A work breakdown structure (WBS) in project management and systems engineering, is a tool used to define and group a project’s discrete work packages 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.
One of the most important Work Breakdown Structure design principles is called the 100% Rule. This Rule states that the WBS includes 100% of the work defined by the project scope and captures all deliverables – internal, external, interim – in terms of the work to be completed, including project management. The 100% rule is one of the most important principles guiding the development, decomposition and evaluation of the WBS. The rule applies at all levels within the hierarchy: the sum of the work at the “child” level must equal 100% of the work represented by the “parent” and the WBS should not include any work that falls outside the actual scope of the project, that is, it cannot include more than 100% of the work. At the same time, it cannot contain only 95%. It must contain 100% of the work. It applies to the activity level. The work represented by the activities in each work package must add up to 100% of the work necessary to complete the work package.
The PMBOK Guide 4th Edition states that Create WBS is the process of subdividing project deliverables and project work into smaller, more manageable components. The work breakdown structure (WBS) is a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables, with each descending level of the WBS representing an increasingly detailed definition of the project work. The WBS organizes and defines the total scope of the project, and represents the work specified in the current approved project scope statement. The planned work is contained within the lowest level WBS components, which are called work packages. A work package can be scheduled, cost estimated, monitored, and controlled. In the context of the WBS, work refers to work products or deliverables that are the result of effort and not to the effort itself.
Read more about the WBS at the PMBOK Guide 4th Edition starting in section 5.3.