets time, quality, and cost parameters for the project, and charges the team to devise a comprehensive research plan. For us, this communication typically occurs in person. Face-to-face interaction allows team members to better communicate their concerns and receive immediate feedback. Moreover, engaging in informal and small-group meetings helps the team members to know one another better. This is particularly helpful in meetings between surgeons and researchers from different fields. For example, just recently we were working on a project relating to studying national variation of care in thumb carpometacarpophalangeal joint (CMCJ) arthritis. By taking advantage of a one-on-one meeting and a simple drawing board, one of our hand surgeons clearly described various CMC treatment options for our team’s health economist. Open, informal, and regular communications among team members who are engaged in the same project ensures that they all understand the aims and constraints of the project from the beginning. When face-to-face meeting is not possible we find that “video conferencing” and “teleconferencing” are effective alternatives.

After onboarding the team, our PI designates one team member to manage research plan development. The research plan, which consists of objectives, research questions, hypotheses, conceptual frameworks, and methods, serves to highlight the scientific value and feasibility of carrying out research on a particular topic. In addition to providing a framework for the general research project, the research plan serves as the basis for grant and IRB applications. Although one team member can take on the entire research plan, we find that allocating workload to match the strengths, bandwidths, and developmental goals of each team member to be most effective. For example, we engage a number of medical students and research assistants to sift through published literature and data, prepare literature reviews, and write the content in many of our research plans. These students and research assistants work closely with health economists, statisticians, and surgeons, who are often engaged in several other research efforts. Leveraging the abilities of each team member early in the research process ensures timely completion of the research plan.

In Stage 2, the PI or project lead works with the team to devise a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) of all activities and tasks necessary for executing on the project objectives ( Figure 2 ). [ 5 ] Benefits of leveraging the WBS are three-fold: (1) the WBS provides a framework for organizing scope of work; (2) it ensures that all tactical activities necessary for project completion are identified; and (3) it provides a framework for allocating resources. [ 6 ]

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Work Breakdown Structure

For a surgical research project, the WBS usually consists of at least four major activities: (1) managing the funding and ethics approval process, (2) organizing study logistics and managing the execution process, (3) analyzing data, and (4) publishing results. Each major activity is disaggregated into smaller, sub-activities or tasks to which the PI can assign an “owner” who remains accountable for completion of the task. [ 7 ] In Figure 2 , for example, “Activity A: Managing Funding and Ethics Approval,” includes all tasks involved with organizing project finances and managing communications with IRB. For example, our PI has designated one team member to manage all financial transactions within our institution across all research projects. Because this process requires unique expertise, our group leverages the skills of this one team member to enhance the efficiency of the entire group. Our labs take a similar approach to managing IRB requirements. Rather than asking each team member to process his or her IRB applications individually, our lab leverages the IRB-expertise of one or two team members to effectively manage the IRB approval process for all projects.

In addition to accounting for all activities and ensuring ownership, the WBS allows the PI to pinpoint resource-costs for each activity, identify potential risks, and devise a plan from mitigating those risks. [ 7 ] With respect to the “Activity A” in Figure 2 , the PI must assess the likelihood of receiving institutional funding. If the likelihood is uncertain, the PI must determine an alternative source. In seeking ethics approval from the IRB, the PI must anticipate how delayed IRB approval could affect the timeline for the project. From our experience working with the IRB, some projects may require months of iteration with the IRB before achieving approval. Knowing this up front allows our PI to plan more downstream activities and tasks.

After identifying all activities and tasks required to complete the project, the PI can then fit the WBS into a timeline, represented by a Gantt chart ( Figure 3 ). In the chart, each activity and task is plotted on a linear calendar. The process of building the chart requires the PI to consider all interdependencies between tasks. For example, in Figure 2 , IRB approval is linked to study subject recruitment. Since the IRB approves methods for subject recruitment, the PI must wait for IRB approval before recruiting subjects. In addition to serving as a planning tool, the Gantt chart provides us with an effective way to communicate timelines to teams and relevant stakeholders. Importantly, Gantt charts can be easily created in Excel® [ 8 ] or other third-party programs like Smartsheet®, [ 9 ] transferred to an email or Microsoft PowerPoint®, and disseminated. The chart is an easy and efficient way to keep track of progress of the project, and it can be easily created and updated.

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Gantt Chart

With a WBS and Gant chart in hand, the PI can begin developing activity milestones for using in-progress tracking during the execution phase. Milestones are achievement dates that stand as “guideposts” for monitoring critical completion dates within a given activity. [ 4 ] A milestone chart graphically displays all milestones for a given activity, along with a description of the milestone, scheduled deadline, actual date completed, and delay ( Figure 4 ). In the execution phase of the project, team members should regularly update columns for “Actual Date Completed” and “Delay (days)” to provide a realistic timetable for completion of the project. Additionally, team members can add specific comments each week in the “Notes” column to provide further granularity on progress made since the last update and any anticipated challenges or roadblocks ahead. Knowing what projects are delayed or are at risk of delay is imperative to PIs who may need to intervene or reallocate resources accordingly.

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Milestone Chart

During Stage 3, or the Execution phase, the PI actively tracks the progress of the project. Best practices in reporting strive to minimize time and efforts required of each team member and maximize the quality of information reported. [ 10 ] Regular updating of the aforementioned milestone charts allows team members to quickly and effectively update the PI on their process ( Figure 4 ). At a gross level, the PI sees the milestones that are on track for completion along with milestones that are delayed. For additional information, the PI may refer to the notes provided by the activity owner. In our group, for example, updates are provided weekly, not only to the PI but also to our extended research group. This internal and regular socialization allows our group to leverage its diversity in expertise to the fullest capacity and stay engaged and interested in other projects being carried out by our team. Although milestone charts are generally useful tools, PIs must determine what method of progress tracking is most effective for their teams. In a small team, a simple email thread for weekly updates may suffice. For larger projects with more complex interdependencies, use of a formal reporting system (e.g., Microsoft Project®) may be necessary. [ 11 ]

In addition to establishing a method for the tracking progress, the PI must determine how all study data is gathered, stored, and shared. One of the main challenges facing data-driven research is the lack of effective data and file management. This includes inadvertently deleting, losing track of changes, duplicating, and mislabeling primary data files ( Figure 5 ). Challenges in effective data management extend to the analysis of the primary source data. Failure to track the code used in generating a given analysis or failure to update the version number for the analysis may create significant obstacles for research teams, especially if the analysis is revisited weeks or months later.

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Data Management

To ensure effective data management within our research team, we all follow a practical and easy-to-use data and file management protocol, which addresses the following: (1) naming files, (2) tracking updates within files, (3) sharing files, (4) backing-up files and (5) ensuring file security ( Figure 5 ). Establishing a common file-naming convention ensures that the most up-to-date version is used by all team members. Communicating best practices in tracking updates within a file enables transferability of that file to other team members and ensures that, if the file is revisited at a later point, the user understands any modifications made to the file. For example, we name our files based on “project name” + “YYYYMMDD of the last edit” + “initials of the last team member to edit the file.” Therefore, when a folder containing multiple iterations of an individual documents or analysis is opened, the most recent version appears at either the top or bottom of the list when sorted by date.

Additionally, our workflow structure has substantially helped us avoid losing important files. We maintain copies of all files related to educational purposes (e.g., seminars, workshops, etc.), manuscripts submitted for publication, and grant proposals submitted to different agencies for funding. For each category, we have project-specific folders containing the latest versions of all files (e.g., manuscript, tables, figures, cover letter, etc.) and earlier revisions. This structure facilitates all our team members to access files as needed for different projects. For example, recently, our lab needed to develop a questionnaire for a cost-effectiveness analysis. Knowing that our research group had developed a similar questionnaire in the past, we were able to quickly search though our document database to obtain desired files and to modify them accordingly. Documenting workflow of all databases and all final files reduces redundancy, protects against data loss and makes the team more efficient, ultimately saving time and money. Having a workflow in place and following it is an investment that pays substantial dividends over time.

Furthermore, following a practical file management protocol increases reusability and therefore efficiency within a group. In our group, for example, we occasionally used to lose or misplace source codes of our data-driven projects. Instead of doing research, we wasted precious time looking for files. Then, we decided to collect all the source codes and keep them in one central location under the project name. This has helped us to (1) reuse the code for similar projects, (2) teach our new data analysts how to code, and (3) over time, expand the aims for the same project without losing time redoing initial data management. Additionally, we check that everything, including source codes, is fully annotated and can be followed by other programmer analysts. This ensures reusability and portability of source codes within our research group.

Sharing files via a “common folder” on a network server or in a secure third party “cloud” can effectively reduce risk of data and file management mishaps. Moreover, all files should be backed-up via an alternative storage device. An external hard-drive provides an easy safeguard and can be locked in a cabinet for security assurance. Diligent tracking and effective data and file management empowers the PI to successfully progress the project from execution to data analysis to publication and dissemination of findings.

4. Evaluate Outcomes and “Kaizen”

W. Edward Deming, a business consultant credited with inspiring Japan’s rise as an economic superpower after World War II, believed that success in management is dependent upon continuous improvement of systems and process. [ 12 ] Deming’s philosophy of continuous improvement, known as “Kaizen” in the Japanese workplace, champions activities that continually improve functions throughout an organization. [ 13 ] The Toyota Production System, a socio-technical system developed by the automotive giant Toyota, is one example of Kaizen put into practice. [ 14 ] The system allows Toyota employees to provide regular feedback to management regarding their work and productivity. By inviting feedback from those closest to inherent inefficiencies in a process, as might be seen on an assembly line, Toyota’s management is able to best assess potential problems and take corrective action. [ 14 ]

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For busy surgeons interested in conducting medical research, the principles of project management are a powerful tool for maximizing efficacy and efficiency in the research setting. Whether working independently or teaming with a large multidisciplinary research team, PIs can leverage the management process model and management practices, such as progress tracking and data management, to drive the successful completion of their research projects. Although overt practice of project management in the realm of medical research has been limited, [ 15 ] we hope that this brief introduction to the principles and practices of project management will both encourage and enable surgeons as they strive to advance medical knowledge.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 2 K24-AR053120-06 (to Dr. Kevin C. Chung). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

This guide to wbs in project management is presented by projectmanager, project and work management software loved by 35,000+ users. make a wbs in minutes.

ProjectManager's sheet view lets you create a list work breakdown structure

What Is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?

Why use a wbs in project management, work breakdown structure example, types of wbs, wbs elements, how to create a work breakdown structure in six steps, wbs software, must-have features of wbs software, how to create a wbs in projectmanager.

  • Work Breakdown Structure Template

When to Use a WBS?

Work breakdown structure best practices.

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a visual, hierarchical and deliverable-oriented deconstruction of a project. It is a helpful diagram for project managers because it allows them to break down their project scope and visualize all the tasks required to complete their projects.

All the steps of project work are outlined in the work breakdown structure chart, which makes it an essential project planning tool. The final project deliverable, as well as the tasks and work packages associated with it rest on top of the WBS diagram, and the WBS levels below subdivide the project scope to indicate the tasks, deliverables and work packages that are needed to complete the project from start to finish.

Project managers make use of project management software to lay out and execute a work breakdown structure. When used in combination with a Gantt chart that incorporates WBS levels and task hierarchies, project management software can be especially effective for planning, scheduling and executing projects.

ProjectManager is an online work management software with industry-leading project management tools like Gantt charts, kanban boards, sheets and more. Plan using WBS levels in our tool, then execute with your team via easy-to-use kanban boards and task lists. Try it for free today.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart showing a work breakdown structure spreadsheet

ProjectManager’s online Gantt charts feature a column for the WBS code— learn more

Making a WBS is the first step in developing a project schedule . It defines all the work that needs to be completed (and in what order) to achieve the project goals and objectives. By visualizing your project in this manner, you can understand your project scope, and allocate resources for all your project tasks.

A well-constructed work breakdown structure helps with important project management process groups and knowledge areas such as:

  • Project Planning, Project Scheduling and Project Budgeting
  • Risk Management, Resource Management, Task Management and Team Management

In addition, a WBS helps avoid common project management issues such as missed deadlines, scope creep and cost overrun, among others.

In other words, a work breakdown structure serves as your map through complicated projects. Your project scope may include several phases or smaller sub-projects—and even those sub-projects can be broken down into tasks, deliverables, and work packages! Your WBS can help you manage those items, and gain clarity into the details needed to accomplish every aspect of your project scope.

work breakdown structure research paper

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WBS Template

Use this free WBS Template for Excel to manage your projects better.

Now that we’ve gone through the definition of a WBS and learned why they are a great project management tool, let’s take a look at a work breakdown structure example.

For our WBS example, we’ll be creating a work breakdown structure to lay down the work plan for a commercial building construction project. This is potentially a complex project, but a WBS chart will take that complexity and boil the project scope down to simpler tasks to make the project manageable.

Study the phase-based work breakdown structure example of a construction project below:

An infographic displaying a work breakdown structure WBS construction example. The project is represented by an organizational chart, showing the project phases, deliverables and work packages.

At the top of the work breakdown structure is your final deliverable (in this instance, the construction project). Immediately beneath that is the next WBS level, which are the main project phases required to complete the project. The third and lowest level shows work packages . Most WBS charts have 3 levels, but you can add more depending on the complexity of your projects.

Each of those five project phases—initiation, planning, execution, control and closeout, also act as control accounts and branch off the main deliverable at the top. Once decided, they are then broken down into a series of deliverables. For example, the initiation phase includes site evaluation work and creating the project charter.

You’ll also need a work package to go with each of those project deliverables. In the execution phase of our construction example, we can look at the interior work deliverable. That deliverable is divided into two work packages, which are installing the plumbing and setting up the electricity.

The WBS, when created as thoroughly as possible, is the roadmap to guide you to the completion of what would seem to be a very complicated project scope. However, when broken down with a WBS, project planning, scheduling and resource planning suddenly become much more manageable.

There are two main types of WBS: deliverable-based, and phase-based. They depend on whether you want to divide your project in terms of time or scope.

Deliverable-Based Work Breakdown Structure

A deliverable-based WBS first breaks down the project into all the major areas of the project scope as control accounts and then divides those into project deliverables and work packages.

Here’s an example of a deliverable-based WBS that’s taken from our free work breakdown structure template. Download the template today to practice building your own work breakdown structure in Excel.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Example with Free Template

A deliverable-based WBS example showing control accounts, work packages and tasks.

Phase-Based Work Breakdown Structure

The phase-based WBS displays the final deliverable on top, with the WBS levels below showing the five phases of a project (initiation, planning, execution, control and closeout). Just as in the deliverable-based WBS, the project phases are divided into project deliverables and work packages. Our previous graphic in the “Work Breakdown Structure Example” section contained a phase-based WBS example.

Types of WBS Charts

Once you’ve chosen a deliverable-based or phase-based WBS, you can also choose between different types of WBS diagrams. Let’s take a look at the main types of work breakdown structure charts.

Work Breakdown Structure List: Also known as an outline view, this is a list of work packages, tasks and deliverables. It’s probably the simplest method to make a WBS, which is sometimes all you need.

Work Breakdown Structure Tree Diagram: The most commonly seen version, the tree structure depiction of a WBS is an organizational chart that has all the same WBS elements of the list (phases, deliverables, tasks and work packages) but represents the workflow or progress as defined by a diagrammatic representation.

Work Breakdown Structure Gantt Chart: A Gantt chart is both a spreadsheet and a timeline. The Gantt chart is a WBS that can do more than a static task list or tree diagram. With a dynamic Gantt chart, you can link dependencies, set milestones, even set a baseline. This is the most common version in project management software.

Build a work breakdown structure Gantt chart diagram in ProjectManager in just a matter of minutes. Get started for free today.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart, showing a timeline based on the a WBS column

A Gantt chart with WBS codes in ProjectManager. Learn more

A typical project work breakdown structure is made up of several key components. We’ll use our WBS example above to identify each of the main WBS elements.

  • WBS Dictionary: A WBS dictionary is a document that defines the various WBS elements. It’s an important component of a WBS because it allows the project participants and stakeholders to understand the work breakdown structure terminology with more clarity.
  • WBS Levels: The WBS levels are what determines the hierarchy of a WBS element. Most work breakdown structures have 3 levels that represent the project’s main deliverable, control accounts, project deliverables and work packages.
  • Control Accounts: Control accounts are used to group work packages and measure their status. They’re used to control areas of your project scope. In our example, the execution project phase could be a control account because it has several deliverables and work packages associated with it.
  • Project Deliverables: Project deliverables are the desired outcome of project tasks and work packages. In our WBS example, we can observe some examples of project deliverables such as the project budget or interior work. Both of them are the result of smaller tasks and work packages.
  • Work Packages: As defined by the project management institute (PMI) in its project management body of knowledge book (PMBOK) a work package is the “lowest level of the WBS”. That’s because a work package is a group of related tasks that are small enough to be assigned to a team member or department. As a project manager, you can estimate costs and duration of these work packages, which makes them an essential WBS element.
  • Tasks: Your tasks make up your work packages and therefore, your project scope. A WBS will help you define each task requirements, status, description, task owner, dependencies, and duration.

If you prefer a visual and verbal explanation of this information on work breakdown structures, watch this video.

To create a WBS for your project, you’ll need information from other project management documents. Here are six simple steps to create a work breakdown structure.

1. Define the Project Scope, Goals and Objectives

Your project goals and objectives set the rules for defining your project scope. Your project scope, team members, goals and objectives should be documented on your project charter .

2. Identify Project Phases & Control Accounts

The next level down is the project phases: break the larger project scope statement into a series of phases that will take it from conception to completion. You can also create control accounts, which are task categories for different work areas you want to keep track of.

3. List Your Project Deliverables

What are your project deliverables ? List them all and note the work needed for those project deliverables to be deemed successfully delivered (sub-deliverables, work packages, resources, participants, etc.)

4. Set WBS Levels

The WBS levels are what make a work breakdown structure a “hierarchical deconstruction of your project scope”, as defined by the project management institute in its project management body of knowledge book (PMBOK). You’ll need to start at the final project deliverable and think about all the deliverables and work packages needed to get there from the start.

5. Create Work Packages

Take your deliverables from above and break them down into every single task and subtask that is necessary to deliver them. Group those into work packages.

6. Choose Task Owners

With the tasks now laid out, assign them to your project team. Give each team member the work management tools , resources and authority they need to get the job done.

Work breakdown structure software is used to outline a project’s final deliverable and define the phases that are necessary to achieve it.

Project management training video (kd3z8e78o1)

Software facilitates the process in several different ways. Some use a network diagram and others use a Gantt chart. All of them, however, are a visual representation of the project, literally breaking down the various stages and substages needed to assemble the final project deliverable.

There are many types of work breakdown structure software available, so when you’re looking for one to help you plan your project, be sure it offers these features:

Subtasks icon

Break Tasks Down

Deliverables are important to define, as are the tasks that get you there—but most tasks require being broken down further in order to complete them. That’s where subtasks come in. They’re part of a more complex task, and you want that feature in your WBS software.

A screenshot of subtasks for a work breakdown structure WBS on a Gantt chart in

Link Dependent Tasks

Not all tasks are the same. Some can’t start or stop until another has started or stopped. These dependent tasks can create a bottleneck later in the project’s execution phase, unless you identify them early. Having a task dependency feature is essential.

A screenshot of dependencies on a gantt chart, which show tasks that are linked

Set Task’s Priority and Duration

The point of WBS software is to build a feasible schedule. Therefore, you need features that feed into this process by defining the priority of the task, so you know which phase it goes with; as well as describing the task and estimating how long it will take to complete.

A screenshot of schedule management on the gantt chart in

Keep Your Team Working

The WBS sets up your tasks and deliverables, but once the project is in the execution stage, it’s key that you have a way to allocate resources to your team to keep the tasks moving as planned. That includes a feature to make sure their workload is balanced.

A screenshot of a task list in ProjectManager

Get a High-Level View

Being able to monitor your progress is what keeps your project on schedule. A WBS software sets up the plan and you must have features to maintain it throughout all the phases of the project. Dashboards can give you a view of the landscape across several metrics.

A screenshot of a dashboard in

Make Better Decisions

As you move from the planning to the execution stage, you’ll need a reporting feature that can deliver critical project data on progress and performance. This information will feed your decision-making and help you steer the project to a successful conclusion.

A screenshot of a report generated by

The purpose of work breakdown structure software in project management is to organize and define the scope of your project. Using ProjectManager’s online Gantt charts to build your WBS is not only more efficient, it dovetails into every other aspect of your project, because of our robust suite of project management features.

Here’s a quick summary of how to create a WBS using a Gantt chart. Sign up for a free trial of our software and follow along !

1. Identify Project Deliverables

There are 5 stages in the project life cycle, initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closure. Each of them produces deliverables that are required to produce the final deliverable, which is the completion of your project.

Identify the phases in your project to create more than a mere task list. Set them apart with our milestone feature on the Gantt chart tool. They can also be color coded to better differentiate the phases.

2. List Subtasks, Describe Tasks & Set Task Owner

Subtasks are part of a larger, more complex task. In this case, your WBS work packages are perfect for this feature. Add summary tasks or work packages above the related tasks, which can be your project phases or project deliverables, depending on your WBS type preference and indent them. The image below shows our WBS example represented on a Gantt chart, showing the project phases and work packages associated with them.

ProjectManager's Gantt charts are equipped with a work breakdown structure

3. Link Dependencies

Task dependencies are tasks that cannot start until another is finished or started. Link tasks that are dependent on one another by dragging one to the other. We link all four types of task dependencies. By identifying these tasks at this stage, you’ll avoid bottlenecks during execution.

4. Set Resources & Costs

Resources are anything that you need to complete the project phases, deliverables and work packages. They range from the people on your team to materials, supplies and equipment. Your WBS allows you to break down your project scope into work packages so that you can estimate resources and costs.

5. Add Start & End Dates & Estimated Completion

Every task has a start and an end date. Add the date when the task needs to start in the planned start date column and when it should be completed in the planned finished date. There’s also an estimated completion column for the amount of time you plan for the task to take.

ProjectManager's calendars are the perfect tool to aid you when creating a work breakdown structure

6. Track Status of Control Accounts & Work Packages

Tracking is how to know if a project is performing as planned. That’s why a WBS has control accounts and work packages. When speaking of tasks, tracking tells you multiple things: logged hours, costs, priority, new communications, the percentage complete and how its actual progress compares to your planned progress.

7. Write Notes

Having a section in which to jot down notes is always advisable. While the WBS is thorough, there might be something you need to address that doesn’t fit into its rigid structure.

8. Generate Reports

Project reports pull data from the project to illuminate its progress, overall health, costs and more. Generate a report on your WBS by using our reporting tool. Our reports summarize your project data and allow you to filter the results to show just want you want. Reports can also be shared with stakeholders.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

If you’re not ready to take the plunge and use ProjectManager’s work breakdown structure software, but you’re still interested in seeing how using this tool can help you construct a sturdier plan for your next project, don’t worry. We have an intermediate step you can take.

We also have a library of free project management templates , including a free WBS template, to get you started off right.

If you decide to try out our project management software, we offer a free 30-day trial. You can upload the project work breakdown structure template into ProjectManager, and it automatically creates a new project in our software. Now you can use that template to plan, schedule, monitor and report on your project.

Because our software is cloud-based, all your data is collected and displayed in real time. This makes us different from on-premises project management software like Microsoft Project . We take your WBS and make it more dynamic with our online planning tools .

There are many ways in which you can use a work breakdown structure to help you manage work. Here are three common examples of how to use a WBS for different purposes.

Scope of Work

A scope of work is a comprehensive document that explains your project scope, which is all the work to be performed. A WBS is the perfect tool to break down the scope of a project into work packages that are easier to control. On top of that, a work breakdown structure allows you to easily identify milestones, deliverables and phases.

Statement of Work

A statement of work is a legally binding document between a client and the organization who’s responsible for executing a project. It details project management aspects such as the timeline, deliverables, requirements of the project.

A work order is similar to a statement of work, but it’s main purpose is to show the costs associated with each task. A WBS is essential for an accurate cost estimation.

As you’re working on your WBS it is helpful to maintain some best practices. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • 100% Rule: This is the most important work management principle to construct a WBS. It consists in including 100% of the work defined by the project scope, which is divided into WBS levels that contain control accounts, project deliverables, work packages and tasks. This rule applies to all the levels of the WBS, so the sum of the work at a lower WBS level must equal the 100% of the work represented by the WBS level above without exception.
  • Use Nouns: WBS is about deliverables and the tasks that will lead to your final deliverable. Therefore, you’re dealing more on the what than the how. Verbs are great for action, and should be used in your descriptions, but for clarity, stick to nouns for each of the steps in your WBS.
  • Be Thorough: For a WBS to do its job, there must be no holes. Everything is important if it’s part of the course that leads to your final deliverable. To manage that schedule, you need a complete listing of every task, big and small, that takes you there.
  • Keep Tasks Mutually Exclusive: This simply means that there’s no reason to break out individual tasks for work that is already part of another task. If the work is covered in a task because it goes together with that task, then you don’t need to make it a separate task.
  • Go Just Deep Enough: You can get crazy with subtasks on your WBS. The WBS has to be detailed, but not so deep that it becomes confusing. Ideally, think maybe three or five at most levels.

All our tools are geared to making your project more efficient and effective. See for yourself by starting your free 30-day trial of our software.

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Work Breakdown Structure Resources

  • Scope of Work Template
  • Gantt Chart Template
  • Work Plan Template
  • Work Schedule Template
  • Statement of Work Template
  • Work Order Template
  • Project Management Trends (2022)
  • How to Make a Resource Breakdown Structure
  • 5 Project Management Techniques Every PM Should Know
  • Cost Estimation for Projects: How to Estimate Accurately
  • Sample Project Management Flow Chart
  • Sample Project Plan For Your Next Project

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