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Uses for WBS

The WBS has four uses:

Thought process tool. First and maybe foremost, the WBS is a thought process. As a thought process, it is a design and planning tool. It helps the project manager and the project team visualize exactly how the work of the project can be defined and managed effectively. It would not be unusual to consider alternative ways of decomposing the work until an alternative is found with which the project manager is comfortable.

Architectural design tool. When all is said and done, the WBS is a picture of the work of the project and how the items of work are related to one another. It must make sense. In that context, it is a design tool.

Planning tool. In the planning phase, the WBS gives the project team a detailed representation of the project as a collection of activities that must be completed in order for the project to be completed. It is at the lowest activity level of WBS that we will estimate effort, elapsed time, and resource requirements; build a schedule of when the work will be completed; and estimate deliverable dates and project completion.

Project status reporting tool. The WBS is used as a structure for reporting project status. The project activities are consolidated (that is, rolled up) from the bottom as lower-level activities are completed. As work is completed, activities will be completed. Completion of lower-level activities causes higher-level activities to be partially complete. Some of these higher-level activities may represent significant progress whose completion will be milestone events in the course of the project. Thus, the WBS defines milestone events that can be reported to senior management and to the customer.


Trying to find a happy compromise between a WBS architecture that lends itself well to the planning thought process and the rolling up of information for summary reporting can be difficult. It is best to have input from all the parties that may be using the WBS before settling on a design. There is no one right way to do it; it’s subjective. You will get better with practice.

In the final analysis, it is the project manager who decides on the architecture of the WBS and the level of detail required. This detail is important because the project manager is accountable for the success of the project. The WBS must be defined so that the project manager can manage the project. That means that the approach and detail in the WBS might not be the way others would have approached it. Apart from any senior management requirements for reporting or organizational requirements for documentation or process, the project manager is free to develop the WBS according to his or her needs and those of management. Because of this requirement, the WBS is not unique. That should not bother you, because all that is required is a WBS that defines the project work so that you, the project manager, can manage it. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” applies equally well to the WBS.

Effective Project Management, Third Edition
by Robert K. Wysocki and Rudd McGary ISBN:0471432210

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