Get Your Project Work Breakdown Structure Right: 3 Simple Steps to Succeed

Work Breakdown Structure stepsWhat are the 3 simple Work Breakdown Structure Steps to Create a comprehensive WBS for your Project?

Do you get that sinking feeling when it’s time to identify and set-out all the tasks in your project? You’re not alone; when you start a project the number and complexity of tasks can be overwhelming. And one of the reasons that projects fail is because important activities are inadvertently left out. Using 3 simple steps and applying this Work Breakdown structure training helps project managers organise and co-ordinate the multiple resources needed to achieve project goals.

Project managers use the work breakdown structure as a tool to reveal the scope of project work and to communicate the work and processes required to implement the project.  Your work breakdown structure is the hierarchical breakdown of all work required to complete your project. Visually, think of it as a branched structure in which the sub- tasks at a lower level consist of all the work needed to complete the higher level tasks. It provides a view into the project which shows what work the project encompasses by identifying all the tasks and breaking the larger tasks down into a series of manageable and discrete sub-tasks.

If you follow these 3 simple steps to create a work Breakdown Structure you will be well on the way to accurately identifying and describing all the tasks required to complete your project.

1. Start with the high level tasks or deliverables.You can get these from your project charter or scope statement. For example on a construction project your high level tasks may include:

  • Investigations
  • Design and Cost
  • Obtaining consents and approvals
  • Procurement
  • Construction
  • Testing, Commissioning and Handover

2. Identify subtasks. Work downward from the high level tasks identified in Step 1 and break each high level task into the lower level subordinate tasks required to produce the deliverable. For instance for the high level task Investigations, subtasks could include: a walkover site inspection, detailed site survey, geotechnical investigations, plus associated reporting. Although developing the work breakdown structure is primarily the responsibility of the project manager, Involving your project team in this phase improves the likelihood that all the detailed subtasks necessary to complete the high level tasks will be identified. Check your work by looking at all the subtasks and seeing whether they add up to the highest level tasks.  Are there any gaps? Have you missed anything? Eventually a point is reached where there is no practical reason to break tasks down any further.  This is usually time based.  The standard 8/80 rule serves as a sensible guide.  If a task is smaller than 8 hours, it does not need to be broken down further.  If a task is greater than 80 hours, then further work breakdown probably needs to take place for the task to be manageable.

3. Describe each task– Add a description of each task.  For example, the description for the Walkover Site Inspection could be: “Design Team Leader and Geotechnical specialist do on-site walkover inspection to assess terrain, stability and identify fatal flaws and issues.” The description typically answers the who, what and where. Who will be doing the work? What does the work cover? Where does this work take place? Save the when for later, this is addressed when you do your project work schedule. Project team members use this description to determine the scope of the work packages they have been assigned.

A comprehensive work breakdown structure provides a sound foundation for your project. Although the examples refer to a construction project, the 3 simple steps to get your work breakdown structure right first time apply equally to any type of project, whether it is IT, marketing, financial, or even planning a holiday. Using the systematic process outlined in this Work Breakdown Structure training significantly increases your chances of including all project tasks. It won’t guarantee that all the tasks are identified, but it is more reliable than any process in which tasks are identified randomly.

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 project management online 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.

You might also like:

Work Breakdown Structure Training: What are the Project Management Benefits?

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

How To Write A Quick and Easy Project Charter That Contains 8 Essential Elements

About the Author

Vivian’s career in professional engineering spanned 35 years of technical, business, management and governance experience. She draws on her industry experience to write articles that are practical and relevant to a wide range of readers. Her aim is to get you thinking and help you meet your continuing professional development requirements.


  1. Priyadharshini says:

    Good article

  2. Bharat Nerkar says:

    great article, quite useful..

  3. Sunil Yengkhom says:

    Your WBS step by step technique is unique. Please continue to provide such articles in future.

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