Work Breakdown Structure Training – Which Layout is Best for your WBS?

Creating a work breakdown structure involves identifying and describing each task in a project. There are many ways you can present the Work Breakdown Structure for your project. This work breakdown structure training summary helps you work out which layout is best for your purpose, whether you are developing, presenting or communicating a work breakdown structure.

Let’s consider the three main layout options.

 structure training-graphical1. The Graphical Layout is my preferred method for developing a work breakdown structure. We seldom do our best thinking when we are forced to think in a linear manner, such as when making a list in chronological order. With a graphical layout you can visually plot the tasks, starting with the highest level tasks, and layering in the sub-tasks as you go. And the advantage is you can input the sub-tasks in random order, as they come to mind. The graphical layout provides an excellent view of the various project tasks and how they relate to each other, and you don’t get distracted by having to think sequentially. The finished graphical layout looks like a hierarchical chart with the high level tasks distributed along the top or down the left hand side, and the sub-tasks arranged in layers underneath, or to the right. An example of a simple two level work breakdown structure is shown above.

Work Breakdown Structure Training--Outline2. The Outline layout shows the work breakdown structure as a vertical list, with each sub-level indented. It provides an easy way to view and understand the work breakdown structure. A simple two level work breakdown structure in outline format is shown at right.

3. The Outline Table Layout is a common variation of the outline layout. It is similar to the outline layout but without indentation. A simple two level work breakdown structure in outline table format is shown below.work breakdown structure training--outline-table

Which layout you use to communicate your work breakdown structure depends on your purpose.

  • Because it provides a clear pictorial layout of the main tasks the graphical layout is best suited to a high level work breakdown structure of 2 to 3 levels. It can be used for development, presentation and summary purposes. The graphical layout is ideal for developing the work breakdown structure because you can involve your project team and record their input visually and immediately as you create the work breakdown structure. You can use this layout for presenting the work breakdown structure to your management team or clients. It is also useful for a high level summary overview of the work breakdown structure for inclusion in your Project Plan.
  • The outline layout is a convenient layout to use when developing and fine-tuning the work breakdown structure because you can easily make changes using features such as auto numbering that are common to most word processing programmes. It is also suitable for a detailed work breakdown structure that you may want to attach as an appendix to your Project Plan.
  • The outline tabular layout is more difficult to read, but it is useful where you have many levels in your work breakdown structure and indenting each level would make the table too wide to fit easily into a document. It is also a convenient format when you are creating the work breakdown structure dictionary as it is easy to add descriptions for each task in the final column, so that you can communicate the task requirements to your team.

Successful project management hinges on clear communication and so it is important to select the layout best suited to communicating your work breakdown structure. What do you think? Which layout do you prefer for creating and presenting your work breakdown structure and why?

For busy professionals who need to meet continuing professional development requirements and boost their career opportunities, our online courses provide a flexible and cost-effective way to achieve this by providing anywhere, anytime access and a supportive online community. Continuing Professional Development offers a series of online project management courses to advance your project management skills and your career. Click here to find out how our Work Breakdown Structure Training Course will give you the practical skills to write a comprehensive work breakdown structure.

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About the Author

Vivian Kloosterman is the founder of Continuing Professional Development which delivers online learning courses over the web. Advancing personalized learning has been identified as one of the 14 biggest challenges facing our world in the future, and Vivian is particularly focused on creating interactive, engaging e-learning courses for professionals that are practical and relevant to help them meet CPD requirements. She is a professional engineer with 30 years of business, governance, management and technical experience.

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