Learn what the WBS is suitable for and use these tips to create an effective template for your work breakdown structure. Structure and organise your project successfully. Find the right tool for your company.
Let's start with the definition of the work breakdown structure.
What is a work breakdown structure (WBS)?
A work breakdown structure, or WBS, is a core element of project planning and illustrates the sub-projects, responsibilities and interrelationships within a project.
The creation of a work breakdown structure is at the beginning of a project and provides an overview for all those involved.
What is the work breakdown structure suitable for?
The work breakdown structure is suitable as a template for all other plans for cost planning, the process, resource planning and risk management. It is therefore often referred to as the "plan of plans".
What are the advantages of a PSP?
The work breakdown structure can simply be used as a template for brainstorming project planning. At level one, you have the important sub-items. You can brainstorm on each one until it is completely covered.
With the PSP, you can easily plan a project and structure it clearly. You can use it as a basis for estimating efforts, setting deadlines and determining the next steps.
What are the PSP display types?
The classic representation of the WBS is a tree diagram. It is also possible to display it as a mind map, a list or within an indented continuous text.
In all forms, coding of the elements is usually done, with the so-called WBS code. A possible coding template for the work breakdown structure is, for example, a number for the level followed by the consecutive numbering for the element of the level (e.g. 3.1 for the first element of the third level).
How is the work breakdown structure structured?
In a tree structure, you start with the project goal as the main node. On the first level follows an outline according to the various
- or partial results of the project.
Often PSP outlines are chosen that are suitable for reporting at the first level. Is the fulfilment of special requirements important, of a completed phase or should partial results be presented? The completion of the elements of this project level should represent important milestones in your project.
This is followed on level two by the respective work packages including costs, time and required resources. The more detailed you are here, the easier it is to estimate the effort.
If a work package is formulated too vaguely, it is therefore worthwhile to divide it up further on a third level. Depending on the complexity, further levels are conceivable.
The 7 steps to the work breakdown structure
We have already talked about the advantages and benefits of the WBS. Now it's time for the concrete implementation to make efficient use of the templates of a work breakdown structure.
Define project objective(s)
In a kick-off workshop with all project participants, you define the project goals according to the SMART criteria (specific, measurable, attractive, realistic, scheduled). Either there is a single goal for the whole project or it has to be divided into sub-projects.
How can the goals be achieved?
The next step is to consider how the goals are to be achieved. One possibility is to sort this level by phases. For example, choose initialisation, planning, implementation, control and completion as WBS nodes.
Another option is to choose the project outcome requirements as bullet points. It is also conceivable to structure the outline according to partial results.
Define the work packages
In the next step, define the work packages for each of these points. List all tasks and cluster them into thematic areas.
Assignment of the packages
In the following, the packages are assigned to the appropriate levels and the respective WBS nodes. At this point you also have the chance to enter persons responsible for the tasks.
Start and end dates are set if you do not choose another method for scheduling (for example, a project schedule) in addition to the WBS.
Review of the work breakdown structure
As a rule, you will already recognise up to 90 % of all work packages during the initial creation of the work breakdown structure. Go through the finished WBS again with all participants.
Renewed review and adjustment
In order to cover the missing aspects, another meeting should follow after one or two weeks. Here, further points can be included in the PSP.
Detailed planning of the work steps
Finally, you start the detailed planning of the work steps. Here you define the concrete to-dos. If only these defined steps are fulfilled, can the project be successfully implemented? Or are there tasks missing that are not yet shown in the work breakdown structure? If so, add them.
Work breakdown structure: Template and tools for creation
In concrete terms, you can of course create the work breakdown structure without any templates or tools. You simply use index cards and pin them to the pinboard during the kick-off meeting. However, this becomes awkward when the plan is needed later for reference. This is where the various available PSP templates and programmes come into play.
What work breakdown structure templates are available?
Choose between diagramming, mindmapping or list tools. Two well-known diagramming tools that are also suitable for creating a work breakdown structure are Gliffi and Lucidchart. With these you can create the work breakdown structure as a classic tree diagram, for example. If you want to create a mind map, you can get a work breakdown structure template from MindManager here. For a little more structure and easy-to-process lists, SeaTable is also suitable. You can find the appropriate templates here.
In general, it is worth using a tool or template for creating the WBS to simplify views. A work breakdown structure is complex because it has to show everything at a glance. With a tool you can set filters to hide certain task packages or levels.
Let's say you want to see one PSP per employee. No problem. You simply filter by those responsible and get individual to-do lists.
Automatic notifications for collaborative work on tasks are also useful. If something is marked as completed, commented on or if changes are made, this can be seen immediately. Those involved are informed by email or push notification.
Everything at a glance at all times
A WBS template also allows you to keep track of the project. There are no different versions of the plan on the computers of the participants. Instead, the current work breakdown structure can be accessed at a central location at any time.
The concept of creating a work breakdown structure sounds simple, but it can quickly become complex and confusing. A work breakdown structure template or tool will help you to implement your project as efficiently and clearly as possible.
Image source Cover image: © A Stefanovska /Adobe Stock