How to Write An Effective WBS

Jennifer Barker

Senior Business Development Strategist

The project management world is difficult to understand when everyone seems to be speaking another language. Acronyms are commonly used to describe projects and tools, making things more confusing. For example, PMBOK standards for Project Management Body of Knowledge, while SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is an analysis that helps you make a strategic plan for your business.

One of the most frequent acronyms you'll hear in the project management setting is WBS, or a Work Breakdown Structure. This is a tool that helps you plan, manage, and assess large projects. You start with a main objective and break it down into smaller parts. This way, you can evaluate each goal and assign them to the appropriate teams.

Let’s learn more about the benefits to a WBS and tips for writing an effective one.

Benefits of Having a WBS

When you first start a project, it can feel overwhelming. By breaking it down into smaller parts, the project becomes more manageable. You can allocate your resources appropriately and celebrate the successes you reach along the way.

The main advantages to writing a WBS are:

  • Estimate the true cost of your project

  • Establish a project timeline and schedule

  • Assign responsibilities to the appropriate teams

  • Clarify the roles of each team member

  • Track progress and celebrate milestones

  • Identify potential risks

Tips for Writing a Strong WBS

As you sit down to write a WBS, there are a few tips to keep in mind. The more thought you put into the WBS, the better results you will get from it.

  • Follow the 100% rule. In the WBS, include all of the work that is required to complete the goal. Do not include unrelated work, and do not leave out small tasks that are essential to the main task.

  • Include work only once. Avoid writing in tasks more than once. This would go against the 100% rule, but it’s important to point out. By adding in a subtask more than once, you miscalculate workload.  

  • Focus on the outcomes. Don’t pay attention to the actions. Pay attention to the outcomes. What do you want the end result to be after each step?

  • Find a balance. You don’t want a job that is too big or too small. Many project managers recommend the 8/80 rule. The project should require more than 8 hours of work but less than 80 to be worth it.

  • Include three levels. The best WBSs have three tiers of detail. Some WBSs have more subdivisions than others, but three main levels is sufficient.

  • Assign roles. Each task should be assigned to a specific team or individual. Be clear about this and the expectations you have, as you don’t want to overlap responsibilities.

The next time you have a large project to work on, considering writing an effective WBS. The time you put into this will help you stay on track with your end goal.

About the Author: Jennifer Barker

Jen is the Business Development Strategist for SEMGeeks and the only team member born and raised north of the Jersey great divide, i.e. the Driscoll Bridge. Her BFA in multimedia design and extensive experience in digital marketing make her both an analytical and creative thinker. Jen has lived and worked for digital agencies in two major cities over the last 17 years but 3 years ago this “gypsy living, free bird” happily put her roots down at the Jersey Shore. The struggle to defend North Jersey to the rest of the team is an ongoing battle. #TaylorHam

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