Work Breakdown Structure: How to Cut Stress & Save Time on Important Projects (Free Template!)

The excitement around a new project is intoxicating.

After all, it’s an opportunity for your team to collaborate and put their well-honed skills to use.

But with important projects, excitement can easily turn into dread. Especially considering that 70% of organizations have failed one or more of their projects in the last 12 months, with a lack of clear goals being the main issue.

So how can everyone involved know what’s expected of them? What deliverables they must bring to the table? How their actions figure into the bigger picture? And how can you, the project manager, break the project down into manageable segments?

While The Beatles professed that “love is all you need”, what’s going to be more useful in this scenario is a work breakdown structure.

That’s why, in this Process Street post, you’ll learn what the work breakdown structure is, why it’s so useful, different examples of it, and tips on how to create a work breakdown structure yourself. To boot, you’ll even get your hands on our easy-to-use Work Breakdown Structure Template!

Read through the following sections to get clued-up:

Or, if you’re eager to get the template already, here it is:

Click here to get the Work Breakdown Structure Template!

Let’s break it down. 🔨

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A work breakdown structure (often shortened to the acronym WBS) is a hierarchical structure that defines what needs to be executed by the team to complete their project.

The work breakdown structure can be presented in various ways, but it always begins with the master “parent”, which is the project in question. Let’s say (and I’m being somewhat optimistic here) that I’m building an aircraft system. That means the work breakdown structure will start with “Aircraft System”.

Stemming from that master parent category will be the fundamental components of building an aircraft system. So, there will “Ops/Site activation”, “Training”, “Air Vehicle”, “Initial Repair Parts”, and so on.

Then, stemming from those will be what’s needed to make up those components. For instance, for “Air Vehicle”, an airframe is necessary, as is propulsion, a central computer, and system software, to name just a few. These are all written down so the entire scope is defined.

When a work breakdown structure has been fully written and/or designed, it could look similar to this:

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The eagle-eyed among you will notice that, in the above image, there’s text that says “Level 1”, “Level 2”, and “Level 3”.

In layman’s terms, level 1 refers to the overall project (“Aircraft System”), level 2 concerns the major components of the project (“Air Vehicle”, etc), and level 3 (“Airframe”, “Propulsion”, etc) is what makes up each major component it stems from.

Now, what can be a little confusing is that there are different level systems. For instance, some organizations and people refer to level 1 as level 0. Similarly, sometimes there’s another level – level 4 – that stems out from level 3. However, the simpler level system described above is all you need to understand when getting started.

Speaking of getting started, let’s take a look at more examples of work breakdown structures.

What’s wonderful about the work breakdown structure is its robustness; it doesn’t have to be presented in one way and one way only.

As long

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