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Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in Software Development

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Project Management
Wordcount: 2691 words Published: 17th Mar 2021

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Work breakdown structure (WBS) as applied in project management and systems engineering, is the breakdown of all the deliverables into smaller components of the project. In work breakdown structure, the entire project is decomposed into small components that the project team carries out to achieve the objectives of the project and create the needed deliverables.  Work breakdown structure is necessary as it not only allows the organization of work but it is also a good starting point in the estimation of project costs and project scheduling. Work breakdown structure may be made of a product, data, or services to be offer. It may also be a combination of two or more of them. In the breakdown, the main objective is identified and then it is broken down into smaller objectives and tasks/responsibilities as they are also assigned to different individuals and their scope noted. It is thus a hierarchical process.

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The report looks at the work breakdown structure and its application in software development as a tool of project management. We phase of a software project development are looked at and then juxtaposed against the work breakdown structure. They are both seen to be very important tools in project management as they help in planning on the completion of the project as well as in cost estimation.


In software development work breakdown structure is very significant. The project is usually divided into small components in a hierarchical structure into different modules of the project. Work breakdown structure is the one that defines the tasks that are dependent on each other and tasks that are independent. This is vital in the stage of resource and time allocation as well as the assigning of responsibilities to allow the measure and control of the project. The work breakdown structure is classified using terminologies that are according to the hierarchy level of the component in the project (Lester, 2017).  This is vital during the development stage as it eliminates confusion. There are organization that divide the components into tasks, activities, entries, work packages while others divide the components into phases.

Literature review

According to Carstens & Richardson (2019), failure in software development is not due to a single failure but it is due several, small failure that are avoidable which add up and result in the undesirable results and hence unfulfilled objectives. Thus management have been having mentorship programs for new managers on the aspects of project management. Questions have been asked on what is supposed to be done, and how resources are supposed to be resources are supposed to be managed so that we cans start on a project with a team that is organized and ready to go for the project ahead. It is not easy to keep a track of all the deliverables in project and people who are supposed to get things done while at the same time staying with the time and budget constrain. Thus, the learning the timelines and milestones in project management is key as the project goes through the different phases of coming to life. This enables the management of resources as and monitoring the status of the projects that it will be easy to know if the project continues at the pace it will fall beyond the given timeline or the given budget.

The development of a software is an example of a new product development project and the technique that is used to ensure an out-come oriented work breakdown structure is the application of the product breakdown structure. A product breakdown structure is used if the aim is to come up with a product. The product breakdown structure helps in decompressing the complex product or the project into smaller manageable components. His enables the people who are involved to have a vivid picture of the product, the components of the product and the requirements in provision of the components. Feature breakdown structure may also be applied in software development where the entire project is broken down based on its features. (Brightwell, 2017). He further added that work breakdown structure subdivide the work into project phases both in the preliminary and in the advanced design phase. This ensures that the phases are clearly defined by their deliverables as used in the defining of entry and exit criteria.

By formulating the work breakdown structure the project development team, the customers and any other involved party is delineated from the steps required to deliver the project. For this to be achieved, good communication is essential between the people as it helps to iron out any ambiguity, coming up with relevant assumptions and narrowing the scope of the project. This ensure that if there is any critical issue about the project, it comes up during the early stages and it is addressed at early stages to eliminate chances of complications later on in the development process. The development teams is also able to check and double check on the deliverables with all the stakeholders to ensure that no piece of deliverables are missing and that the stakeholders are comfortable with the progress of the project.

The management is supposed to take a holistic and not a reductionist approach in the process of software development projects. Rather than breaking down the entire project into individual components, which are then managed by understanding each of the component part, the system perspective focuses on understanding the relevant factors that collectively come into play to give the final project outcome. Managing the interactions between the different components then become the key to the success and not the components themselves. Carefully planning the schedule and budget so that the deliverables of the entire projects are laid down in a precise and concrete manner cannot be overemphasized. The project team is able to see clearly, what has to be accomplished within the deliverables. When the deliverables are clearly laid down, it becomes possible to come up with cost estimates, project the possible project completion time as well as the risks that are involved so that the project team can work from the low-level components upwards with ease and efficiency (Brightwell, 2017).

Project differ in size and complexity. Some projects will have few deliverable while others will have a wide scope of deliverables, which may also be dependent on others. Hence, work breakdown structure is vital in assigning of the resources and individual tasks so that the deliverables are allocated appropriately. Each of the individuals is assigned a specific deliverable and this ensures that there is accountability in the accomplishment of the tasks. Activities of higher level are usually accomplished by groups, as they tend to be large, more time consuming and complicated.

Software development life cycle

Software development lifecycle refers to the systematic process of build software that ensure that the software developed is of the right quality and consistent with the functional requirements. The details are given on exactly what is expected so that the customer can get a program that works according to their expectations. The process of developing the software should be completed within the predetermined budget and time. The entire project lifecycle is divided into phases each outlining the deliverables that should be met before the project moves to a higher hierarchy of development.

The process of software development is divided into stages are as listed and illustrated below:

  • Requirement analysis
  • Feasibility study
  • Design
  • Coding
  • Testing
  • Install/deploy
  • Maintenance

Figure 1: the software design lifecycle

Phase 1: Requirement Analysis

The requirement phase is the first phase in the development of software, which is usually conducted by the senior members of the team in collaboration with the stakeholders’ industry experts. The senior team members assure the stakeholder of the viability of the project as they analyzed all the risks that are involved. At this stage, the team is required to come up with detailed and concise requirements, which will help the team members to finalize the work within the required timeline.

Phase 2: Feasibility Study

In this stage, the steps that are required in bringing the project to life are defined and documented. The software requirement specification is a process conducted which includes all the parameters that should be considered in the design during the project lifecycle. On feasibility, five parameters are considered. These parameters are economic, legal, operation, technical, and scheduling.

Phase 3: Design

This stage involves the preparation of documents as per the specification so that what is expected clearly comes out so that the coding process can process from here. The overall look of the program is visualized at this stage.

Phase 4: Coding

Coding: at this point, the developers are preoccupied with writing the codes. The codes are written into units, and each coding task is assigned to a specific developer. The coding guidelines have to be followed in this stage and the application of the relevant programming tools. This is the long and most time-consuming phase of software development.

Phase 5: Testing

Testing is done after the coding process is complete. The software is deployed to the testing environment where the team starts testing the functionality of the system guided by the functional requirements of the customers or the stakeholders. The purpose of this phase is to ascertain that the software is performing as expected. This is an iterative process as stakeholders get to interact with the program, and they take it to the developer for modification. The process continues until the software is performing as per the expectations.

Phase 6: Deployment/Installation

Next is the deployment of the software. Deployment is done with authority from the project manager after they have ascertained that the project can work as required.

Phase 7: Maintenance

Deployment gives the customer the chance to use now the software that has been developed. However, the development team does not get off the scene as they will be required to be there in case some bugs need fixing arising from scenarios that were not dealt with during the testing stage. In addition, they may be required to do a system upgrade to a new version of the software with time as well as enhancing new features of the software. All this is done in the maintenance phase of software development (Ali, Petersen, & Schneider, 2016).

Just like the work breakdown structure, the software design lifecycle is vital in the development stage of the software in that it offers the basis for project planning, cost estimation, and scheduling. It also provides a framework for the different tasks and deliverables and provides a mechanism for tracking the progress of the project.

Work breakdown and software development

Apart from being analyzed in phase, which is a linear way of organizing the tasks that are to be performed and the sequence in which they are going to be executed, the composition of the project tasks can be laid down inform for better understanding, cost estimation and the allocation of responsibility in project fulfillment. The work breakdown sequence of software development starts with the name of the project, which is then broken down into components in levels as we go down the hierarchy. The tasks at the lowest level are the least complex and are assigned to individuals. As we go up the hierarchy, the working system changes, and it is majorly group work in combining the components from the lower levels to come up with a complex function. This happens in a sequence until the final project of developing the software is brought to life

The illustration below shows a general work breakdown sequence of a typical software development project, which is described below

Figure 2: work breakdown sequence of software development project

To fully describe the project, the manager need to incorporate Gantt chart to the work breakdown chart. A Gant chart is a chart that shows the tasks that are to be performed on the y-axis versus the time that is allocated to each of the respective tasks on the x-axis. The two charts together will allow the manager to monitor the progress of the project and will immediately be able to detect in case of a delay (Gechman, 2019).


Work breakdown sequence is a powerful tool in the management of a project as it allows the components to be clearly defined forehand to come with an acceptable estimate of cost and time. However, it has its disadvantages as outlined below:

Developing the work breakdown sequence is not an easy task as it tend be time consuming and it requires a lot of effort. This becomes more hectic as the project becomes comes more complex with an even broader scope. In the development of the sequence, all the involved members need to participate and have their approval so that they can give their opinions as the tasks are assigned. Continuous refinement of the components is vital throughout the project development to keep in line with the main objective.

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Including excessive details in the sequence will make it hard for the manager or the team leader to manage the project as a whole project. Consequently, there may be a delay in the whole project. There is a difference between tasks and deliverable and what are represent in the sequence are the deliverables. Other charts may be required to define the various tasks, the plan and the schedule of the project (Oshana, 2016).


Project management skills is very vital in ensuring that the all the deliverables are available in time and the estimate cost is not exceed. In this light project management, tools come in handy in ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of the project. Work breakdown structure and the Gantt chart are very vital in project management as they help in organization and monitoring right from the beginning to the end. This ensures efficient use of the available resources as well as ensuring accountability among the team members. Management is a matter of organization and work breakdown structure and the Gantt chart helps in the organization of the available work.


  • Ali, N. B., Petersen, K., & Schneider, K. (2016). FLOW-assisted value stream mapping in the early phases of large-scale software development. Journal of Systems and Software, 111, 213–227. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2015.10.013
  • Brightwell, R. B. (2017). December 2017 ECP ST Project Review: ECP Project WBS (SNL ATDM Software Ecosystem). doi: 10.2172/1415115
  • Carstens, D. S., & Richardson, G. L. (2019). Developing the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Project Management Tools and Techniques, 63–88. doi: 10.1201/9780429263163-8
  • Gechman, M. (2019). Managing the Software Project Team. Project Management of Large Software-Intensive Systems, 123–146. doi: 10.1201/9780429027932-8
  • Lester, E. I. A. (2017). Work Breakdown Structures. Project Management, Planning and Control, 53–59. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-08-102020-3.00012-7
  • Oshana, R. (2016). Multicore Software Development Process. Multicore Software Development Techniques, 67–70. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-800958-1.00005-x


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