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What Is Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management?

Work breakdown structure (WBS) in project management is a method for completing a complex, multi-step project. It's a way to divide and conquer large projects to get things done faster and more efficiently. 

The goal of a WBS is to make a large project more manageable. Breaking it down into smaller chunks means work can be done simultaneously by different team members, leading to better team productivity and easier project management.

In Wrike, you can build a WBS by creating folders and subfolders and can go further to divide individual tasks into subtasks. 

How to create a work breakdown structure

Before you create a work breakdown structure, it's essential to first assess the project scope by talking to all stakeholders and key team members involved.

As the project manager, you want to ensure that all critical input and deliverables are gathered and transparently prioritized. You may use Gantt charts, flow charts, spreadsheets, or lists to show the hierarchical outline of importance and connectivity between the tasks needed to complete the project. 

After outlining the deliverables and tasks in order of completion, you can then assign each task to a project team member. Ensure no team member carries the majority of the project's weight by spreading duties and responsibilities across the team.

Characteristics of a work breakdown structure

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines WBS as "a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables." 

Each WBS level represents a new and increasingly detailed definition of work needed to complete the project. 

PMI's definition adds that a WBS structure must be constructed in a way that each new level in the hierarchy includes all the work needed to complete its parent task. This means that every parent task element must have more than one child task within it to consider the parent task element complete. 

Work breakdown structure examples

Your work breakdown structure for each project can be different.

As a project manager, you may have to experiment to see which WBS works best for you and your team. The goal is to show the hierarchy of your projects and make progress clear to everyone involved — whether they are a team member or an external stakeholder. 

Here are some work breakdown structure examples. You can use any of these to outline your WBS.

  1. WBS spreadsheet: You can structure your WBS efficiently in a spreadsheet, noting the different phases, tasks, or deliverables in the columns and rows.
  2. WBS flowchart: You can structure your WBS in a diagrammatic workflow. Most WBS examples and templates you may find are flowcharts.
  3. WBS list: You can structure your WBS as a simple list of tasks or deliverables and subtasks. This is the most straightforward approach to make a WBS.
  4. Work breakdown structure Gantt chart. You can structure your WBS as a Gantt chart that represents both a spreadsheet and a timeline. With a Gantt chart-structured WBS, you can link task dependencies and show project milestones.


Work breakdown structure example

When created thoroughly, the work breakdown structure is a roadmap that guides a team when completing projects — whether simple or complex.

Here's a work breakdown structure example.

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What is the difference between WBS and a work breakdown schedule?

Various detailed project documents support the WBS. Amongst them are a risk management plan, quality plan, procurement plan, communications plan, staffing plan, and a work breakdown schedule plan. 

The work breakdown schedule includes the start and completion dates for all tasks, activities, and deliverables defined in the WBS.

How to use Wrike as your work breakdown structure tool

Using Wrike as a work breakdown structure tool, you can easily create folders and subfolders and go even further to divide these into tasks and subtasks.

Following the steps to create a good work breakdown structure above, you can assign each task in the WBS to appropriate team members, and set due dates towards the final deliverable completion. 

You can also show visibility into the project to the relevant stakeholders at every stage of the project.

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