Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in Construction Planning

Work-Breakdown Structure or WBS or work breakdown is the technique in project management, where the given project is broken down into a set of activities and is organized, defined, and graphically represented to achieve proper planning and project objective. 

Work-Breakdown Structure (WBS) Showing Construction Phase
Image Courtesy: Master WBS in Construction | Smartsheet


WBS is like a central organizing concept for the complete project. It behaves like a common framework for other exercises like construction planning, scheduling, cost estimating, budgeting, configuring, monitoring, reporting, direction, and controlling the whole project.

The figure above makes clear the general working of a WBS. The WBS moves from the planning to construction, control, and closeout. The work packages mentioned in the above example are processes and activities. 


Objective of WBS in Construction

The main objective of WBS is:
  1. Detailing the tasks and deliverables for crews and subcontractors
  2. Laying out milestones and progress checkpoints
  3. Defining quality control and acceptance criteria
  4. Providing information on construction methods for each deliverable.
WBS is very essential for clear communication among all the stakeholders in the project. It makes the project more manageable, by decomposing the work into individual elements so that the project planners can do a better job in cost estimation, task assignment, & progress checking against the schedule and budget. 

Features of Work-Breakdown Structure


  • The WBS takes the form of a family tress usually triangular in shape. The progress of the WBS from up to down implies the movement from general objectives to specific objectives.
  • In WBS, the final project deliverables are divided into manageable chunks called work packages.
  • The WBS for a construction project follows the 100 percent rule, where the structure must show the entire project scope: design, engineering, and project management services. The works that are outside the scope of the project are not represented in the WBS.
  • A WBS structure usually has three levels. The final product deliverables are placed at the first level, major deliverables on the second level, and the work packages on the third level. 
  • The development of a WBS for a construction project is teamwork that involves the participation of the architects, engineers, general contractors, financial managers, and owners. The WBS is owned by the project manager and he/she is in charge of altering and controlling the WBS. 
  • The site engineers and supervisors do not have direct involvement in creating the WBS, but the project manager can take their feedback to make an effective WBS.
  • Once the WBS is created, the data is translated into the construction schedule. For this purpose, time estimates are provided for each work package in the WBS and they are represented in the form of networks. 


How to Create a Construction WBS?

Before starting to create a WBS, it is essential to define the end goal of a project. For example, " Regional Medical Center Building", "Commercial Office Building" or "Wastewater Treatment Plant", etc.

After this, we can sequentially divide the project into smaller units, until we reach the smallest element of work activities or events. In some situations, we can employ reverse engineering, i.e. start from the smallest element of work and then progress to the largest element.

The major steps involved in creating WBS for a general building project are:

1. Information Gathering: This step involves the collection and gathering of all documents and available information on the project, including drawings, engineering studies, pre-design work, or proposal.

2. Ultimate Goal Definition: The final objective or what we are indenting to construct must be decided accurately and that appears to be the topmost label of the WBS structure as shown in the figure below. 
3. Decide the type of WBS structure
4. Listing the Deliverables: The deliverables of the project are listed in terms of milestones and processes. A coding system can be used to show the respective section of work at each level.
5. Convert Deliverable into Work Packages: Each deliverable is divided into components until individual chunks of work packages are obtained. These jobs are the terminal elements of the WBS diagram. The work packages can be defined, managed, estimated, and measured. We must be able to adapt the work packages based on the project changes.

Also Read: 8 Construction Scheduling Techniques

Anre A

I am a structural engineering professional who is passionate about researching new content in the construction industry and bringing to people around the world.

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