Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) made easy

Updated: Feb 22, 2021




Work Breakdown Structure or WBS is breaking down your project’s scope to manageable work-driven items you need to complete in order to satisfy your stakeholders. Keep in mind, the WBS is not:

  • Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) where you break down all the components of a product you are making.

  • Cost Breakdown Structure (CBS) where you break down the items and costs to fund your project.

  • Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS) where you break down the departments and roles.

  • To-Do List or Checklist where you list all the things you need to accomplish for a project.

We can drill down to 5 levels in the WBS which consist of:

  • Level 1: what is your project’s endgame?

  • Level 2: what are main sections your project needs to go through?

  • Level 3: what are the deliverables you need to accomplish to complete the section?

  • Level 4: what are the tasks you need to do in order to complete the deliverable?

  • Level 5: what is the work package required to complete the task? [work package is a series of activities you do using the 8/80 rule – should be work done within an 8-hour to 80-hour timeframe]

Keep in mind you can end up having your tasks be the lowest level where you can apply duration, cost, and resource.


Let us go through each detail along with an example for a project dealing with a product, a service, or a software.


Level 1: what is your project’s endgame? Here you place the highest level of what you are trying to accomplish. In many cases, it can be the outcome of the project. What is required to have is your project’s scope and stakeholders’ requirements. In this article, there will be three type of examples used are each considered level 1:


Level 2: what are main sections your project needs to go through? Think of the next level breakdown, where you want to breakdown in chunks the main steps to get to your level 1. They can be in many forms, here are some examples:

  • Phases of the project (initiate, plan, execute, monitor, close)

  • Departments (Engineering, Procurement, Manufacturing, etc.)

  • Areas (supplier site, customer site, factory, etc.)

  • Factory cells (brazing, assembly, painting, packing, etc.)

Below the next level for each example is shown. This is where the nomenclature can begin (i.e. “x.0”):



Level 3: what are the deliverables you need to accomplish to complete the section? Take each of your main sections above and list what the main things you need to do within each section. Below you will see how the level 2s’ are broken down to level 3 deliverables (i.e. “x.x”):



Level 4: what are the tasks you need to do in order to complete the deliverable? Here you go through each of your deliverables above and list in a chronological order the steps you need to take in order to complete the deliverable. In many cases, the task is the action that needs to be done. Below you can see how the fourth level is broken down for each example type (i.e. “x.x.x”):



Level 5: what is the work package required to complete the task? A work package is a series of activities you do using the 8/80 rule – should be work done within an 8-hour to 80-hour timeframe. This is the lowest level of your WBS, and where each of the sub-tasks is something you do as an action. This is also the level you apply time and cost which includes resources to do the work.


Keep in mind, your project may have some tasks which are already at the lowest level and can have applied “duration, cost, and resource,” then this is also considered your work package. Below you can see how the fifth level is broken down for each example type. (i.e. “x.x.x.x”):



Once you reach the lowest level of your WBS which is one activity that needs to be accomplished, then you can use the WBS in your scheduling tool. When scheduling, you would place the duration for this activity at the lowest level, the resource whether it’s a person or equipment, and the cost for doing this work. The duration will then be added up for all the activities in the work package, giving your level 4 task a duration along with a total cost. The level 4s’ are totaled to give a duration and cost for the third level deliverables. The same is done for the deliverables so that you have a total cost and duration for the project you are proposing to execute.


The hope is you have all covered but there are always unpredictable events that occur and risks that can affect the WBS. This is why if there are any uncertainties in an activity, it should include some buffer in the scheduling for possible iterations.


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