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Stage 3: Plan the Project


What it is How to Templates/
How to: Develop Work Breakdown Structure

Recommended actions and strategies
The table below lists the steps for developing a work breakdown structure:


What to do

How to do it


Determine your strategy for developing a work breakdown structure (WBS)

Consider meeting with project team members and others with expertise in similar projects to develop the WBS.  Some benefits of involving the team include:

  • Team members and experts bring experience from other projects
  • Fosters early buy-in to the project among team members
  • Helps discover new or forgotten tasks
  • Gives insight to the overall project for team members


Identify the highest level components of work  to be accomplished

Example of highest-level or first level components that logically group work:

  • Product deliverables – such as Project Charter, Project Plan
  • Life Cycle Phases – such as Analyze, Design, Build
  • Functions – such as Create New Student, Update Grades
  • Organizational responsibility -  such as Finance, Network Services


Break work process into small components

Under each high-level component, break the work into small components until each component is defined to a level of detail that allows accurate estimating for the time and cost required for its completion.

Note: Create the work breakdown structure to the level of project detail you understand.

If the project spans a long period of time, it is difficult to identify the detailed tasks for work a year or more in the future. In this case keep the tasks at a high level for the entire project and create a detailed work breakdown for work for the next phase or period of time


Name the component

The component name should adequately describe the task to be completed. Use the noun-verb format.

  • Document User Manual
  • Install Network Routers
  • Review Project Charter


Make sure work has been broken down to the lowest level desired

Apply the following guidelines to ensure work has been broken down to its lowest level:

  • One and only one staff resource can be assigned to a task (This is a general guideline. In certain instances there may be a team assigned to a task (such as a review team) or two people working side-by-side delivering one final product from a task).
  • Each task has clearly identified results
  • Tasks can be performed within a reasonable time. The industry “80 hour rule” states that a work task should be completed in two weeks (or less)
  • The task name conveys the work to be accomplished
  • The task is at the level you want to track the project
  • Each task is well enough defined and small enough so estimates of duration are credible



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Updated February 1, 2006 - v1.0