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As a construction manager, I have realized that the success of any project starts with a good work breakdown structure this is because reports that surfaced on the internet, reveal that about 80% of businesses (construction inclusive) waste at least half of their time in reworking on projects.

If you are working on a construction project, and you need help in managing or planning the work, you should consider creating a work breakdown structure to help you plan and execute the work.

This blog post describes all you need to know about this topic and how to plan your projects correctly.

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WHAT IS A WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE?

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a visual tool used to help break down a project into smaller, more manageable, and more specific pieces in order to help execution quicker and more precisely.

picture showing work breakdown structure

The WBS is typically created by the project manager or sometimes, the construction manager in collaboration with the project/ construction team. Sometimes, stakeholders are also involved.

The WBS is a hierarchical decomposition of the work that needs to be done in order to complete the project. It starts with a high-level overview of the project and then breaks down the work into smaller and smaller pieces until each task is represented.

work breakdown decomposition

The WBS can be used to create a project schedule, track progress, and help identify risks. It is also a valuable tool for communication, as it can help everyone on the project team understand what needs to be done and when.

AN EXAMPLE OF A TYPICAL WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE

work breakdown structure example

THE PURPOSE OR OBJECTIVE OF WBS IN CONSTRUCTION

Aside from the definition which gives an insight into the purpose/ objective of a work breakdown structure; the following are also additional reasons why you should use the work breakdown structure.

  • Breaking down the tasks of a construction project into smaller, more concise details.
  • WBS will reveal milestones and progress
  • It helps to reveal an estimated time for each activity
  • The cost of the entire project can be determined with a WBS
  • WBS helps monitor and control task
  • It helps to identify potential risks in the construction
  • It also helps with good project planning and perfect execution (you have won halfway when you plan your project well).

Even though WBS is a hierarchical decomposition of the work, into individual elements, it does not show the order in which the work must be done. The progressive and systematic workflow is always determined by the schedule (which is created separately). However, the schedule relies on the work breakdown structure.

TYPES OF WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE

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The following are the major types of work breakdown structure in construction:

a.) Phase-based structure

This structure is based on the execution of work in phases. The success of this type of structure is based on how well you determine to handle individual tasks in phases because when there is a blunder in any of the phases, it can affect the progress of work in the next phase. for example, when there is an error in phase 2, for instance, phase 3 might be affected and eventually, the time for completing the entire project lifecycle will be distorted.

In the phase-based WBS, the final deliverable is pitched at the top while the breakdown structure levels are arranged below:

Find below an example of a phase-based structure.

b.) Deliverable-based Structure

This is also known as product-oriented WBS.

This is a structure that is based on the deliverable (product) you have promised your client.

You can determine work breakdown based on the deliverable or product you have agreed upon with your client.

Find below an example of a phase-based structure.

c. Responsibility-based structure

This kind of structure defines and organizes project activities in accordance with the organizational units involved with the work at hand.

It’s crucial to appropriately assign tasks to project leaders in order to finish on a successful note. This has two advantages:

1.) You will have a clear sense of who is working on which assignment

2.) Your teams will know exactly what they need to do in the stipulated period, which instantly increases the likelihood of success.

Find below an example of a responsibility-based structure.

CHARACTERISTICS OF WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE

  • It is a hierarchical delivery- or phase-based structure of the entire scope of work.
  • The work’s entire scope (100%) must be included in the work package.
  • It informs project stakeholders of the work’s scope.
  • It can take the form of a list, a table, or a pictorial.
  • At least two levels of detail for the project must be present in a work breakdown structure.
  • It is a system of numbers used to distinguish between components and work packages.

HOW TO BUILD A GOOD WBS IN CONSTRUCTION

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source: depositphotos.com

The following steps are a guide to creating a good work breakdown structure that is expected to be interactive.

STEP 1 – Get all information and data on the construction project

When a construction project is to commence, it is necessary to understand the project deliverables which include: stakeholders’ requirements, the scope of work to be executed, and the project management plan. All these are in the project charter.

STEP 2 – Identify key responsibilities of key team members

After you have all the information needed for the construction project, it is time for you to identify key team members and their respective responsibilities and their deliverables

STEP 3 – Determine the type of WBS to be used, the levels, and the elements

When steps 1 and 2 above have been completed, you will have to define or determine the type of work breakdown structure (phase-based structure, deliverable-based structure, responsibility-based structure, etc) and the deliverables expected at each level together with its elements.

You must be sure that a hundred percent of the scope of work is captured because the most crucial work management principle for creating a WBS is the 100% Rule. This rule simply means that the total amount of work at each WBS level below must, without exception, add up to 100% of the total amount of work represented by the WBS level above.

WBS levels contain control accounts, project deliverables, work packages, and tasks, in its entirety.

STEP 4 – Break elements into smaller chunks or clearer pieces

The aim of this step is to break down the level 1 element into level 2, level 3, etc ensuring all sub-elements are independent, definable, manageable, and an estimable chunk. This chunk is called a work package.

The only way you would know if you have arrived at this lowest hierarchy of elements is when you ask yourself this question “would further decomposition have any effect on the element breakdown”? If your response is a “NO”, then your WBS is done. You have arrived at your last stop of “breaking down”.

A work package is the lowest in the hierarchy of elements.

This whole process is called decomposition in construction management or project management.

STEP 5 – Build up a dictionary of work breakdown structure

A WBS is incomplete without a WBS Dictionary.
Since the WBS describes and defines the scope of each WBS element, you need also to establish a WBS dictionary so you can have a better understanding of the project team and the work package.

STEP 6 – Create a project schedule

The schedule can be built using a Gantt chart or network diagrams manually or with free software using techniques like the critical path method, PERT, or Critical Chain Method.

BENEFITS OF A GOOD WBS

picture showing benefits
  • It accelerates a project’s entire lifecycle.
  • It gives you better control over every important task.
  • It reduces the likelihood of unneeded or unexpected adjustments or changes.
  • For stakeholders, it serves as a tool for brainstorming.
  • It helps by highlighting potential hazards in projects’ early stages, thereby preventing financial loss.
  • In order to avoid the burden of duplicating work in the latter stages, it streamlines the project planning process.
  • It makes team collaboration and communication easier.
  • It substantially lowers the delay factor.
  • It aids in determining the resources, budget, and time needed for a project’s success.
  • It simplifies the process of allocating tasks.

ADVANTAGES OF WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE

  • Your schedule cost estimation is based on WBS.
  • The workflow will be efficient, and there will be fewer disagreements
  • All project deliverables and project management dependencies will be known to you.
  • Due to the clarity of the work scope, you will prevent task duplication and scope creep.
  • You can allocate each work package to a different team member because each work package in the WBS is independent. As a result, accountability and responsibility are increased.

DISADVANTAGES OF WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE

  • The focus moves to the schedule after creating the project schedule, and WBS is frequently not updated anymore.
  • Creating a WBS involves knowledge, expertise, and time. The WBS may overlook some scope of work if team members lack these three. Free Construction management software will come in very handy here
  • Another disadvantage may be creating a hierarchical-based Work Breakdown Structure, which some people may find challenging.
  • If WBS is not properly managed for larger projects, the scope of work may be duplicated.

If you need help creating a work breakdown structure easily, you can start for FREE HERE

Have I left anything out? Please, let me know in the comment section as we wrap up.

Every construction company craves for successful completion of all their projects as this is a major yardstick for measuring success. This success starts with identifying all the work involved by studying the project charter.

The WBS is one of the keys to the successful completion of the project. Therefore, the simplest way and best hack to create a work breakdown structure in recent times that technology is taking over globally is to use a WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE TOOL in aiding you to plan correctly.

Please, tell me in the comment section what other methods you think will make a successful project.

If you have any questions or addition, please let me know in the comment section as well.

Blog image created by Freepik – Flaticon

You might also like: As-built documents and documentation

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