Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): Example & Definition

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  • 0:03 What Is a Work…
  • 1:53 Common Document Formats
  • 3:22 Why Use a Work…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Carla Denman

Carla has taught college business, student development, and literacy and has a master's degree in business management.

In this lesson, we'll briefly define and explore the dynamics of the work breakdown structure, or WBS. We'll show examples and explain potential gains from utilizing this great tool.

What Is a Work Breakdown Structure?

You are driving to work listening to the radio when you hear, 'Road construction on the beltway is going to last 18 months as they build an overpass over the old railroad crossing at the junction.' Well, that explains why traffic is creeping along at a snail's pace! Upon finally arriving at work, you are excited to see the cover story in the morning paper: 'High School Baseball State Tournament Really Heating Up!'

At your morning meeting, you learn that you've been assigned to the committee planning your company's annual charity event, a kids' carnival fundraiser to benefit the local children's hospital. An executive committee has already designed the project charter document defining the scope and expected outcomes of the project. Your committee is tasked with developing the work breakdown structure.

A work breakdown structure (or WBS for short) is a chart or document used to organize project work into a list of focus areas so that all work stays on track to meet project goals. The work areas are further divided by breaking them down to the level of work items, sometimes called work packages, with each level being more specific. For example, the work division for the kids' carnival will help the team build strategy upon levels of priority, resource allocation, costing, procurement, and scheduling. This will help ensure that the carnival is amazing and on time, and that exceeds last year's donations for the children's hospital.

Thinking about it another way, as a driver in the construction zone, a ticket-purchasing sports fan, and a charity event committee member, you are a participant at some level in all three projects. Certainly the projects vary greatly in complexity, yet they're very similar in overall structure. All three have a sponsoring organization, a project charter document, a budget, a schedule, and a work breakdown structure.

Common Document Formats

Going back to your company's charity event, you certainly could not begin to spend money before it's available. The WBS document is crucial for tracking historical events and forecasting future needs of the project. The document type will be dictated by the complexity of your project. Project managers can utilize specialized software, spreadsheets, or large printed charts to accomplish the high level of visibility needed to oversee the project.

A project like planning an annual company charity event might use brainstorming in a committee meeting to divide up the work into manageable pieces. The result might be a prioritized outline or a chart showing the work areas and their relationship to the overall project structure.

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