Work Breakdown Structure: what do you need to know

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is a project management method that simplifies the execution of large projects via multitasking. The construction of a WBS is hierarchical and reminds a tree chart.

The primary purpose of the WBS method is to transform a challenging project into a transparent and coherent structure that is easy to control. It is about the optimization of processes and the acceleration of teamwork. Employees are doing their parts of the job simultaneously; that’s why the team meets deadlines and achieves good results.

Today, many software development projects benefit from this method. In this post, we will answer the most popular questions about the WBS and will show you how to start using it.

How did the Work Breakdown Structure appear?

In the 1950s, the team of Polaris (U.S. Ballistic Missile Program) created a special method for meeting deadlines. It was named the Program Evaluation and Review Technique, PERT, and was based on the best practices in task management.

In 1962, the Department of Defense and NASA presented the description of the method, but there was no mention of it until 1968.

In 1987, scientists of the Project Management Institute noticed that the work breakdown structure could be applied to projects in various domains and hence it became popular in 1993.

What does a WBS include?

The work breakdown structure comprises important project information. It gives answers to the key questions, such as:

  • Who is responsible for every task of the project?
  • When should it start and finish?
  • What resources are required?
  • What are the details of the agreements?
  • What are the quality standards?
  • What is the technical information and resources?
  • What is the cost of the project?

To better understand the concept, let’s consider an example. Suppose you want to hire a website developer. You can split the entire job into 5 smaller steps: 

Stage 1: Find a contractor, draft, and sign a contract, prepare technical specifications.

Stage 2: Create the design and layout of the website.

Stage 3: Fill the website with information, content and media.

Stage 4: Test and launch the website.

Stage 5: Optimize, promote, and maintain the website.

Who can apply the Work Breakdown Structure?

Specialists from different spheres can use a WBS for their goals successfully.

Technical specialists work with swimlane diagrams and other instruments of project management. Using a WBS, they can see a wider perspective and the progress of work.

Creative teams in this way can brainstorm together and stay focused on the main idea.

Remote teams are also always informed about their duties, tasks, and deadlines.

Why do you need a WBS?

The work breakdown structure has a lot of advantages, including the following ones: 

  1. Dividing the project into accountable tasks and letting everyone know what they are responsible for;
  2. Focusing on final goals and visually presenting all parts of the project;
  3. Demonstrating the scale of the project and associating costs with decision-makers;
  4. Showing the progress of the project;
  5. Predicting results based on different events;
  6. Accumulating and repeating successful solutions;
  7. Assessing  risks properly;
  8. Establishing and maintaining order in the workflow;
  9. Increasing  the flexibility and productivity of the team;
  10. Promoting creativity in the team.

How to create an effective Work Breakdown Structure?

There are 5 steps which can help you make the first WBS of your project:

1. Describe your vision of the project

Determine who will be involved in the project, discuss and describe your vision of the project at the final stage, as well as its mission, functions, and main idea. No matter how much you will write about it, set everything clearly.

2. Highlight key stages

Define the main stages of the project according to the budget, deadlines, requirements, and other crucial aspects. 

3. Determine the results

Highlight the results that should be achieved at the end of each phase. Don’t forget to provide clear descriptions and goals.

4. Divide the results into manageable tasks

After describing the results, set the appropriated tasks to all teammates. The task can be assigned to one person or a small team.

5. Distribute tasks

The members responsible for particular tasks should be involved in all stages of work that lead to the necessary results.

To create an efficient work breakdown structure appropriated in your situation, you can use different services and tools, such as Hygger, which also allows you to quickly build swimlanes, timelines, and task lists, sprint and kanban boards, and many more.

What do you think about the WBS? For what projects do you use it? Feel free to write your answers in the comments!