Explaining Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The work breakdown structure is a technique to break down a project into its smallest components. It is considered the single most critical project controls tool. Typically, we can decompose a large construction project into a WBS framework by following two methods: the graphics format or the intended format. A detailed and fully developed WBS helps create a project plan.

A WBS can be created with either a task-oriented or a product-oriented focus. The product-oriented structure plays a key role when it comes down to estimating and understanding a large project by starting off with its deliverables. A detailed WBS, showing the work package level, is absolutely important when it comes to estimating cost, schedules and project management.

WBS development

WBS is an inseparable component of effective project planning, controlling, execution, and reporting. It contains the project’s scope baseline necessary to meet the technical requirements of the work described. Every activity mentioned in the WBS is properly identified, estimated, budgeted and scheduled. As a management tool, WBS is used throughout the life cycle of a project to assign and track the aggregate work scope.

In large construction projects, the WBS served as a multi-level framework which visually displays and organizes elements representing work to be completed in a systematic manner. The following are the properties of the project work which is structured into WBS elements:

  • Definable
  • Estimable
  • Manageable
  • Independent
  • Integratable
  • Measurable
  • Adaptable

It is not practical to include anything in the WBS which can’t be defined, measured, integrated, estimated, or managed. Detailed descriptions and relationships among WBS elements are presented using the WBS dictionary coupled with the hierarchical diagram. The WBS dictionary is a major instrument which helps define the scope of each work element, milestones, performance parameters, deliverables, quantities, engineering documents and more.

Tools to create WBS

It takes teamwork, multiple inputs and perspectives to create a work breakdown structure. Conducting brainstorming sessions with various stakeholders can be an effective technique to organize. There are various simple tools such as note cards, whiteboard, sticky note, etc. that can be used by the project team to identify specific work packages, major deliverables, and other technical aspects.

Low-technology tools can be useful to some extent. However, more advanced tools are needed to support a complex work breakdown structure, brainstorming, and mind mapping. No matter the tools or technique you use to develop a work breakdown structure, it is important that WBS summarizes the entire project. The WBS can also help contractors develop their own contract-specific WBS.

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