The Work Breakdown Structure (or WBS for short) is a hierarchical breakdown of a project that summarizes phases of work. The WBS is like the project’s outline – it breaks down the project into specific deliverables or phases. Activities are then added to these layers to create a timeline for the project plan.
The WBS process will be different depending on the scheduling application you’re using. In Microsoft Project, for example, a scheduler will first add activities to the project. They will then roll up those activities into summary tasks, making up the WBS. In Primavera P6, however, it’s often useful to first create the WBS and then add activities to those layers. While it’s possible to first add activities and then create the WBS, the process is very tedious and not recommended. It’s a better practice to outline the main phases of a project before considering the minutiae of individual tasks.
This article will outline how to create a work breakdown structure in Primavera P6 Professional. The following examples are from Primavera P6 Professional 22, but the process is the same for most P6 versions.
Before you create a WBS, you need to create a project and open it within Primavera P6. With a project open, open the WBS screen by selecting Project > WBS. In P6, you will create the work breakdown structure on the WBS screen, and then add individual activities on the Activities screen. Although the WBS and the activities work together, it’s important to remember that you create and edit them on different screens.
WBS Work Breakdown Structure tool in Primavera P6 Professional
The WBS screen looks and functions similarly to the Activities and Projects screens. There’s a top half that’s divided into a table and a Gantt Chart, and a bottom half for entering more detailed data. When you first open the WBS screen, there will only be one WBS layer in the table. This layer is for the project itself and stays at the top of the hierarchy. When you add a new layer to the WBS, it will be added as a child layer to the one currently selected. Our first layer, therefore, will be a child layer to the project layer.
There are several ways to add layers to the WBS, including:
  • Selecting Edit > Add from the Menu Bar
  • Selecting the Add button on the toolbar
  • Right Clicking in the table and selecting Add
  • Using the Insert key on your keyboard
Doing any of these will add a new WBS layer to the table.
WBS Work Breakdown Structure tool in Primavera P6 Professional
Summarizing a project schedule is up to the discretion of the scheduler. Some choose to create process-based WBS layers, while others may create them based on deliverables. Generally, you will start breaking down your schedule into its major phases – such as Preconstruction and Construction. You can then break these layers down further into sublayers – such as Mobilization and Procurement.
After adding a layer to the WBS, you can adjust the WBS ID and Name as needed. By default, the WBS ID will be the previous layers ID, followed by a number designating its position in the hierarchy. You can adjust the WBS ID using either the ID cell in the table or the WBS field in the details section. It’s generally recommended to leave the WBS ID as it is, as it will show where the layer is in the hierarchy. The WBS Name, however, should be adjusted to describe the layer you’re creating. Like the ID, you can change the WBS Name using either the cell in the table or the details section.
WBS Work Breakdown Structure tool in Primavera P6 Professional

You can move the WBS layers around the hierarchy using the arrows on the toolbar or by holding down CTRL and using the arrows on your keyboard.

WBS Work Breakdown Structure tool in Primavera P6 Professional

Here is what a completed WBS should look like. I have several parent layers summarizing broad phases, all with child layers that further breakdown the project. With this WBS, I have an outline summarizing my project plan.

WBS Work Breakdown Structure tool in Primavera P6 Professional

With the work breakdown structure complete, you can now display it on the Activities page. If the WBS doesn’t appear on the Activities page, please refer to this article here. With the WBS breaking down the project into logical chunks of work, it is easier to conceptualize which activities to add.

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Lauren Hecker is an Oracle Primavera Cloud and Primavera P6 Instructor and teaches onsite and virtual scheduling courses. To see her next open enrollment course, please visit our calendar. To schedule an onsite or custom course, please contact us!

1 Comment

  1. Sean Cook

    Great info…


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