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The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is essential for getting a project off the ground. This beginner-friendly guide will help you understand the work breakdown structure and create one on your own.

What exactly is a WBS? The Project Management Institute’s (PMI) “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)” defines a WBS as a “hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables”. Note the use of the terms scope, work, and deliverable. PMBOK defines scope as “the sum of the products, services, and results to be provided as a project”. Work, of course, is effort. However, in the context of a WBS the PMI’s “Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures” says “work refers to work products or deliverables that are the result of effort and not the effort itself”.

One of the first steps in planning a project is to break down the project into its major deliverables i.e. major product or service components. This is known as the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). After you have created the WBS, you can then create the activities required to achieve those deliverables.

This article discusses the WBS, and demonstrates how to create a simple WBS in Primavera P6.

Top Down Approach in Primavera P6

Unlike some scheduling software programs that are somewhat of a bottom up approach, Primavera P6 encourages you to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) at the beginning of the project. This is known as a top down approach. Primavera P6 recognizes the importance of the project management team keeping their “eye on the ball” throughout the project life cycle. This means that you maintain a focus on the end product or service, which is the whole purpose of the project. The WBS helps you maintain this focus on the product. At its heart the WBS is a deliverable-oriented decomposition of the project into smaller components. So, the WBS focuses on the deliverables, and it is simply a breakdown of all the components making up the product in a hierarchical fashion. Primavera P6 has you create the WBS first, so that the activities on the project schedule flow from the WBS in a top down method, and not the other way around

WBS in Primavera P6

The above WBS illustrates the typical construction industry work breakdown structure which integrates the Key Dates & Milestones, Preliminaries, Engineering, Procurement, Construction, Testing & Commissioning, Authorities Approvals and Project Handing Over.

Sample WBS

Typical Civil Construction WBS in Primavera Collapse to level 5

What are the benefits of a WBS?

The WBS is a laser-focused breakdown of all the key deliverables needed to make the project successful. Creating one offers several advantages, such as:

  • Project schedule: The WBS is the foundation of the project schedule and budget. Once you know all the deliverables required to complete the project, as well as their hierarchical relationships, it will be much easier to assign resources and set deadlines.
  • Accountability: Since all elements in a WBS are mutually exclusive, it helps create accountability. A team assigned to a single work package is wholly accountable for its completion. This reduces overlaps in responsibility.
  • Commitment: The WBS gives teams a very high-level overview of their responsibilities. Since each team is responsible for a specific component at a time, it helps make them more committed to completing their assigned tasks.
  • Reduces ambiguities: The process of developing the WBS involves the project manager, project team, and all relevant stakeholders. This encourages dialog and helps everyone involved flesh out their responsibilities. Thus, everyone has less ambiguity and a better idea of what they’re supposed to do.

Creating a WBS is the first step in developing a comprehensive project schedule. It can be of massive help in getting everyone to understand the project’s scope and deliverables at different levels.

Gantt Chart view of WBS in Primavera

WBS along with activities in Primavera

Reference books

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), PMI, Sixth Ed.
Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures, PMI.
Forecast Scheduling with Microsoft Project 2010, Eric Uyttewall, PMP
The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, Fourth Ed., Eric Verzuh

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By Hassan

An Astute Engineering Professional more passionate about civil engineering domain and project management along with forensic delay analysis. Also, Competent project planner and forensic delay analyst. Founder of Civil Invents Blog page to learn and share about the wealth of international experience including project management, planning, International Arbitration's and Claims preparation skills. Also, to groom individuals who wish to be an aspiring professional in Oracle Primavera Software, Delay analysis and High-profile projects. Feel free to visit the Blog and drop feedback to my email: [email protected]

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