Work breakdown structure

The work breakdown structure identifies every task in a project. This process of identification breaks down a project into a cluster of bite-sized pieces that are easier to manage. Each task is listed in an outline format, so that a great many tasks can be clearly stated within a relatively small document.

The work breakdown structure of a project divides activities into summary tasks and work packages. A summary task describes a set of activities (work packages). A work package is a group of activities for which work is estimated, scheduled, monitored, and controlled. A work package defines work at the lowest level for which cost and duration can be estimated and managed. The following work breakdown structure presents a simplified view of the structure for the construction of a house:

1.0 Design building structure

2.0 Lay foundation

2.1 Dig hole

2.2 Build concrete forms

2.3 Pour concrete

3.0 Construct home

3.1 Construct frame

3.2 Add exterior walls

3.3 Add plumbing

3.4 Add wiring

3.5 Add interior walls

3.6 Add roof

3.7 Add carpeting and hardwood floors

3.8 Add windows

4.0 Install lawn

4.1 Dig trenches

4.1.1 Have the local utility mark all gas lines

4.1.2. Identify trench lines

4.1.3 Rent trench digging equipment

4.1.4 Dig trenches

4.2 Install sprinkler pipes

4.3 Cover sprinkler system

4.4 Plant lawn seed

4.5 Plant shrubs

The easiest way to construct a work breakdown structure is to start with the highest-level tasks that are listed on a project’s statement of work, and list them as top-tier items (summary tasks) in the work breakdown structure. Then list all tasks required to complete each summary task. It is easiest to state each task beginning with a verb, which denotes that an action is required.

The work breakdown structure should be fully fleshed-out before a project is allowed to proceed. The reason is that working through the levels of detail required to fully understand a project may uncover areas in which there is uncertainty about what to do. By addressing these areas in advance, the project manager may be able to avoid tasks that might otherwise have caused problems for the project.

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Project Management