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SensiblePM101 – 003 | Work Breakdown Structure

SensiblePM101 – 003 | Work Breakdown Structure

In this episode The Sensible Project Manager talks about Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and how to create one and use it to plan a project.

Listen to the Podcast:

SensiblePM Tip:

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS):

  • What is Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?
  • How to create a WBS?
  • Rules to follow when creating a WBS.

Read the Transcript

Welcome to SensiblePM 101 where you can find practical tips for dynamic project management. My name is Mark Phillipy and I am the Sensible Project Manager. In today’s episode I will talk about Work Breakdown Structure or WBS and how you can create one and use it to plan a project. Alright so first let’s start with talking about what a WBS is.

The project management body of knowledge or PMBOK defines the Work Breakdown Structure as a deliverable oriented hierarchal decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team. Now that is a mouth full. I want to make it a little bit easier than that. Although that definition is correct, I just want to make it a little simpler. I like to think of the WBS as an organized breakdown of the activities that are required to deliver the scope of the project. Now it’s important to understand that it is only the activities to deliver the scope, no more or no less. The WBS is often created in outline form. Some people might use mind mapping to create the WBS. It doesn’t matter what format you use to create your WBS or the tools you use. I’m more interested in understanding what a WBS is.

Now let’s talk about how to create a WBS. I believe that the first step really is to understand the scope. Next once you understand that scope, you then identify the deliverables of the scope. You then decompose those deliverables at increasingly smaller units. You would break them into sub deliverables, milestones, and eventually into activities or tasks.

I think the easiest way to understand how you may create a WBS is a simple example. I am going to take the example of building a house. If I was to create a WBS for building a house I would break it into probably three different deliverables. The first deliverable might be structure. The next deliverable might be external. And finally, the third deliverable might be internal. Meaning there’s a structural component of a house, an external portion of the house and an internal portion of the house. Now I would then take each one of those and break them down into smaller, I can break them down or decompose them into a smaller sub deliverables. For instance structure might be broken down into foundation and wood framing. The external deliverable might be broken down into siding and roof. The internal deliverable might be broken down into electrical, plumbing, flooring, and walls. So I then take each one of those and I might even break them down in to either further sub deliverables, or if I am at a level which I can define the activities and milestones, I would break it down to that next level. For instance, if I was to decompose walls into smaller activities or tasks, I might say that I would first install sheet rock, I would then secondly mud, sand, finish the sheet rock. And then finally I would paint the walls. So that’s essentially how you would break down or create your WBS for building a house.

Now when you create your WBS, there are three rules I like to keep in mind. The first one is the WBS should contain 100% of the work. In other words it should not include additional work that is required to meet the scope. And it shouldn’t be less than what is necessary to meet the scope. The next rule is what they call the 80 hour rule. It should be broken down such that activities are no more than 80 hours. The third rule is you should decompose it to a practical or realistic level. In other words you don’t want to break it down a level where it is unrealistic to track and to manage. You want to be able to break it down somewhere under the 80 hours and never down to a detail level in which you are not willing to track it. For instance I usually don’t break a task down to any lower than 8 hours. But sometimes that’s necessary. OK I hope that this discussion helps you to understand WBS or Work Breakdown Structure. And I hope you can apply that to your activities or projects as you start your planning process. Alright I want to thank you for listing to this SensiblePM101 podcast. I hope this practical tip helps you in your project management journey. Please visit me often at and leave a comment. Or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and feel free to leave a comment there as well. I would love to be able to hear feedback from you so that I can make these podcasts better. And I can provide the type of content that you are looking for. I would love to have you leave me some comments as to what you might want to hear. You can also You can find me on Twitter @sensiblepm. Or you can find me at LinkedIn. My name is Mark Phillipy. And remember, The Sensible Project Manager always looks for the practical way to lead a project to success.

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