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Author: Elyse, PMP, CPHIMS
November 29, 2006


The creation of a work breakdown structure (WBS) is the process of subdividing the major project deliverables and project work into smaller, more manageable components at least according to the PMBOK. There are two formats of presenting a WBS, the outline (MS project view) and Graphical, network diagram view. The WBS ultimately enlightens the team and stakeholders by providing a clear picture of what is needed to complete the project.

The inputs to creating a WBS are:

  1. The Project Scope Statement - The Project Scope Statement is a description of the project scope (including major deliverables, project objectives, project assumptions, project constraints, and a statement of work) that provides a guidelines for making future project decisions and for creating a common understanding of the project scope among the stakeholders.
  2. The Project Scope Management Plan - The Project Scope Management Plan details the actions necessary in preparing the Work Breakdown Structure. This plan also describes how the project scope should be defined, verified, and controlled. This includes a description of the process that should be used to create the WBS from the Project Scope Statement. When reviewing the Project Scope Statement, the project manager should extract the following components to help create the WBS.
    • Objectives - Objectives are what the goal of the project is.
    • Boundaries - Boundaries help determine what is to be included and what is not to be included.
    • Description - The product scope descriptions definitely offers insights to the details involved in decomposing tasks.
    • Deliverables - All deliverables should be contained within the work breakdown structure.

    After reviewing the Project Scope Statement, the project manager should review the Project Scope Management Plan to utilize the following information in creating the work breakdown structure.
    • Decomposition - Decomposition involves breaking a large item down into smaller components.
    • Template - Honestly having standard templates for developing all WBS should be a cornerstone of your organizations project management methodology. The standard template specified in the Project Scope Management Plan should be utilized.
  3. Organizational process assets - Organizational process assets give the project manager a wealth of information regarding standards, procedures, guidelines, and lessons learned from previous projects.
  4. Approved change requests - Approved change requests are authorized changes to the project scope.

Once you have gathered all these inputs together it is time to use some tools and techniques to create the work breakdown structure. The goal of creating the work breakdown structure is only attack a part of the elephant at a time. The tools and techniques used to create a WBS are:
  • Work breakdown structure templates - Work breakdown structure templates from previous project work can be useful. Its easier not re-inventing the wheel every time.
  • Decomposition - Decomposition is used to break a project down into smaller, more manageable components. There are three steps involved in performing decomposition:
    1. Identify the project deliverables - This step involves reviewing the inputs detailed above.
    2. Break the project down into components - This step involves producing a hierarchical descriptions of the project's project. It can be in a graphical or outlined display.
    3. Verify the WBS - In other words check your steps and work. Common quality assurance questions are:
      • Did I include all relevant deliverables?
      • Did I accidentally include any deliverables that are outside the scope of the project?
      • Did I break the project down into the correct components--such as subprojects, sub-subprojects, activities, and deliverables?
      • Did I state all known tasks associated with the creation of each deliverable?
      • Has the WBS been verified by the person or persons indicated in the project documents?

Now that you have done the heavy lifting, it is easy to grasp how important and key the WBS to overall project delivery. Creating the Work Breakdown Structures has six main outputs.
  1. The WBS itself - A WBS is a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables. It organizes and defines the total scope of the project. Each descending level represents an increasingly detailed definition of the project work. The WBS is decomposed into work packages.
  2. WBS dictionary - The WBS dictionary is a document that describes each component in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). For each WBS component, the WBS dictionary includes a statement of work, defined deliverables, a list of associated activities, and a list of milestones. Other information may include the responsible organization, start and end dates, the resources required, an estimate of cost, the charge number, contract information, quality requirements, and technical references that facilitate performance of the work.
  3. Project Scope Management Plan updates - The Project Scope Management Plan specifies how the scope will be defined and controlled, and how the WBS will be created and defined.
  4. Scope baseline - The scope baseline is a collection of approved documents. These documents consist of the detailed Project Scope Statement, the WBS, and the WBS dictionary.
  5. Project Scope Statement - The Project Scope Statement provides descriptions of the required deliverables and associated work. As the WBS is created, certain changes may need to be made to the described deliverables and work. The Project Scope Statement must be updated to reflect these changes.
  6. Requested changes - When project managers are creating the WBS, they will often find that certain changes affecting the scope need to be made. These changes should be thoroughly reviewed and then approved according to the project's Integrated Change Control process.

The WBS is the foundation. Without the foundation really don't have anything to build upon for your project. Obviously it is needed.

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