Business Analysts & The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Reaching a huge goal often requires breaking it into smaller and more realisable steps. A work breakdown structure (WBS) is used for splitting complex and massive projects into small units of work, which can represent data, product, service or any combination of these.

A WBS is thus, a hierarchical decomposition of tasks, sub-tasks and work packages, which represent a group of activities for producing a specific deliverable. The project statement and requirements documentation can serve as inputs to creating the WBS.

The WBS once complete, represents the scope of the project since the top layer represents all the deliverables. The WBS provides a better understanding of the project, helps in identifying potential sources of risks and can be used for identifying project milestones.

Analysts with a lot of experience under their belts understand how badly things can go when working on a project without paying sufficient attention to resource and activity planning, in collaboration with the Project Manager.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the building block that allows for careful planning and control of a project. It is the link between the actual work and various other aspects, such as cost estimates, cost expenditures, schedule information and accountability. Furthermore, the WBS allows us to establish, project, arrange, and budget all the work that falls within its scope. Unless a WBS exists, the analyst will not be able to measure the progress and deviance from the original business analysis plan. In order to accomplish this crucial function, the WBS should be recognised as an essential part of every project.

A poorly developed WBS can lead to various unintended outcomes, including repeated project extensions and re-plans, changes in scope, missed deadlines, overrun in the budget, unclear work assignments, and development of unusable products. To avoid such cases, BAs must be able to prepare a WBS that will guide them during project implementation. The WBS should fit the following criteria:

  • Definable: Can be described and understood easily by the participants of the project
  • Manageable: A meaningful piece of work can be assigned to the individual who is responsible
  • Possible to estimate: The time it takes to complete a task can be estimated, as well as the cost in terms of the required resources
  • Independent: Each work package is different from other work packages
  • Integrable: It integrates with other elements of the project, such as cost estimates and plans
  • Measurable: The WBS can be used to assess the progress of a project with regards to its start and completion date.

Picture Attribution: Image courtesy of [Stuart Miles] at