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Stage 3: Plan the Project

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What it is: Develop Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a hierarchical outline of the tasks needed to deliver the project’s product or service.   It “breaks-down” the project into low-level subtask units of work that will be scheduled, executed and controlled.

The work breakdown structure is the foundation of project planning.

The Project Manager uses the work breakdown structure to estimate the duration of the project, determine the required resources and schedule the work.

Who is Involved
Project Manager
Project Team

This information is included in a separate section of your project plan often referred to as the “Work Breakdown Structure.”


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


Templates/Examples: Develop Work Breakdown Structure

The table below provides several templates you can use to help develop a work breakdown structure.



Work Breakdown Structure

Work Breakdown Structure





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Updated February 1, 2006 - v1.