Work breakdown structure explained

Jule Meyer

Before you start implementing your projects, you should plan the project thoroughly. The project phase you are currently in is therefore also called the planning phase. The first task is to create a work breakdown structure. In this article, we explain what you need to know.


The project structure plan is the backbone of the entire project

The project structure plan is a fundamental part of the entire planning phase of your project. The work breakdown structure is so important because it decides how you will implement the project later. In short, the work breakdown structure is a clearly structured collection of all task packages and milestones that are necessary for your project. It is created together with all project participants and follows a structure defined by you. This is divided into increasingly detailed individual tasks and shows you the relationship between the various tasks. The task packages are listed hierarchically in a tree structure, but do not yet contain a temporal structure.

Clearly display project steps

A work breakdown structure gives you a clear overview of all work steps. It should not help you to lose the overview in the detailed planning of the project. In a way, it reduces the complexity of the overall project and enables you to manage large projects in small steps. The structure will also help you to distribute the upcoming tasks among other employees involved in the project. The Work Breakdown Structure is especially necessary to create a project schedule later.

The project is divided into a tree with packages and measures

The work breakdown structure divides the project into subprojects, subtasks, and work packages. Work packages represent the smallest unit of the work breakdown structure and can ideally be easily delegated later. After all, you don't want to do everything on your own. In addition, the work breakdown structure contains a special orientation, which can either be object-dependent or function-dependent and determines how your tree structure will look at the end. Which orientation you choose for your work breakdown structure is up to you.

Object-dependent structure planning

You would like to build several building objects at the same time? Then object-oriented structure planning is the most suitable solution for you! Especially if your planning has to include that a building object has to be built under very special conditions. Your tree structure is not arranged according to the personnel available to you, but describes planning steps for the respective object. In this way, you can adapt the planning optimally to the circumstances of the object, because the object in question is at the center of your structure plan.

Function-oriented structure plan

However, if you are implementing a cross-departmental project, you should consider a function-oriented project plan. With this type of work breakdown structure, your planning is not based on the object, but on the different departments. You can easily divide the individual branches into logistics, sales, and marketing, and have thus clarified the responsibilities directly. A function-oriented project structure plan saves you one further step.

When to create a work breakdown structure

The work breakdown structure can be created at different times. Although it is usual to create it right at the beginning of the project planning to get an overview of all tasks, in some cases other aspects have to be clarified first, which then form the framework for the project structure plan. For example, the creation of the work breakdown structure can depend on the provision of certain resources - for example, employees, premises, production capacities, or budgets. If these are not available, the task packages of the project can be significantly changed or completely redefined. The only important thing is that the work breakdown structure is complete as soon as the actual implementation of the project is underway. All subsequent changes should be clearly communicated to the team.

What should you keep in mind when creating the work breakdown structure?

In the work breakdown structure (WBS), as in other positions, "planning replaces ignorance with error" applies. You should be aware that ex-ante you can never know exactly whether you have caught all work packages or are considering all eventualities. That's not what this phase is about.

Communication helps to avoid problems

Nevertheless, you should take measures to reduce the risk of this. For example, during the preparation of the project structure plan, particular attention should be paid to the meaningful involvement of central project stakeholders. Through clear communication with selected stakeholders, you can not only check that the team has understood the individual work packages, but also that all essential work packages are included in the plan. It can also help to talk to experts outside the project who have already planned a similar project or are well versed in the relevant field. Nobody says that you have to have all the information in your head. Sometimes it's even a good idea to ask other team members to create drafts of project structure plans and then merge the resulting project structure plans into a team.

Schedule delays

It is not only major projects such as Berlin-Brandenburg Airport that are subject to delays. Small and large crises are simply part of project work. So you should also take them into account. Things will happen again and again that you didn't foresee. This risk naturally increases with the complexity of the project. It is therefore helpful to have a little leeway in terms of time and resources in order to avoid unnecessary stress and to be able to cope with project problems in a sustainable way. And what if in the end the project crisis did not occur? All the better, then your project is even better!

The project manager should be involved in the creation of the project

A clear responsibility for the project structure plan is not precisely defined, because every project is different and arises from different circumstances. In general, however, it can be said that the person who creates the work breakdown structure plan is best responsible for the implementation of the project. If not all implementing persons are involved in the planning, they should still be familiar with the project structure plan in order not to overlook any important work steps. How many people are involved in the project depends on the size and nature of the project and the availability of staff and resources. It is not recommended to change the responsibility for creating the work breakdown structure during its creation.

Create Work Breakdown Structure

Through this article you have already learned a lot about the project structure plan. The next step is to create a structure plan. To do this, you have to decide on a suitable format. The best way to do this is to follow the steps in our article Create project structure plan.

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Planning and implementing projects with Falcon

You have various options for implementing the work breakdown structure. You can choose between pen and paper, Word, PowerPoint or Excel lists. However, we recommend that you use professional project management software for the planning and implementation of your projects. The Falcon software developed by us was specially designed for strategy projects. Simply create a project structure directly in Falcon and define who is allowed to see or edit what. The structure is flexible and adaptable at any time.
With intelligent tools and smart functions, Falcon makes project management, progress control and reporting intuitive. Falcon creates clear responsibilities and, especially for complex projects with large teams, a simple overview of the overall project, goals and progress.

We would like to introduce Falcon to you personally!


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