Work Breakdown Structures

Mapping Out the Work Within a Project

Break large pieces of work into chunks.

© iStockphoto/alexpacha

You know what your project has to deliver and you're clear about what its scope is. So now you need to do some planning. But where do you begin?

Whether you project is big or small, one of the first challenges of project planning is to break the overall deliverable down into manageable chunks. Later, you'll use this to work out the schedule, identify the resources you'll need, and work out what the cost of it all is likely to be.

One of the most popular ways of this is to use a "Work Breakdown Structure". This technique, developed by the United States Department of Defense and NASA in the 1950s and 60s, is often used by professional project managers, using formal project planning methodologies. But you'll also find it useful for smaller, less formal projects – and even if your job title isn't "Project Manager". These might include a running marketing campaign, managing an office move or even organizing a company "away day".

A Work Breakdown Structure is a detailed list of all of the things that need to be delivered and the activities that need to be carried out to complete the project. As shown in Figure 1 below, it's represented as a tree-structure, with each deliverable or activity broken down into further components.

Figure 1: Work Breakdown Structure Format

There are several different approaches you can use when constructing a Work Breakdown Structures:

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