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Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures – Second Edition

A work breakdown structure (WBS) in project management and systems engineering, is a tool used to define and group a project’s discrete work elements in a way that helps organize and define the total work scope of the project.

A work breakdown structure element may be a product, data, a service, or any combination. A WBS also provides the necessary framework for detailed cost estimating and control along with providing guidance for schedule development and control. Additionally the WBS is a dynamic tool and can be revised and updated as needed by the project manager.

Work breakdown structures (WBS) proved the foundation for defining work as it relates to project objectives. They are used to define project deliverables and establish the structure for managing work to its completion.

The Work Breakdown Structure provides a common framework for the natural development of the overall planning and control of a contract and is the basis for dividing work into definable increments from which the statement of work can be developed and technical, schedule, cost, and labor hour reporting can be established.

A work breakdown structure permits summing of subordinate costs for tasks, materials, etc., into their successively higher level “parent” tasks, materials, etc. For each element of the work breakdown structure, a description of the task to be performed is generated. This technique (sometimes called a System Breakdown Structure) is used to define and organize the total scope of a project.

The WBS is organised around the primary products of the project (or planned outcomes) instead of the work needed to produce the products (planned actions). Since the planned outcomes are the desired ends of the project, they form a relatively stable set of categories in which the costs of the planned actions needed to achieve them can be collected. A well-designed WBS makes it easy to assign each project activity to one and only one terminal element of the WBS. In addition to its function in cost accounting, the WBS also helps map requirements from one level of system specification to another, for example a requirements cross reference matrix mapping functional requirements to high level or low level design documents.

The Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures: Second Edition supplies project managers and team members with direction for the preliminary development and the implementation of a WBS. Published in 2006, the standard is consistent with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: (Pmbok Guide).


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