How to Create a Quality WBS, Not Just BS

Posted by Tim Ballard

One of the most critical steps in project planning is the creation of a WBS (work breakdown structure). The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide defines WBS as:

 “A deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements that organizes and defines the total scope of the project: work not in the WBS is outside the scope of the project. As with the scope statement, the WBS is often used to develop or confirm a common understanding of project scope. Each descending level represents an increasingly detailed description of the project elements.” 

In short the work breakdown structure gives us a visual reference of the work that is needed in order to complete a project. Breaking down a large, complex project makes it more manageable and easier to comprehend. Here is an example of a WBS I created for a fictional website. 

When creating a WBS there are several things that MUST be addressed. Not including all of these things will make your WBS just BS. 

Plan by deliverables/features NOT by individual tasks.
o The WBS is a high level overview of all deliverables of a project, not simply a list of tasks. Keep it simple and don't delve too much into detail.
Define ALL project deliverables. 
o You can always remove a deliverable, but trying to add more deliverables once your project has begun will create issues with your budget/release date.
o WBS defines the scope of your project. Anything not included in the WBS is not included in the scope of the project.
o Leaving out deliverables will make any cost/time estimations inaccurate, which will not sit well with clients.
Involve your entire project team including the project stakeholder.
o Leaving out key team members will create a WBS full of holes.

There are several tools available that you can use to create your WBS. I like to use a free site called for many of my visual design needs. Use what tool you are most comfortable with. Regardless of the tool you use, as long as you stick to the guidelines I mentioned above you will create a quality WBS and not just BS. 

Category: Project Management