Successful Project Management
Part 5: The Work Breakdown Structure (or Project Structure Plan)

The Work Breakdown Structure represents the so-called “Big Project Picture” and is the backbone of a project.

Following a long break, today we will be looking at an extremely important part of your project management: the “Work Breakdown Structure” (WBS). I already told you it was coming in the last blog article about the kickoff meeting. Because normally it’s created during the kick-off – if not already done during the pre-project phase – together (or at least closely aligned) with your partners.

The Work Breakdown Strukture is – as the name already suggests… ? – a structured representation of your project tasks along your project management process.

How do you go about creating it?

You split your project up into separate phases and, within these phases, into individual and therefore easier to plan and control steps. These are universally known under the term “work packages.”

Here again our work breakdown structure, based on the example “moving house”.

example “moving house”

By creating a Work Breakdown Structure, you’re creating an important planning – and, subsequently – also a controlling instrument. The Work Breakdown Structure forms the basis for your scheduling, resource and cost planning as well as for defining the responsibilities in the project. What’s more, if you create the WBS together with your project team, as a rule you will ensure that everyone is on the same page and in general agreement.

5 tips for your Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

So what exactly do you need to watch out for in your Work Breakdown Structure? I’ve compiled what I consider to be the 5 most important characteristics of a good Work Breakdown Structure for you as follows:

  1. Define max. 8-10 phases. Any more is simply too much.
  2. Define max. 10 work packages per phase. Here again: any more is simply too much. Even better, specify the tasks in a so-called “Work Package Specification.” (more about this below.)
  3. Give your work package an action-oriented title, so that your brain immediately jumps into action by means of a verb – also known as an ACTION word. Also see the above structure plan: “let new flat“, “prepare for the move”, etc.
  4. Assign a person to be in charge of each work package, ideally someone from the core team (but ideally not the project leader; this person is responsible for project management!) You thereby show that you’re mindful of clear responsibilities.
  5. The 1st phase, “Executing Project Management” is an integral part of every WBS. As a rule, this phase marks the beginning and contains the work packages “Start Project”, “Coordinate Project”, “Control Project”, “Sell Project”, and “Conclude Project.”

And now to my favourite term: Work Package Specifications.

As the name already says: for every work package, you define specific goals and contents. These clearly set the work packages apart from the others. If you notice that some work packages overlap too much, it might make sense to put these together. Otherwise, set clear interfaces and interdependencies between the work packages.

Staying with our example above, work package 2.2 “Advertise flat” could have sub-steps as follows: 2.2.1 newspapers (and their names); 2.2.1 online (websites, email, Facebook, etc.), 2.2.3 personal meetings or conversations etc.

In addition, define the desired results for each work package.

All this will give you orientation and establishes a certain commitment which you can lean on in the course of your project.

And now you’ve created a solid foundation that will significantly contribute to the success of your project!!

By the way: in case you’re involved in EU project management … don’t let yourself get confused! The terminology there is very similar and yet a bit different. But basically, everything you’ve just read here equally applies to EU projects!

Phases = Work packages

Work packages = Tasks

Results = Deliverables

Milestones = milestones (easy ? )

And in case you’d like to brush up the inputs so far on “Successful Project Management” here‘s where you’ll find information about Part 4 – The Kickoff Meeting, Part 3 – Project Management as a Process, Part 2 – The Project Stakeholder Analysis and Part 1 – The pre-Project Phase.

Not only that, there are many other articles about project management: just click on Blog and then the category “Project Management” – and read to your heart’s content!

If you want more information, I can recommend the detailed and well-prepared article from 

In the next articles of the blog series we will be dealing with the individual subprocesses in your project, such as communication, controlling / monitoring as well as possible crisis management and marketing. Stay tuned!

Bye for now! Birgit