6th Edition PMBOK® Guide–Process 5.4 Create WBS: Introduction

The Work Breakdown Structure or WBS is one of the most powerful tools in project management.   Before going into the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs of this process, I wanted to use this post to make a few introductory remarks about the WBS.

The process of creating the WBS is where you take the project deliverables and break down or subdivide the project work into smaller, more manageable components called work packages.   As the PMBOK® Guide puts it, “it provides a framework for what has to be delivered.”

Elaborating on this concept of framework, I can elaborate on an analogy I used in an earlier post.   What is the relationship of the requirements (output of process 5.2 Collect Requirements), the deliverables (output of process 5.3 Define Scope), and the WBS (output of this process 5.4 Create WBS)?   Think of a set of architectural blueprints for a building.    The structural components, like the steel beams that make up the scaffolding of the structure, plus the foundation of the building, are what hold the building up.   These are like the requirements, and are the first elements that will be built.   Next are the connecting structures, like the roof, walls, and floors, which hold the building together into a single connected space.   The deliverables are like this next level of detail in the architectural drawings:   they give shape to the building as a whole.    Finally, the WBS is like the detailed drawings of the interiors of the rooms, including furnishings etc. the next and final level of detail of the architectural blueprints.

But understanding what a WBS is NOT is as important as understanding what it IS.   The resulting WBS looks like an organizational chart, with the top level being the largest components, and the bottom level being the smallest components or work packages.  However, it is not a flowchart; it doesn’t show you HOW to actually do the project.   It is, to use another analogy, like the ingredients in a menu.   To actually create a dish from a recipe you need not just the list of ingredients, but the instructions on how to mix them together, etc.   That is the schedule, and is the subject of another knowledge area, that of Schedule Management.    The WBS is one of the inputs for creating the schedule, but it is not the schedule itself.

Okay, with those preliminary remarks out of the way to set up the relationship between the outputs of scope management we have seen so far–the requirements, the deliverables, and the work packages as part of the WBS, let’s go into the inputs of this process in the next post.


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