Economics/Business

What is work breakdown structure/benefits/how to create/How to develop

Having good planning is an essential condition for managing projects correctly. For this, it is worth developing and following the so-called Work Breakdown Structure — or just WBS.

Managing projects is one of the most difficult tasks when leading a team. The different stages can bring challenges for those who manage teams, in particular. In search of quality and efficiency, creating a WBS is the ideal choice for managing projects. 

Do you know what an WBS is and how to successfully implement this management tool ? No need to despair! Just keep reading this text and we explain everything about the concept

What is WBS?

WBS is an acronym that stands for Work Breakdown Structure. Maybe, with the full name, it’s easy to deduce how it works, isn’t it? Still, let’s break down the concept. 

The definition of Project Breakdown Structure comes from the English Work Breakdown Structure , also known as WBS.

Following this idea, what must be done is an internal division of items that need to be worked on in the project, in a hierarchical way – that is, in degree of importance. 

What are the benefits of deploying an WBS?

In addition to knowing what WBS means, it is essential to understand how it can generate benefit. 

In practice, by segmenting your project into several stages, they become manageable and tangible.

That way, the team will know exactly how to reach the end goal of the project . This tactic brings several benefits to the team that knows how to use it. See some of them below!

Risk analysis

Once the project in question is decoupled in several stages, it is easier to have an overview of the obstacles that can get in the way. 

So using WBS, you’re unlikely to be caught off guard by a problem along the way.

That way, you’ll see clearly what could undermine your playing field. During the execution of the project, you will have the chance to monitor the issues ahead and carry out proper risk management .

team commitment 

Teams with goals far from their reality and without a tactical plan to get there usually suffer from internal organization problems.

In addition, those who are on the team can feel demotivated for not knowing the step by step to achieve the goals. 

At the same time, leadership runs the risk of having results expectations met . 

Greater control over your team

The manager who uses the WBS has greater control — both in the macro and micro view — of a project. 

Using this concept, he will know exactly what to charge at each stage of the journey — and, more importantly, from whom to demand these tasks. 

Thus, the person responsible for managing the team will be able to identify difficulties and inefficiencies of their employees, and make the necessary adaptations so that it does not happen again. 

Avoid rework

Rework is redoing something that was already done — either because of changes to the original plan or for other reasons.

As the WBS maps all the process developments from the beginning, it is unlikely that team members will have to rethink or go back to some previously completed step. 

Decreased expenses and time

Making a WBS saves the company time and money. That’s because employees will be able to make the most of their workday , without having to do retroactive work or even start a project from scratch.

In the same way, the Breakdown Structure of Projects helps to correctly stipulate what will be the costs of each stage of the process and of the project as a whole, which saves and optimizes the processes and expenses of the team.

What is the difference between WBS and project schedule?

Making a project schedule is also an alternative for those seeking independence when managing their business.

While the two concepts are similar—and can often be used concurrently—there are some crucial differences between doing a Project Breakdown Structure and a Project Timeline. 

This is because, unlike WBS, the Project Schedule only aims at the temporal control of tasks involving a project.

Made in a board format, it shows the activities that need to be carried out at each stage of the project — and when they must be completed. 

With it, it is even easier to notice possible errors or issues that may occur during the entire process, and correct them accordingly.

In addition to the list of activities that must be carried out at each stage, a Project Schedule also includes the start and end dates of each one of them, as well as the status and person responsible for each of these steps. 

On the other hand, the WBS does not support this point-to-point breakdown by activities, only a subdivision into stages to achieve a goal. Unlike the Chronogram, it is done in a schematic or graphic way, which facilitates its vision and understanding. 

Therefore, the ideal is that the two strategies are used together. Thus, it is possible to draw up a strategic plan that contemplates all the needs of the project. 

How to create an WBS?

Now that you know the benefits of doing a WBS and what are the differences between this concept and the Project Schedule, the next step is to know how to make an effective Work Breakdown Structure. 

Basically, there are four ways to build a good WBS. The project manager should make the decision about the best way forward, after thoroughly defining the scope. 

Project phase-oriented WBS 

The first way to guide your WBS is to use the project phases as a compass. As the name implies, this type of work breakdown structure organizes the project by the phases of its life cycle . 

Thus, tasks are managed based on the concepts of:

  1. initiation;
  2. planning;
  3. execution;
  4. closure. 

This offers a chronological view of each stage of the project, which facilitates its management. 

Delivery driven WBS

This type of WBS is organized from the product deliveries that must be made. In this way, the decomposition technique is used to create the so-called work packages. This work package refers to the activities related to each deliverable. 

When driven by deliverables, the Work Breakdown Structure demonstrates in detail all the parts that make up what is to be achieved. 

This, in turn, makes it easy to spot errors and difficulties that may come your way. 

Subproject-oriented WBS

Like the previous concept, this Work Breakdown Structure is oriented from the subdivisions of the project into small parts. 

Soon, species of “mini-projects” are made within the main objective and criteria are outlined for each delivery.

hybrid WBS

Hybrid WBS is one that takes into account different aspects of the project on the same front. 

Therefore, it takes into account all the above concepts – by phases, by deliverables and by subprojects – to build its own strategy.

How to develop the WBS step by step?

Once you’ve decided how your work breakdown structure will be guided, you need to get the process moving.

Even though each WBS is guided by different aspects, some steps for it to be done are common to all. After defining how it will be guided, the project manager must assume and follow the steps described below. Check out!

1. Give your project a name

The first step to making your project happen is naming it! Give the project a succinct name, so that you can identify it right away and that you can present to the end customer. 

As much as it is a common step, it is extremely necessary. Don’t forget that the project name will be documented in the Work Breakdown Structure.

2. Map requirements

To create a good WBS it is necessary for the project manager to map the project requirements .

Here, it’s time to create the so-called “Delivery Packages” — which are nothing more than the whole of the project’s deliverables. It is essential to think about all types of delivery, both initial and final.

If these notions are still not clear in the project, it is necessary for the manager to use some tricks – such as interviews with team members, team meetings, questionnaires or workshops – so that he can clearly understand the requirements.

This step is critical for the work breakdown structure (and its delivery) to be successful. 

So don’t be afraid to invest a little extra time in this step. Believe me, you will be rewarded in the end! 

3. Prepare the Project Opening Term

With the project scope and requirements already well defined, now is the time to create the Project Charter. But what is this?

This term is a (short) document that will be used as a basis for the elaboration of the WBS. 

In it, the following should be listed: project justification, its purpose, objectives and stakeholders, in addition to the description . 

Apart from these concepts, the criteria for deliveries, time and cost estimates for each process to be done, what is outside the scope of the project and what are its assumptions must also be scored. 

It is also important to document what are the possible limiting factors and risks of the project. Finally, your approvers must sign the document.

4. Discern the parts of the project

At this point in the process, the manager must make a hierarchical decomposition of all the parts that involve the project . 

Confused about how to do this? The good news is that this is not a particularly difficult task!

The secret lies in knowing how to turn large deliveries into smaller parts. In this way, you will naturally create a form of hierarchy between them—where some are subordinate to others. 

Attention : creating work packages through task decomposition doesn’t mean you should create lists with each activity to be done — that’s the role of the Project Schedule!

To do a good decomposition of deliveries, there are two rules that can be used.

The first is the so-called “100% Rule”. Going straight to the point, this type of guidance states that the sum of the mini projects established in the decomposition must equal the totality of the final project .

According to the “100% Rule”, it is essential to determine the exact amount – no more, no less – of work involved in each step. 

Another rule option that can be used for the decomposition of deliveries is the so-called “Rule 8 or 80” — which, in some cases, can also be “4 or 40”.

With it, a range of hours is established that a data packet can have: at least 8, at most 80 hours (or, in parallel, at least 4 and at most 40 hours). 

Many people choose this second option because they have a control over how long it will take for each task to be completed. 

5. Parent elements and child elements

Another aspect to keep in mind when mapping tasks are the so-called parent and child elements. 

As the name suggests, the child elements are subjugated to the parent—which, in turn, is a sub-item of the ultimate goal. 

6. Insert a numeric code to organize task levels

It is necessary to numerically list the project tasks. As a rule, the number 1 is used for the highest level of importance.

Items subordinate to this must be specified as 1.1, 1.2, etc. As for the sub-items within each of the subordinate items, the code 1.1.1 is used.

All these conventions must be exposed in the WBS dictionary, which must also be done. 

7. Standardize project levels

From the decomposition of the tasks, the project is also divided by levels. Here, the project objective is placed at level 0, and broken down into other deliverables and sub-deliveries. 

We would then be left with: 

Level 0: PROJECT NAME;

Level 1: 1. Delivery/Product 1;

Level 2: 1.1 Work Packages and

Level 3: 1.1.1 Work Package Subdivision.

8. Build a Project Breakdown Structure Dictionary

Last but not least, it is necessary to assemble a dictionary of your WBS. It is nothing more than a table that shows the description of each work package, also pointing out those responsible for each stage, their delivery criteria, materials used, costs and participants. 

The WBS dictionary is essential to implement WBS because, as the Breakdown Structure of each project is made graphically, the dictionary ends up covering information that did not fit in the schema. 

WBS model

As we have already said, the Breakdown Structure of the Project can be done by schema or graphics, which must be organized in a hierarchical manner. 

We would then be left with something more or less like this:

PROJECT NAME 

  1. Delivery/Product 1

1.1 Work packages 

1.1.1 Work Package Subdivision

1.2 Work packages 

  1. Delivery/Product 2

2.1 Work Packages

2.2 Work Packages

  1. Delivery/Product 3
  2. Delivery/Product 4

4.1 Work Packages

4.1.1 Work Package Subdivision

4.1.1.1 Delivery X

4.1.1.2 Delivery Y

4.1.2. Work package subdivision

4.2 Work Packages

4.2.1 Work Package Subdivision

And so on. 

As much as it has so many numbers and subdivisions, there’s no need to be scared! The fundamental point of WBS is that it is simple and easy to understand. Appealing to the visual, it is much easier to understand the proposed tasks and increase productivity .

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