all articles

Essential Elements of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

date icon

In project management software, a Work Breakdown Structure is a document that illustrates all the components of a project. It’s not a flowchart: rather, it’s a document that breaks down a project into smaller, more manageable sections so that a project manager can better assess what project costs and resources he needs.

In order for a WBS to be effective, it needs to have the following things:

100% of Deliverables

A WBS needs to cover everything needed for project completion. Everything. If you’re going to properly estimate the work required (and therefore your timeline), you can’t afford to leave anything out. Ideally, the sum of all the work involved in the lower levels of the WBS should equal 100% of the work required at the upper levels.

For example, if 20 hours are estimated for a level 2 task (e.g. stage props), then the total hours of the level 3 tasks under “stage props” should add up to 20 hours too. This kind of consistency is important if you want to create an accurate project management plan.

WBS Dictionary

A WBS dictionary is more than just a definition of terms. It’s also a reference for each component of the Work Breakdown Structure and contains milestones, deliverables, tasks, costs, etc. In a way, you could consider it the “micro” view of the elements in the WBS, with all relevant project information, with the WBS itself being the “macro” overview.

Clear Hierarchy of Elements

What the WBS does is work backwards from the final result. Each breakdown creates another hierarchy level, which in turn are broken down into another layer of component parts.

For example, a bed (level 1) can be broken down into a mattress and bed frame (level 2). The mattress can then be broken down into the mattress cover, springs, and stuffing (level 3).

The minimum level of detail

While a complete WBS hierarchy is important, it shouldn’t be too detailed. Otherwise, you’d just waste time describing minor elements that people can easily figure out for themselves.

There are many rules of thumb to gauge the right threshold, but it all boils down to your familiarity with the project, and if it makes sense to boil things down any more. I can, for example, have the final level of a cooking recipe stop at “chop carrots”, and not need to describe every single stroke of the knife.

One final thing to remember is that the WBS chart describes deliverables, not tasks. This way, the project team has the freedom to figure out the best approach.

Work Breakdown Structures are a great aid in producing accurate project scopes, and it’s worthwhile to include one in every project if you’re not doing so already.

Follow us

Find Out How Easy Resource and Project Management Can Be!

Related Posts

Best PracticesEngineering Teams

Engineering Project Management: Navigating Complex Projects to Success

Project Management Basics

MS Projects Alternatives and Four Project Management Limitations in MS Project

Project Management Basics

The 5 Phases of an Effective Project Management Life Cycle

Nice! You just took the first step to achieving game-changing results.

To ensure your demo is tailored to your team’s specific needs, we're connecting you with a product specialist to better understand your requirements.

support illustration

Schedule a 30-minute meeting to start your trial

The calendar is loading... Please wait

It’ll take you 8-minutes to see
Birdview features in action:

  • Project Management
  • Financial Management
  • Resource Management
  • Custom Reporting
  • Artificial Intelligence
happy illustration

Nice! You just took the first step
to achieving game-changing results!

Create your account right now. Have a great start with your 14-day trial!

For the best experience please access Birdview PSA from a desktop PC or tablet or download Birdview PSA app at