How to Organize Any Project with a Work Breakdown Structure

Sandy Writtenhouse 21-12-2015

Project Managers use what is called a work breakdown structure to keep projects organized 6 Project Management Tips You Can Use to Organize Your Life Project Management is the profession of getting things done. Our tips will help you apply a project manager's perspective, skills, and tools to organize your own life. Read More . From the initiation phase to the final closeout, this valuable tool can lead to a successful project.


The work breakdown structure can have different layouts; from an outline or list to a tabular view to a tree structure. For visual people, a tree structure makes the most sense because it is basically a visual diagram that allows you to see items at a quick glance. But, some people prefer lists over imagery in which case an outline is the most useful layout.


Work Breakdown Structure Basics

Traditionally, the work breakdown structure has been a tool used by project managers to do exactly what the name suggests, break down a project into workable pieces. Its hierarchical design divides the scope of a project into components in terms of size, duration, and responsibility. This outline assists with creating a project schedule by defining deliverables, resource allocation, and even cost.

This structure decomposes your project into bite-sized chunks for easier implementation and can be used in different ways, depending on the project or final product. A guideline document from shows the different approaches nicely for identifying the major components of your work breakdown structure.



With all of this in mind, a work breakdown structure does not have to be complicated and really can assist with most any type of project. The following examples may not follow the traditional approach to using this helpful tool. However, for the sake of simplicity, for those who are interested in using this structure, and for breaking down and thus simplifying a complex project, they are quite useful.

Starting the Process

After defining the entire scope of your project, you will identify the highest level project components. These components might be phases, locations, or even actions as shown above, depending on your project. After selecting these items, you will move down to the next level under each component and continue to break down the project as much as possible. This not only helps you to identify everything that is needed for your project, but will keep you on track by not forgetting anything.

For an Event

One great project where a work breakdown structure can be helpful is event planning. In this example we are using a bridal shower project with a tree structure that is broken down by phases. This can be a very useful way to drill down to what needs to be done when, from the beginning to the middle to the end of the entire event.



Now of course, you may have many more items for putting together an event, so this just illustrates some basic components as an example. Imagine sitting down with friends who are involved during the Initiation phase and going over each component together. Then for the Planning phase, perhaps each person is responsible for a piece. However you divide the work or whether you even do is up to you. But this tree structure based on phases is one easy way to go.

Another option using the handy tree structure is to base it on objects as major components. This is a useful way to organize a project when you have multiple people planning the event. Each person can take a component and all the pieces that go along with it. Organizing those components in the order they should be completed makes it even easier.


For A Home Project

Another terrific project to manage with a work breakdown structure is a home project. Whether you are going as far as remodeling your kitchen Remodel Your Home: 6 Websites for Learning the Basics Would you rather put up with an unsatisfying home? Or spend a bit time and energy making it into a place that makes you smile when you walk through the entrance? Read More or landscaping the yard Test Landscaping Ideas For Your House With Showoff The Visualizer Read More , this can be a very useful tool. For this example, we will show the breakdown in a list format with the major components as actions.



As you can see, the breakdown is still easy to read and lists out all pieces of the project nicely. With each action as a main component you can easily keep track of what needs to be accomplished. Again, you would likely have many additional or different components for your project, but this simply shows the basic structure.

Another option using the list layout is to use locations as main components which works good when different physical areas of your project are needed. As you can see, structuring the breakdown by yard location organizes it in a way where the work can be divided by person or just to keep straight which activities need to be done where.




If you do not want to create a work breakdown structure yourself, there are some terrific websites that offer templates. Project Management Doc has a template using a Word document, Project Management Advisor has one using Excel An Excel Template for Every Occasion Skip the steep learning curve and sort your life with the power of Excel templates. We have compiled a selection of auto-updating templates to track budgets, manage projects, and more. Read More , and Tidy Forms offers both of these formats along with PDF. When all else fails, using a simple paper and pencil to sketch out a tree structure or list format works just as well for some.


Keeping It Simple

A work breakdown structure does not have to be intimidating to use, as you can see. And, it does not have to follow any strict rules. It really just comes down to the best way to manage your personal or home project. Depending on your style, visual or written, or your project, large or small, using this technique helps to ensure that your project is well-organized, which helps you to keep it on track.

Have you tried this tool?

When it comes to projects you have to work on, whether an event, home project, or something totally different, how do you organize them Simple Time & Project Management Strategies You Can Use at Home Are you longing to make changes in your life? Whatever it is that you would like to achieve, treat it like a project and complement it with our exercises to increase your chance for success. Read More ? Have you tried using this tool and had success with it? Or, maybe you did and did not even realize it. Further still, maybe you use an online tool 10 Unique Uses of Trello Other Than Project Management Trello is a list lover's delight. Its Kanban-style approach was not meant just for project management. Don't believe us? Look at these ten unique uses of Trello. Read More . Feel free to share your thoughts with us below!

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Related topics: Planning Tool, Productivity, Project Management.

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  1. Anonymous
    December 21, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    A WBS can be useful on its own. I would suggest that, for readability across devices, a numbered Word (or LibreOffice) outline will suit people more than the Excel template.

    Beyond that, the primary use for the WBS in the enterprise is for costing out projects and contracts and organizing status reports. The limitation of a WBS is timing. For example, in your second landscape WBS, if you don't have a power washer, you'll need to rent one. But you don't want to rent one until both the patio and sidewalk are ready for it. This might involve completing some, but not all, of the other WBS tasks.

    To track this sort of thing, an enterprise will put each low level WBS task in a chart which shows dependencies (e.g. you need to finish task A, then you can start tasks B and C, and you need to finish both before you can start task D). In the wedding example you can talk to caterers while you're dealing with the guest list but the caterer will ultimately need a head count and you'll need the RSVPs before you can give it to them.

    While there is specialized software that will do this, the average person can do it with Office programs that can draw flowcharts. MakeUseOf has a guide for creating flowcharts in Word: