Project Planning, Part 3 – A Work Breakdown Structure

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is part of the project management plan.  It is a detailed outline of the tasks and subtasks you will later complete as your team executes and controls the project.  The WBS should conceptually align with the project charter and with additional information from any proposals that were created.  It is the basis for subsequent steps in project planning (scheduling, manpower and cost estimating, avoiding capacity bottlenecks).

Project Planning, Part 3 - A Work Breakdown Structure

The Work Breakdown Structure

Whether or not you use project software, you should load all elements of the WBS into your company accounting software.  It is exceedingly difficult to manage (or later improve) what you can’t measure, and your customer may want to know expenditures by element before paying your invoice.  In terms of the graded approach, don’t overcomplicate the WBS.  Only create subtasks that have real meaning.  If the work item only takes a few hours to accomplish, or if it would look silly as a separate line item on a status report or invoice, then it is too detailed to show up in the WBS (but do include all such items in checklists to ensure your detailed resource planning, schedules, and quality plans are accurate).

The WBS tasks and subtasks can be organized by phases, by type of activity, or some combination thereof.  Below is an example of a WBS for a project that will purchase and install an entirely new computer system for a 100-person office.  Not being an information technology professional, I would call this a draft, and ask a real IT professional for comments.

WBS in an Outline or List Format

This format enables you to exactly match your project accounting system.

100      Assess Requirements and Budget (Feasibility Study)

110      Meet with managers, technical staff, administrative personnel

120      Meet with providers, prepare several alternatives

130      Finalize the internal plan and cost estimate


200      Procure Hardware, Software, Installation Provider

210      Identify potential providers

220      Circulate bid package

230      Review bidders’ costs and check references

240      Negotiate and sign contract


300      Accomplish the Installation

310      Install software and test new equipment while running old system

320      Fix the “bugs” in the new system

330      Propose a schedule for changeover, review with departments, modify as necessary

340      Contingency plan for critical systems

350      Back up all data

360      Move non-critical systems to new platforms

370      Move critical systems one at a time and test

380      Final quality testing and certifications

WBS in a Flowchart or Tree Format

Some people react better to a flowchart representation, plus it is better at showing loops and branches, if there are any.

Project Planning, Part 3 - A Work Breakdown Structure


  1. Jaspreet

    May 15, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Very well explained in a short article…


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