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Creating a WBS

Creating a WBS

Author: Jeff Carroll

This lesson demonstrates the steps in creating a Work Breakdown Structure.

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Source: Image of house, sticky note, Public Domain, Sparkol VideoScribe Internal Image; Image of project manager female, Creative Commons, Kelly Eddington.

Video Transcription

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Hi, I'm Jeff. And in this lesson, we'll learn how to create a work breakdown structure, otherwise known as a WBS. If you remember, the WBS is a method the project manager uses to organize the project work and break it down into manageable chunks. It's the goal of the WBS to provide a complete picture of the work involved to create the project deliverables. And the WBS is the foundation for the project schedule, resource planning, and the determination of project budget.

For example, let's create a WBS for a house construction project. The creation of a WBS must be a collaboration between the project manager and members of the project team, or others who have knowledge of the work. Any individuals on the project team who have responsibility for the work toward deliverables should be involved.

In the case of our house project, that includes all the trades that are part of the construction, such as those who create the structure of the house, install the roof, or place the plumbing and electrical. Subject matter experts should also be involved. These are individuals with specialized knowledge that relate to the project goals or deliverables.

When building an energy efficient house, for example, these might be individuals with information related to insulation. Subject matter experts may not work on the project, but might just provide advice that defines the work. Any individuals who have experience with similar projects should be consulted. And the project manager should also review the WBS or schedules for any project that have similar deliverables.

For our house construction project, it would be simple to copy many the WBS tasks from projects that have completed successfully. Then modify the WBS for our specific project. Once the project manager knows who will collaborate on the WBS, it's time to actually break down the work.

A WBS is often represented as a hierarchy. And one method that works well to create it is called the sticky node method. Each element of the WBS is written on a sticky note. And then these notes can be easily moved around as more information comes in from our collaborators.

This works better than a document or a white board because the structure is more flexible. Since the notes can be easily moved, collaborators do not feel locked into certain workflows during the brainstorming process. So our first sticky note has Dream Home written on it-- the name of our project.

Moving on, the first levels in the hierarchy are the deliverables. These should have been defined in the project scope, but occasionally new deliverables will be identified during the WBS process. If new deliverables emerge, be sure to modify the project scope and notify the stakeholders of the change.

For our example, we know the scope from the house plans. So let's say that we are building a single story, 1,500 square foot ranch home. Next, all the activities need identified.

Activities are the major pieces of work necessary to create the deliverables. These are generally expressed as verbs. And for our house project, these can be listed as create the foundation, build the external structure, and install the internal systems.

Each activity is then broken down further into tasks. Tasks are the specific work needed to complete an activity. And unlike activities, tasks will be assigned to the individuals performing the work.

If we break down the create the foundation activity, we'll have tasks such as excavate the footings, lay the concrete forms, pour the concrete, and install the water lines. This continues for each activity, breaking down the work into tasks that can be assigned. Once all the tasks have been identified, then we must confirm the WBS has the proper sequence to the work.

With our sticky note method, it's easy to move tasks around. For example, with our foundation, the water lines must be installed before the concrete is poured. So let's move it to the proper location.

There we go. For each activity and task, it's the project manager's role to ask what activities might be missing, and does the sequence of activities demonstrate a logical flow of the work to be performed. Often at this stage, complex activities and tasks may be broken down further.

Though this lesson uses the terms activity and task, organizations might use different terms. However, the process to construct the WBS hierarchy should be very similar. Now that we have a WBS, the project manager can move on with the project.

Good job. You've learned how to create a WBS. You understand that the process to create a WBS is a collaboration. You know that the WBS must be broken down into deliverables, activities, and tasks. And you've learned how to use the sticky note method during the process. Thanks. And have a great day.

  • Project Activities

    Work elements that are required to complete or manage a project.

  • Project Deliverables

    Defined outcomes that are the focus of a project and are the basis for all project activities.

  • Project Tasks

    Discrete work that is required to complete project activities.