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Work Breakdown Structure

Part of the role of project management is to make complex projects easier to manage, track and control. One of the main methods this is achieved is by breaking projects into smaller components, each of which can be tracked and managed individually. These components are placed in a hierarchical structure, which is referred to as the work breakdown structure. Work breakdown structure is commonly shortened to WBS, and defines individual tasks which are independent of the other tasks in the project. As such, WBS allows resources, responsibility and control to be assigned to different areas of the project, making project management and control easier to achieve.

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Each firm will use its own method of breaking down a project into WBS components, and each project will likely have its own individual WBS depending on the nature of the project. Some projects will be broken down according to the phases of the project; some will be broken down according to the different areas of the project. In addition, some tasks in the WBS may be performed by individuals, some may be performed by teams and some, such as reporting activities, may require the input of the whole management team. It is important to note that there are different methods of referring to the elements of the WBS, with some firms talking about tasks and sub-tasks, whilst others talk about phases and activities.

Finally, it is important to ensure that the correct level of detail is achieved when breaking a project down into the WBS. Whilst breaking down the project into large tasks can facilitate the delegation of responsibility to large teams, there is a risk that the tasks will prove too large for the teams to manage effectively. On the other hand, whilst breaking down a project into a large number of individual tasks will make it easier to complete each task, it will increase the level of micromanagement required by the project management team, as well as potentially ignoring some of the dependencies between individual tasks. In general, most projects should be split into tasks which last from a couple of days to a couple of months, but this will depend on the project and the complexity of the tasks.

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