The Easy Guide to Work Breakdown Structures | With Editable Templates

When it comes to planning a project, the work breakdown structure is one of the first things a project manager has to work on. 

In this guide, we will explain what is a work breakdown structure, how to create one and give you access to WBS templates for several scenarios. You can edit and export them as SVGs and images or share them with colleagues for collaboration. 

What is a Work Breakdown Structure? 

A work breakdown structure is a popular project management tool. It’s a diagram that helps break down large projects into smaller and more manageable parts which contain the project deliverables or outcomes that it will complete. 

It’s a deliverables-oriented breaking down of a project that divides project deliverables into sub-deliverables and work packages which define the work, duration and costs for the tasks that need to be carried out.

It has a hierarchical structure. Usually, it’s better to have three levels of decomposition in a WBS. In the case of a more complex project, you may add a fourth and a fifth level. 

WBS Example - how to create a work breakdown structure
Work Breakdown Structure Example (Click on the template to edit it online)

Benefits of Work Breakdown Structures 

  • Visualizes the scope of the project, making it easier to do the planning
  • Makes it easier to assign responsibilities accurately to the project team
  • Helps with identifying the project milestones and control points 
  • Helps with estimating the time and cost for the project and allocate resources
  • Visualizes important parts of a project and helps identify areas of risk
  • Helps set clear timelines for the project and ensure that no work is duplicated or overlooked

Components of a Work Breakdown Structure 

Following are the elements of a work breakdown structure and the common terms that you may come across when creating one.

Work packages: These are the lowest parts in a work breakdown structure. They define the work, duration, and costs for the tasks that need to be carried out to complete the deliverables. They shouldn’t be dependent on other work packages and should not exceed more than 10 days to complete. 

Deliverables: Outcomes of the activities or the products or measurable outcomes you’ll have created at the end of each milestone. 

Rules You Need to Stick by When Designing a WBS 

Following are the principles you need to adhere to when designing a work breakdown structure. 

  • The 100% rule: This rule helps the manager to ensure that all project efforts are captured and nothing unrelated is included in the structure. According to it the sum of the “child” tasks (on any level) must equal to 100% of the parent tasks.   
  • All deliverables and sub-deliverables must be mutually exclusive, which means they shouldn’t appear twice within the work breakdown structure. This helps avoid miscommunication and duplication of tasks. 
  • The 8/80 rule: According to this rule, the work packages or the work required to create the deliverables should not take less than eight hours and more than eighty hours. 
  • The work breakdown structure must be focused on outcomes or deliverables and not the activities you need to complete to get there. Focus on the what and not the how. 

How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure

Following we have listed the steps you need to take to create a work breakdown structure from scratch. 

Step 1: Get your team together to identify the deliverables and sub-deliverables of the project. This would include the project managers and the subject matter experts. 

Step 2: Gather the necessary documents such as the project charter, project scope statement, and project scope management plan. 

Step 3: Identify the key deliverables of the project. These should come at the second level of your WBS. Key deliverables will be essential to the completion of the project and they will be carried out by independent teams – meaning the same team won’t be working on completing another deliverable. 

Step 4: With the help of the subject matter experts, break the key deliverables into smaller parts of work (work packages) or in other words identify the work that is necessary to complete each deliverable. 

Step 5: Create a WBS dictionary which is a document that includes the definition and the scope of the different elements in your work breakdown structure. The WBS dictionary would include information such as work package name and ID, name of the person it is assigned to, due date, estimated cost, etc. This will help the team understand work packages better. 

Step 6. You can create a WBS using different formats like text-based work breakdown structures, tabular structures, or more visual ones like flowcharts. Once it is complete, share it with the team.  A Creately work breakdown structure can be quickly shared with the rest of your team with a secure share link – once shared, you can collaborate on it in real-time. 

Work Breakdown Structure Templates

Work Breakdown Structure for Construction

Construction Work Breakdown Structure
Construction Work Breakdown Structure (Click on the template to edit it online)

Work Breakdown Structure for Project Management

WBS Project Management - how to create a work breakdown structure
WBS Project Management (Click on the template to edit it online)

Work Breakdown Structure Template

Work Breakdown Structure Template
Work Breakdown Structure Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Work Breakdown Structure Example

WBS Project Management Template
WBS Project Management Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Any Comments on Our Guide to Work Breakdown Structures

Creating a work breakdown structure can be a daunting task. Follow the steps in this guide and make use of the templates to simplify your WBS process. 

Got anything to share? Do let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. 

Author

Amanda Athuraliya

Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.

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