What is a work breakdown structure?
The work breakdown structure (WBS) is a way of organizing your work, which helps you both understand how much work you have to do and what it’s for. It helps you understand who needs what, and how much of it they need. The structure can also help you figure out what should be done next, which is an important factor in getting the project done in time.
The WBS is a simple diagram with boxes for different tasks and lines between them. It’s usually constructed as a table — or as described above as a matrix:
The overall idea here is that the WBS should be used to establish the boundaries of your project, and then broken down into small chunks (allowing you to define dependencies) that fit your business model.
Normally, if someone wants to sell something then they will want to list all their product features on one side (their “feature list”), and each feature on the other side (their “feature matrix”). But this doesn’t scale well — both requirements are completely orthogonal to each other! So instead we put them both in separate columns on the right-hand side of our WBS:
This will allow us to easily show any possible trade-offs between features in a single column that we can easily visualize. For example:
This is the first step towards creating a value proposition specific to your product; here we see two different kinds of users wanting two different kinds of features — but only one of each fits our business model! This allows us to understand how our product could be customized so that either kind could potentially live here.
How to use a work breakdown structure
A work breakdown structure (abbreviated WBS) is a planning tool used to organize and prioritize tasks, projects, or other work. It is a great way to prioritize work and focus on the most important tasks.
Here are three examples of how tools can help you:
- 1. Workflow – A simple way to create your workflow, it helps you prioritize the tasks that are worth doing first.
- 2. Gantt – A similar workflow tool but for charts and graphs of expected completion dates.
- 3. WBS-approach – A simple approach to organizing your work, it helps you prioritize the work that’s most important to you. You can set goals for each step in your work and stick with them, or you can break down the steps into smaller ones that are easier to accomplish when they’re spread out through time (like a spreadsheet). This way you can allocate more attention toward any given task — which may be better suited to another person than others (in which case this approach may not fit).
I hope this post has helped you learn something new about marketing strategy and startups in general! If there’s anything else I left out or if anything seems unclear please let me know in the comments!
Work breakdown structure examples
OK, let’s summarize what we know about work breakdown structure as it relates to product development. There are three layers of the WBS: Product, Process, and People
- Product has a name (the “capability” or “product name”) – it is the thing the customer will use.
- Process has a name (the “function” or “function name”) – it describes what the product does, and is usually something like “create PDFs”, “dial up Internet connection”.
- People have a name (the “team member” or “team member name”) – it describes who does what and how they do it.
Here is an example of a typical WBS from an earlier post on design patterns: People – Design team, UX team, Business Development team.
WBS Example 1
- Product — App Store.
- Process — Create PDFs in the App Store (or create web pages).
- People — Sales team, Support team.
Work breakdown structure Example 2
- Product — Win over customers in App Store sales process.
- Process — Create web pages to win over customers in web sales process. –
- People— Marketing team, Support team.
Work breakdown structure Example 3
- Product — What people want for this app (e.g.: “I can make my own PDFs through my phone”.)
- Process — What people want for this app (e.g.: “I don’t have to pay for anything I create”.)
- People — The experience of doing business with us (e.g.: “Boom! I make PDFs from my phone.”.)
Tips for creating a work breakdown structure
The work breakdown structure is a system used to record the tasks that need to be completed for a project or project team. There are many different types of work breakdown structures, including the WBS, SMART, and MBO (management by Objectives) structures. In this post I’m going to take you through a quick tour of some of the more popular ones:
WBS: This is one of the most common types of work breakdown structures used in software development projects. It is an acronym that stands for Work Breakdown Structure and it simply means that the tasks within a given project will be broken down into smaller tasks. For example, if your project was to create an app that would automatically translate text from one language to another and it contained three major sections (content creation, testing, deployment), then your WBS might look like this:
Write new content – content creation test new content – content creation deploy new content – testing write new code – code generation test new code – code generation deploy new code – deployment
SMART: This describes how projects are managed by individuals within an organization. A typical example includes a project manager who assigns tasks to developers based on their capability and uses various tools like task management systems and scrum boards in order to assign tasks and keep track of the progress of the project.
MBO (Management by Objectives): MBO describes how projects are managed using a hierarchy where each level has its own objectives or targets, which should be aimed at reaching success for all levels in terms of time and money spent. The goal would be to satisfy all objectives within a given period of time without exceeding budgets.
Below is an example from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: “The Meaning Of Life? Oh my goodness… what do you want me to eat?” “Me! Me! Me! Me! ME!!” “You mean… ME?!” “Yes! No! ITO!! I mean… I don’t know!”
If you have read this far then congratulations, you have made it through my first article on writing software-focused articles for MacRumors! Next up we will discuss writing sample articles for MacRumors App Roundup — which will help you stand out from other writers who focus on iOS news only (and also help us find your writing talent!). As always, please feel free to leave comments below with any questions or suggestions — all
Work breakdown structures are a fairly recent addition to the business world. The concept of dividing tasks into discrete units and monitoring progress is relatively new.
The term “work breakdown” was coined in the late 19th century by Frederick Winslow Taylor.
Taylor wanted to know how much time an individual worker spent on each task, and how productive workers worked were compared with less productive ones. He combined his methodology with his work on the scientific management of work, which he believed could be used to identify the best way to organize a factory or farm.
Taylor’s model became known as Taylor’s Law, which states that in order for a given task (and therefore for a given group of workers) to be done efficiently it should take no more time than necessary.
In modern times, ASO/WBS has become an important tool for companies and freelancers alike in deciding what projects they will take on and when they should take them on. It has become an increasingly popular way of managing workflow, though it can also be used as a tool for extracting maximum value from teams and projects.
The question that many people ask when they grapple with work breakdown structures is: “What is a work breakdown structure?” To answer this question we need to first understand what ASO/WBS actually is — we will then look at some examples of use and some key takeaways from them in this post.