The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is vital in comprehensive project planning. It 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.

The structure starts with an extensive project or an overall objective and breaks it down into smaller, more manageable parts that you can reasonably evaluate and assign to teams. Rather than focusing on individual actions to efficiently bring the outcome, a WBS generally stresses deliverables or concrete, measurable milestones. These deliverables may also be called work packages, tasks, sub-tasks, or terminal elements.

The structure encompasses extensive information about every insight and process data of the project. They range from the task details to management duties broken down into attainable goals. The endless scope of project management, from resource requirements to estimated cost, start and end dates, quality control, contract details, and technical references, are documented in a WBS.

A WBS dictionary supports the work breakdown structure created in compliance with the Project Management Institute (PMI) standards and defines each step to provide the final project deliverables. It also includes detailed information about the execution of each task, including quantity and quality requirements, completion schedule, etc.

The Project Management Institute is an international organization advancing the professional field of project management. PMI global standards are the basis of the profession, which helps ensure your organization’s knowledge and framework is up-to-date. They set these standards of project management guidelines through certified education and development, conducting extensive research, and hosting robust professional conferencing.

It is a leading professional membership association for the project management profession. The main objective of this institution is to provide tools, networks, guidelines, industry insights, and best practices to those who seek to build a career in project management.

Objectives of a WBS Dictionary

The Project management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a WBS Dictionary as – a document that provides details of the deliverable activity and scheduling information about each component in the work breakdown structure. 

The WBS dictionary helps ensure that the project meets whatever regulatory or compliance issues govern the work. It also ensures the deliverables are meeting the quality expectations of the stakeholders.

The WBS became a required element of many aerospace projects from that time forward and is still widely used in this and every other industry or discipline that plans and executes projects. To run a successful project, it is vital for project management teams to follow the WBS process. Its stated purposes were, and still are:

  • To harness the requirements for the project execution and the skills to determine the professional experts to manage a project.
  • To provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas, execution glitches and solutions, and new approach applications.
  • To stay consistent with the process and develop standard terminology and techniques to communicate transparently.
  • To drive industrial and academic research efforts in the right direction.
  • To provide guidelines for task details, identify assumptions and ambiguities, and a framework to solve these unclear perceptions to avoid any delay in completion.
  • To foster recognition of the need for professionalism in project management.
  • To provide an interface between users and suppliers of hardware and software systems.

PMI supports and vigorously promotes the use of WBS on all projects for efficient delivery. Since its inception, the WBS has become a foundational tool for project execution. It is not only limited to defining work but also the basis of human resource assignment on projects with detailed knowledge about the cost, requirements, and schedule.

How to create a WBS dictionary?

As we all know, a work breakdown structure is a project management tool used to define and manage project deliverables. The WBS is a hierarchical structure that breaks down complex activities into smaller and manageable parts, allowing users to see the individual deliverables that need to be completed to reach a project’s overarching goal.

The main application of the dictionary is to define the work to help create the product you will obtain on the completion of the project. Work packages are at the basic level of the WBS. They represent the list of tasks to produce a particular amount of work.

This is why work breakdown structures have a title and often a number indicating each step. These labels correspond to the WBS dictionary, where the explanation of the step’s purpose and execution is detailed. The team members who refer to a WBS Dictionary gain a better and deeper understanding of what’s needed to complete the project successfully. 

When creating the WBS dictionary, it is crucial to keep the content of each element brief. The main objective of this dictionary is for the project team members to clearly understand the work being performed in all the elements and the work required to attain the set goals.

You can create a WBS dictionary using several tools that are available today. This can be initiated once you have prepared a work breakdown structure and approved it by the authority in charge. You can then create a WBS dictionary to handle project management effectively.

Here are some best basic practices to create a WBS dictionary.

  • Identification: Each WBS has a unique identity or title, which allows you to list the steps on your WBS dictionary to correspond to the correct item.
  • Representation and Reporting: Here where the task is supposed to be specified in a detailed manner for effective and clear communication and understanding.
  • Examine constraints: Define the unseen and foreseen conditions about the task, such as the dependency of one task on another, resource requirements, etc., and design a solution to avoid delays in the project execution. 
  • Assign a POC: Assigning an owner for each task ensures efficient project execution, as the leader is motivated to drive towards success.
  • Document Milestone, Schedule, and every other detail: Milestone is an important key to hold WBS, as it is the goal to work for. It also documents every detail related to the project management and execution or completion. Also, the deliverables must be scheduled for effective growth and maintain a disciplinary approach.

These are the basics of creating a successful WBS dictionary. However, if used correctly, it can become more powerful than just a document describing the work. It becomes a project kaleidoscope that allows you to look at your project data in infinite ways.