Many people avid preparing a WBS because they feel it is too cumbersome or unnecessary, or it simply does not apply to their project. However, in my over 25 years of project management experience, I have never seen a project that could not benefit from having a WBS of its own, including smaller and short-run projects. And that is because the WBS is meant to achieve three things:
- Get a graphic representation of your project product and/or goal.
- Define the steps/areas required to achieve said goal
- List all the deliverables you will produce at the bottom of the WBS.
Let’s take an example, such as Starting a New Business, to explain how the WBS works. As shown in the graphic below, you start with the main goal and/or project title at the chart’s top. From there, you start “breaking” down the project into activities and/or groups of activities required to help you obtain the deliverables needed. Mind you, the graphic below shows an abbreviated version of a project. There would normally be more steps, such as “hire a marketing team” under marketing and so on. But the main objective here is to provide an overall idea of the process.
The bottom row is where you will write out what you want to end up with; in other words, the products of all your work. In the graphic above, you will have an online presence where you can sell your products and/or services, as well as a list of potential clients, for example, that you need to continue doing business. These will be tangible products that will help you succeed, per this example. For example, I have included only grant money on the funding side, but you may also have loans, investors, etc.
The main objective of executing the WBS exercise, as referred to above, is to create this visual step-by-step chart to get you from your project goal down to the components needed to get you there. And how you approach this process depends on your industry, your own experience, and your desired approach. So, whatever the project is, the WBS is a great way to determine both the activities and deliverables/products needed to reach achievement. Another example I like to use, which sometimes helps to understand this and used by PMI, is the house project.
The top part of the project, the “New Residence,” might be your dream house, such as a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a two-car garage and an English garden. Then, from that idea, you break it down to the activities and/or professional expertise required, such as architecture, engineering, utilities, including irrigation for the garden, and so on. In the bottom row, you define the deliverables, which will be the actual home structure, plus the garage and the garden of your dreams.
The WBS is another project management tool created to help us organize our projects and create a visual representation of the project life cycle, which is crucial for your stakeholders to understand and buy into the project by providing this micro road map for their review.
Why prepare a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?