What Is a Work Breakdown Structure?


To set tasks up properly requires a work breakdown structure (WBS). In this video, Jennifer Bridges, PMP, explains what is needed to do this crucial project management task by providing an example of a work breakdown structure.

Related: Free Work Breakdown Structure Template for Excel

In Review: What Is a Work Breakdown Structure?

Jennifer discussed how to generate a work breakdown structure (WBS) and its purpose in helping you manage a project. She noted that the industry-standard definition of a work breakdown structure is a “deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition that offers digestible tasks for team members to meet the project’s objectives and create required deliverables.”

That’s a mouthful.

Put another way: the purpose of the breakdown structure is to organize and define the scope of your project. That’s it. You can start by identifying the key deliverables and noting when they’re being produced.

WBS is a Visual Guide to Your Project

By breaking down the deliverables, you then create sub-deliverables, which again can be broken down as far down as needed to address the concerns of the project. By visualizing this in a graphical way, you and your resources can collaborate on defining mission critical tasks and their related subtasks and, eventually, inter-dependencies between them.

Related: 3 Free Tools for Making Network Diagrams

A work breakdown structure is your map through more complicated projects. One project may include several phases, or also smaller, sub-projects. Even sub-projects can be broken down into smaller bits. In so doing, you gain clarity into the details needed to accomplish every aspect of your project.

Pro Tip: An online planning tool will help you define dependencies among the tasks and will update these relationships across the project when one task is changed.

Thanks for watching!


Hello, I’m Jennifer, Director of ProjectManager.com. Well, welcome to our whiteboard session today on what is a work breakdown structure. A lot of times we get questions from the forum and other sources and people calling really trying to understand what the work breakdown structure is and there is so much confusion out there because it gets tied into maybe a software tool or other aspects and people can’t determine what’s the difference between that, a schedule and other parts of the project. I want to take the time out on this whiteboard session just to clarify what the work breakdown structure is.

Well you know me, I’m big on terms and I like to be clear and go forward on a real definition of terms so a lot of times you’ll see me on the whiteboard sessions reference my good friend, Google. Well in this case, I’m referencing A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge by PMI and this specifically is the 4th edition. You can reference other project management sources of your own that you may use and prefer instead, but this is mine. What PMI and the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, the PMBOK Guide, says a work breakdown structure is deliverable-oriented hierarchical decompositions so that we’re breaking something apart of the work to be executed by the team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.

Many times I see the teams get confused because they lose track of, they lose essence of, why are we doing this project and specifically we’re doing a project is to produce the deliverables. This is a very important piece and if you can create a work breakdown structure from the beginning and identify the deliverables being produced when. Then a picture truly is worth a thousand words, for not only you the project manager but your team. It sets the vision again for the project objectives.

So let’s take a look at the purpose. The purpose again is to organize and define the total scope. So the scope is comprised of the deliverables. So this hierarchical decomposition of the work; it looks like this, here’s a graphical picture. Here’s just generically, you can take this generic hierarchical structure and again breaking it down for your own. Here’s a project and in this specific one you may work on projects that include pPhases so there may be a Phase 1, Phase 2 or other multiple Phases. This one has two Phases and a Deliverable, a main high level deliverable produced and this also has subprojects. This also can include subprojects that are broken down as well. But if you look at Phase 1 and break down this, this has two Deliverables beneath the Phase, so it’s producing two main Deliverables and so we look at what’s the work required to produce these Deliverables.

So we keep breaking it down, we break it down to the work; the work to be executed, so work is executed by work packages. This Deliverable 1 is broken down to other subdeliverables and which are broken down eventually to work packages. And remember your team members are completing work packages that produce these deliverables. And again, this can continue to be broken down but this simply is a work breakdown structure. I think it’s very important to understand the definition and the structure, the purpose and how we do this.

Truly a picture is worth a thousand words and I hope this one helps you for your teams and your projects. At ProjectManager.com, we believe firmly in work breakdown structures and that they do and can create a picture that’s worth a thousand words for you and your team. So if you need a tool that can help you decompose the work done on your project, then sign up for our software at ProjectManager.com.

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