14 October, 2021

How to Create a Work Breakdown Structure: A WBS Masterclass | Video

The Work Breakdown Structure (or WBS) is one of the few truly fundamental tools of Project Management. But how do you create one?

If you are managing a Predictive or Hybrid project of a significant scale, you’ll need a Work Breakdown Structure. So, let’s look at the process of building one.

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Approach to the WBS

We’ll use the globally more common approach of breaking down the project deliverables, or products.

In the UK, the outcome of this approach is more often known as a Product Breakdown Structure. And I am moving to the view that we would be best off calling it a Project Breakdown Structure. 

So, here, I am not going to start with activities – despite the fact that this is, linguistically, what the word ‘work’ implies. That said, the reason we create our WBS is about getting to the activities in the end. But in the approach I’ll describe, I am going to determine the activities by analyzing all of the deliverables we create.

Deliverables are products, capabilities, or results (for example, a thing, a process, or an event)

So, to create a WBS, we need to create a Hierarchical decomposition of ALL of the deliverables of the project. If it’s not on the WBS, it won’t get done.

The Process for Creating a Work Breakdown Structure


So, at the top, (Level 0) we will deliver the project – the end product.


Level 1 is the Key-Line. You need to decide on an appropriate organizing principle for your WBS. (major deliverables, phases, types of product or domains of work, team, …). These will form the Workstreams for your project.


For Level 2, identify major deliverables that fall under each heading. Not all of them need to be end-deliverables. An End Deliverable is a deliverable that is defined by the goal of the object. 

So, Use expertise to breakdown project requirements into end deliverables


The alternative is Interim Deliverables. These are deliverables that you do not want for themselves, but because you need them as part of the process of developing your end deliverables. 

Brainstorm Interim and components for each deliverable that help you get to end deliverables – ‘sub-deliverables’

Add Project Management Process deliverables and artifacts (also interim deliverables)

You may choose to have a PM section at the top-level (‘Project Management’, ‘Project Integration’)


You can have multiple levels of sub deliverables

Structure them into a logical structure – confirm allocations of deliverables to top-level and sub-deliverables to a lower level are logical and consistent

It’s okay to go to different depths in different parts of the WBS.

Document Your WBS

Create a WBS Index. Number 1, 2, 3 across your Key Line. Then, number the major deliverables under 1 as 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc

You have a choice of formats:

  • Hierarchical list 
  • Graphical hierarchy chart 
  • Table listed by WBS Element Index – can add descriptions, resources, estimates of time cost – creates WBS Dictionary

The Final stage…

Present your WBS to your project sponsor, steering group, your client, or your boss, for sign-off

Your Completed WBS is now a full statement of the Scope of Your Project.

Good WBS Practices

Make sure the labels you use represent clear statements of what the deliverable is 

Then think about interim deliverables 


Use MECE to 

  • ME: Mutually Exclusive
    Look for overlaps, where the same deliverable (maybe with a different label) appears in two places
  • CE: Collectively Exhaustive
    Everything you need is there – that is, if you create all child deliverables, they are sufficient to create 100% of their parent deliverable

Important Note

On many modern projects, we are now hybridizing traditional predictive PM. Where once we would have expected to (been required to) create an entire WBS before starting delivery, that is no longer the case on many projects. Sometimes, the project evolves and we learn more. So, we add. Deliverables to our WBS as we discover more requirements. This is particularly the case with the decomposition of a complex deliverable – we may not create that decomposition until the project is ready to turn its attention to that part of the work.

Turning your Product-based WBS into tasks and then, into a plan

Now you are ready to look at the activity groups to create the deliverables (verbs – go into network or Gantt chart) – One or more work packages create each deliverable.

There is a three-step process: 

Step 1: Work Packages

The first job is to break deliverables into work packages. You will usually ask Team Leaders to do this then.

Step 2: Activities

Work packages consist of activities. Your Team Leaders will certainly be the ones to break each Work Package into discrete work activities

Step 3: Planning

Once you have a complete decomposition of your WBS into tasks, from these, you can:

  • estimate durations,
  • determine dependencies,
  • apply resources,
  • allocate responsibilities, and 
  • estimate costs

This will form the basis of your project schedule, resource plan, and budget.

The Value of the Work Breakdown Structure

Now, I hope you can see why I believe the Work Breakdown Structure is such a fundamental Project Management tool. It is a:

  • Scoping and scope management tool
  • Planning tool – basis for defining activities and everything that flows from this
  • Resource allocation and management tool
  • Basis for detailed risk identification 
  • Governance tool
  • Communication tool
  • Reporting tool
  • QM tool
  • Basis for Integrating all other tools

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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