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Work Breakdown Structure for IT Projects (WBS)

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As businesses start to recover from the pandemic, the number of information technology (IT) projects are picking up. However, companies are also proceeding cautiously. Using a work breakdown structure is one way to handle IT project management effectively.

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What Is Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines work breakdown structure as a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables. It is a prescribed method of breaking down large or complex goals into smaller, more manageable objectives that will help the project manager and team efficiently achieve the final goal or produce the main deliverable.

Work breakdown Structure

Among the most common IT projects companies are initiating these days are cloud migration, mobile app development, big data analytics, automation, and artificial intelligence deployment. IT WBS can help divide up these large and complex projects so teams can work simultaneously on smaller, non-dependent deliverables. A work breakdown structure for IT projects helps project managers plan, schedule, and budget for these disparate components.

Read more: What Is Critical Path in Project Management?

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Information Technology Project WBS: Important Guidelines

As part of the project management process, the work breakdown structure for an IT project should be comprehensive. It has to cover all project management phases, but it should not be too detailed, either. Here are some guidelines for project managers to make sure that an IT work breakdown structure is easy to track throughout the project lifecycle.

  • Clearly identify the project’s most important output as something tangible that users can see or interact with
  • Enumerate all activities that team members can perform in parallel, and decompose them further if needed
  • Work with the whole project team and regularly communicate with them
  • Be as specific as possible in describing WBS elements. Terms like “planning phase” and “design phase” are not deliverables or outputs, and therefore should be avoided
  • Check out previously used WBS examples to find what is most suitable and practical for the organization or team
Work breakdown structure

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Work Breakdown Structure for IT Projects

After defining the IT project’s scope and deliverables, the next step is to break down the project into smaller work elements so that everything is more manageable. The result of this activity is the work breakdown structure, which should look like a hierarchical chart or tree.


Hierarchy of Levels

The WBS organizes work into a hierarchy of levels, with the first level as the project itself. The second level describes the project’s major deliverables, and additional levels will be the project’s supporting deliverables. Each WBS box is a big or small deliverable, with the biggest deliverable being the project itself.

Visual WBS

A clearly designed IT project management WBS helps visualize the relationship of the project items and facilitates the evaluation of cost and time needed. The lowest level of the WBS will contain work packages, which are the project tasks with the shortest duration. Work packages should have tasks with a duration of no more than 10 days (80 hours).

Deliverables Only

Project managers should avoid creating an IT project WBS that focuses on actions or company structure, like “create a job request form” or “IT Help Desk.” Instead, focus on clear outcomes, such as “final job request form” or “help desk wiki page.” WBS elements should be output-oriented with concrete project deliverables. Remember, a deliverable is any product, service, or achievement of specific objectives or goals.

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Work Packages: The Lowest Deliverable Level of the IT WBS

It is important to determine that a work package is small enough to be manageable. One common test is the 8/80 rule, which suggests that a work package should take no less than 8 hours of effort, but no more than 80 hours (10 days), or a standard reporting period. Other rules to consider are:

  • The total time and cost of a work package is clearly defined and accountable.
  • It is not possible or advantageous to break down a work package any further.
  • Ideally, only one person is responsible for the work package.
  • It is possible to track and monitor the task’s execution from start to finish.

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WBS Sample Templates

Users can create IT work breakdown structure templates using office suites and productivity software like Microsoft Excel or Word. Here are some sample work breakdown structure templates that teams can use for their IT projects. However, note that project management software has built-in tools that simplify not only the creation of WBS, but also complete project management plans — as well as tracking tasks, milestones, and deliverables.

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Featured Partners: Project Management Software

1 Wrike

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Wrike is the most powerful work management platform on the market, enabling teams to plan projects and collaborate in real time. Our award-winning software is trusted by 20,000+ companies across the globe, including Sony, Estée Lauder, and Siemens.

Wrike’s customizable features include Gantt charts, request forms, dashboards, cross-tagging, time tracking, and proofing. Integrate with 400+ apps from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce. Automate repetitive tasks and achieve 50% faster planning. Work from anywhere with 100% access to your files via our mobile and desktop apps.

Whether you’re a small startup or an established brand, Wrike has the solution for you. Paid plans start at $9.80/user/month. Join our community of 2.3 million — start your free two-week trial today.

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2 monday.com

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monday.com Work OS is an award-winning no-code work management platform that helps teams manage projects and workflows more efficiently.

Used by 152,000+ customers worldwide, this fully customizable software lets you plan, manage, and track every project in one place. monday.com offers time-saving and easy-to-use features such as automations, time tracking, document sharing, and real-time collaboration. Multiple board views such as Gantt and Kanban help you structure and navigate tasks and projects the way you prefer, and dashboards give a high-level overview of your progress.

In addition, integrations with apps such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, and Excel, allow you to easily continue working with your favorite tools from within the platform. monday.com also offers dedicated solutions, such as monday dev and monday sales CRM, designed to answer the needs of specific industries.

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3 Smartsheet

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Smartsheet is a leading work execution platform that has real-time work management features, collaboration and automation tools. Users are presented with a familiar and easy-to-use spreadsheet-like interface. However, it has enterprise-grade capabilities that even Fortune 500 companies like Cisco, Bayer, HP, and PayPal are confident to adopt in their business. Strong project management features enable teams to utilize different views of real-time data, and switch easily from Gantt, card, grid and calendar views. Smartsheet has automatic update requests, and can be used for waterfall and agile projects, product launch, sprint planning, and more. The resource management feature provides users the visibility who is busy, and who is not, in real-time. They can also attach files, share sheets, get notified, view the activity log, export, email, and print.

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4 Productive

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Start and deliver each billable and non-billable service by centralizing communication. Collaborate with teammates on tasks in real-time, streamline best practices, and let clients in on progress.

Stop spreading work across platforms. Subscribe to tasks to track progress, assign date ranges and deadlines, and check granular steps off with TODOs.

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5 Zoho Projects

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Zoho Projects is an online project management application that helps its users to plan projects, collaborate with employees and clients, keep track of time, manage documents, and generate charts and reports. Users work on a central platform where they can keep track of progress, discuss ideas, communicate easily and stay updated. It is cloud-based and highly accessible, where user data is kept safe with stringent security systems. The software is also scalable depending on the number of projects, with the option to add more features. Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project management tool that helps you plan your work, track it efficiently, and collaborate with your team wherever they are.

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Jose Maria Delos Santos Avatar