Breaking Down the WBS

Vincent is a Senior Project Management Consultant and e-Learning Developer.

The work breakdown structure is a critical element of the project plan, yet many project managers have difficulty creating an adequate WBS, or even understanding how it can help them. Here is an overview of what a WBS is, and the work that goes into it — you might call it a WBS of a WBS.

In my new book, Schedule Centered Planning: An Incremental Approach for Plan Driven Projects, I created a breakdown structure of what goes into a work breakdown structure — you might call it a WBS of a WBS. Below is an excerpt from the chapter on the WBS. It refers to the Schedule Centered Planning Process introduced in a previous article “Deadlines or Delusions.”

What is the WBS?

Planning begins with the Work Breakdown Structure – WBS. This is where we dissect the project to truly understand what has to be done. The WBS can be defined more formally as a deliverables-oriented, hierarchical breakdown of project scope that defines the total work to be performed. From this definition we can define its key attributes:

  • The WBS focuses on deliverables — not the tasks to create them;
  • It is usually presented as a hierarchy or tree diagram;
  • It is a breakdown of scope into smaller pieces; and
  • It must define all work.

As the Schedule Centered Planning process flow shows, the WBS is one of the key elements in your project plan. …

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"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."

- Mark Twain



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