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Breakdown Structure for Project Management

Also known as tree diagrams, breakdown structures are widely used in project management when there are needs in visualizing parent-to-child relationship. Typical use of breakdown structure as a project management tool includes Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), Resource Breakdown Structure, Risk Breakdown Structure and Organization Breakdown Structure (OBS), or sometimes known as Organization Chart. In this article we will go through some of the breakdown structure examples.

Work Breakdown Structure

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is developed to establish a common understanding of project scope. It is a hierarchical description of the work that must be done to complete the deliverables of a project. Each descending level in the WBS represents an increasingly detailed description of the project deliverables.

Here is a Work Breakdown Structure example:

Work Breakdown Structure

The development of Work Breakdown Structure involves subdividing the major project activities or sub-activities into smaller, more manageable activities until the activities are defined in sufficient detail to support the management and development of project works. The items at the lowest level of a branch are known as work packages.

Here are some tips in developing a Work Breakdown Structure that can express works effectively:

  • Always express Work Breakdown Structure activities at the lowest levels of granularity in verb form.
  • Review the Work Breakdown Structure. Make sure all deliverables have been fully covered by the works defined in the Work Breakdown Structure.
  • Ensure that testing and training have been taken into account.
  • Ensure that non-IT work packages are also included such as, documentation and review activities are included in the structure.
  • Ensure that other supporting activities such as, product/service launch and implementation activities are planned.
  • Ensure that delivery approval cycles are taken into account.
  • Include project management deliverables on the project as well (e.g. production of Project Plan). Include any deliverables that must be met or delivered by the customer or any external parties. Check the Work Breakdown Structure against the project approach specified in Project Charter for any activities that needs to be included in the Work Breakdown Structure.

Generally speaking, there are three typical ways in structuring works with a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). They includes phase-based structures, deliverable-based structures and responsibility-based structures.

Phase-based structures

Define and structure project activities based on the project phases.

Phase-based Work Breakdown Structure

Deliverable-based structures

Define and structure project activities based on the deliverables agreed to deliver.

Deliverable-based Work Breakdown Structure

Responsibility-based structure

Define and structure project activities based on the organization units that will work on the project.

Responsibility-based Work Breakdown Structure

Other Use Cases of Breakdown Structure

Resource Breakdown Structure

Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS) is a project management tool that provides a hierarchical decomposition of resources, either structured by resource category, types or by IT/business function that has resource needs.

Here is a Resource Breakdown Structure example:

Resource Breakdown Structure Example

Here are some examples of resource types.

  • Customer Support - The kind of customer and the type of support required for the project
  • Facilities: The facilities required for project (e.g. conference room, data center)
  • Equipment: Describe the hardware needed for the project (e.g. printer, scanner).
  • Software Tools: Describe the software requirements for the project (e.g. Visual Paradigm).

Risk Breakdown Structure

Risks are everything in any IT project. The existence of risk causes negative impact on project schedule, costs and quality. In project management, Project Manager is responsible for managing risks and to ensure that the project will be delivered on time, within project and up to the standard user expected. One of the popular risk management tool is the Risk Breakdown Structure.

Risk breakdown Structure is the hierarchical decomposition of risks, starting from the root node element that represents the project, and going down to the various risk categories, and then finer level risks.

Besides presenting project risks in a Risk Breakdown Structure, it is possible to combine the use of Color Legend in representing the impact of risk. Take a look at the Risk Breakdown Structure example below, a legend of Impact with five items has been setup, representing the five levels of impacts that risks may have on the project with five distinct color code.

Here is a Risk Breakdown Structure example:

Risk Breakdown Structure Example

There are many Risk Management Tool you can use in structuring risks. Besides Risk Breakdown Structure, you may consider using the Cause and Effect Diagram as well (also known as Fishbone Diagram).

Organizational Breakdown Structure

Organizational Breakdown Structure, or sometimes known as Organization Chart, is a widely used project management tool for representing project organization. It typically begins with the project sponsor, and with all key stakeholders included. In presenting the organization structure, consider the organization or group that is requesting the project and the level of their sponsorship and authority.

Here is an Organizational Breakdown Structure example:

Organizational Breakdown Structure Example

The Various Views of a Breakdown Structure

Tree Structure View

The tree structure view is the visualization of a breakdown structure. Among the various views, it's most popular and easy-to-understand.

Tree Structure View

Outline View

The outline view presents an easy to view and understand layout for the breakdown structure.

Outline View

Hierarchical Structure

The hierarchical structure presents breakdown structure elements in a tabular form. It is similar to the outline view but with information presented in a table (without indentation). This view is extremely useful when your breakdown structure has many nested levels, which would make an outline view hard to presents elements' neatly.

Level WBS Code Element Name
1 1 E-Octopus
2 1.1 Planning
3 1.1.1 Conduct Planning Kickoff Meeting
3 1.1.2 Develop Work Breakdown Structure
...

How to Develop a Breakdown Structure in Visual Paradigm?

Breakdown Structure is a one of the project management diagrams of Visual Paradigm. To create such a diagram:

  1. Select Diagram > New from the main menu.
  2. Select Breakdown Structure and click Next.
  3. Enter the diagram name and click OK. Notice that the diagram name will become the name of the root element.
  4. Rename the root element as needed.
  5. Progressively create finer level breakdown structure elements.


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