What is a work breakdown structure?

wbs-resized-1-300x169-3376670In today’s video, Tofiq Indawala, Director of Product Management, is joined by Brad Malone, from Navigate Management Consulting to discuss the whole concept of a work breakdown structure, and how that impacts project management.

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is a deliverable-oriented grouping of project components that helps organize and define a project’s total scope of work.

As a project-management document, a well composed WBS is essential because it serves as a foundation for initiating and planning the project.

Effectively, the WBS describes a project’s product or service through a “what-goes-into-what” process. It also relates each of the deliverable work components to one another and to the project as a whole. This interrelationship between components facilitates the definition of the project’s scope and begins to reveal potential complexities.

The WBS is the combination of a deliverable, labor effort, and activity, all put together.

This helps create “common sense” among stakeholders (client, sales, project managers, technicians, vendors, general contractors, etc.).

Once developed, a WBS can be used as a template for similar projects, with the benefit of developing a common language and thought structure.


Projects are run by phases.

Each integration project goes through phases, and each of those phases has a key deliverable. They might require different amounts of labor and duration, but at the end of the day, all projects go through similar phases.


I always believe in that apples-to-apples comparison, and 90% of the integrators we work with have the same major eight to 10 project phases – because that’s systems integration.


Think of a work breakdown structure as the mental paradigm of your integration business.

How we estimate, is how we forecast, is how we plan, is how we schedule, is how we allocate and assign resources, is how we track.

A WBS provides the building blocks for a phase-based project. Most integration companies are project driven, in other words, they have multiple projects going on simultaneously. So, it is important that we all use the same language in the same way.


Should project management be estimated as a cost, or is it just overhead?

Integrators should be billing for professional project management.

Project management is a competence and a skill that must be trained. It should be estimated, tracked, and improved upon.

Project management has a deliverable, and that deliverable is a well-managed predictable project.

There are important steps that must be taken:

  • internal kickoff meetings,
  • external client coordination,
  • change orders,
  • progress reviews,
  • understanding milestones.


When done right, project management takes somewhere between 8% to 20% of the total effort of a project. That’s just what it takes.


Projects are made of labor.

Equipment is just a vehicle to move labor. Yet, many integrators still view projects as products with the necessary evil of labor.

Nothing gets done without labor, and the bigger the integration company, the more people there are with specific skill sets.

Part of managing a work breakdown structure is understanding:

  • What have I sold?
  • What does each project require to take it to completion?
  • What resources or skill sets do I have to work on each project?
  • What is their availability?

 The answers to these questions have to be in line, to effectively manage an integrator’s workload.

The opposite of this paradigm is, ‘just go get stuff done.’

When you are a smaller integrator, you can do that, but it is unsustainable, and not the way to grow a company.




Watch the video for the full discussion:

How Do You Spell WBS?



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