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What is The Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management?

Project management tools, like the work breakdown structure, help business owners and managers map out the lifecycle of a project, from conception to completion. This method used in project management supports business owners and managers to structure, progress, and track projects.

If you’re looking to understand the WBS and learn how to use this method for your project management needs, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s how the work breakdown structure can work for you.

What is WBS?

The Work Breakdown Structure, or WBS, is a project management tool that constructs a hierarchical framework identifying deliverable oriented tasks that will accomplish all project objectives. The WBS is a fundamental tool that project managers use to break down a complex, multi-step project into manageable tasks that can be scheduled, monitored, and controlled.

The documentation created using this project management method will detail the entire scope of a project and its requirements. A project manager will use the work breakdown structure to navigate the project management lifecycle through a deliverable oriented hierarchical decomposition.

WBS Example

An outlined WBS might look somewhat like a family tree, as the project mission sits at the top of the page, and all requirements flow down from it, branching off into categories and subcategories of various tasks and deliverables.

Let’s consider what a WBS might look like for a home renovation project. Check out this work breakdown structure example below.

Constructing the WBS

First, you will need to define the main objectives of the project when constructing its’ WBS. These main objectives will be the structure’s Level 1 elements, summarizing each category’s main deliverable. Breaking down these categories into subcategories will result in your structure’s Level 2 elements, which cover the required actionable to achieve that category’s overall objective.

Breaking down the structure into these elements is known as Decomposition. It is the decomposition of these objectives that deconstructs the work into manageable chunks. Each task or deliverable in the WBS subcategories should be clearly defined in tangible terms to be easily measured and tracked.

Assigning identification codes or numbers to the level elements, meaning the categories and subcategories, will make it easier to reference these deliverables off the page and assign them to team members throughout the project schedule.

Work Breakdown Structure Design Principles

One of the major design principles of creating a project’s WBS is the 100% rule. The work breakdown structure must illustrate 100% of the work required to complete the project in question.

Any work or responsibilities that fall outside of the project scope should not be included in the workflow. On the same note, missing any necessary tasks will create an incomplete structure under the 100% threshold. In either instance, too few requirements or too many can hamper the project’s efforts.

When constructing the WBS, it is crucial to remember that the structure captures the project’s outcomes and objectives, not the actions needed to complete the outcome. If listing actions, the tasks can overtake this diagram, as managers end up adding more work than they might otherwise need to achieve those results, and covering more than the needed 100%. Ditching the use of verbs while capturing all planned deliverables is one of the best ways to ensure the WBS is accurately portraying the required workload.

There three main ways a project manager can structure their WBS:

  • Phase-based WBS: This structure is defined and categorized based on the project’s phases, with subcategories stemming from each phase with the actions required.
  • Deliverable-based WBS: This structure is defined and categorized based on the project’s deliverables and necessary results.
  • Responsibility-based WBS: This structure is defined and categorized based on the project’s team members and their required responsibilities.

Other Breakdown Structures

The breakdown structure is a tool that can be tailored to other facets of a project or business, not just its phases, deliverables, and responsibilities. Enterprises, as well as project managers, can use this methodology to create:

  • Resource Breakdown Structure: A structure illustrating all resources required to complete a project divided into categories and subcategories.
  • Risk Breakdown Structure: A structure illustrating the various risks associated with the projects, each with subcategories of the impact such risks can have.
  • Organizational Breakdown Structure: A structure representing the project organization by position, starting with the project sponsor or stakeholder and working down the employee ladder.


To construct any form of a work breakdown structure, and frame its decomposition of the work, you will need specific information about the project at hand. To gain the necessary knowledge, you will need to gather your project team’s particular inputs.

WBS Inputs

To create the required deliverables for work breakdown structures, you will need to collect various inputs that will provide you with the knowledge you need to effectively and efficiently construct, manage, and complete the project at hand. There are four main inputs that a project manager can reference for this information.

Organizational process assets

Organizational process assets refer to the company or organization’s internal processes and procedures that can be used to govern the project in question. These knowledge-based assets are paramount to the planning stages of a project, as they can influence how the project is managed overall.

Project scope statement

The project scope statement details the project’s primary objectives and deliverables required to accomplish the project objectives. It is the summary or outline of the project as a whole, including measurable success criteria per objective.

Project scope management plan

The project’s scope outlined in the statement will need to be defined, validated, and managed through the project’s lifecycle. That’s where the project scope management plan comes into play. Many project managers will consult with the stakeholders and organization to determine all facets of this project plan.

The information stored in the scope management plan will make up the core of the WBS, guiding project activity, summary tasks, and overall work to be executed.

Approved change requests

During the project’s initiating and planning stages, there are sometimes change requests submitted by the project team members to those in charge. These are requests for a change in protocol, process, resource, or any facet of the project that can be altered to keep the project running smoothly.

Approved change requests are a part of the project management process, so it is essential to refer and include these in the structure if any were submitted and approved by high level representatives, like stakeholders.

Work Breakdown Structure Template

Using the five phases of project management, project initiation, planning, execution, Control and monitoring, and closing, it is easy to create a WBS template that will work for your needs.

Feel free to download this work breakdown structure template to help you successfully structure your next project.

Project Tracking Software that Can Help

Planning a project is one thing, but being able to effectively and efficiently manage the flow of the project from start to finish is an enormous undertaking. Just like using the project management tool known as the WBS, so too can you use quality project management software, like TSheets, to help you keep on top of your project deliverables.

Use project and task tracking alongside employee scheduling to help keep your business and your project WBS, work breakdown structure, on track and under control. Start your free trial today to implement this tool in your project planning.

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