Microsoft Project Work Breakdown Structure

In project management, a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a method for analysing a project’s activities. Many organizations apply a WBS numbering standard to define projects, because it’s an important planning tool that serves as a basis for project scheduling, reporting, staffing, and budgeting. It can also help establish clear project goals. Microsoft Project Work Breakdown Structure defaults to the Outline Number sequence you would expect to see in a multi-level bullet point list.

What is a work breakdown structure?

A WBS is a top-down planning method that defines the desired end result of a project and is made up of related elements, often called work packages, work elements, work phases, or tasks (summary tasks and subtasks). WBS descriptions define how the result will be accomplished. They also help you identify logical groupings of tasks and establish the focus of the project to prevent unintended future changes.

Useful for a quick, high-level view of the parts of your project, a WBS is often shown as a block diagram.  As a deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements, a WBS chart organizes and defines the total scope of the project. Each descending level represents an increasingly detailed description of a project component.

WBS Codes and Viewing a WBS

Working with a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A WBS is a hierarchical structure used to organise tasks for reporting schedules and tracking costs. With Microsoft Project, you can represent the work breakdown structure by using task IDs or by assigning your own WBS code to each task. A WBS code identifies a task’s unique place in the structure of your project. Microsoft Project Work Breakdown Structure codes use a multilevel bullet point number sequence from the Outline Number field by default, although this can be customised.

To make working with WBS codes easy, you can add a column to a sheet view. This is done simply by inserting a column and adding a custom name. You can see how the automatic WBS code is based on the task IDs.  Microsoft Project Work Breakdown Structure codes, if using the Outline Number sequence, can also be displayed in within the Task Name cells.

What is a work breakdown structure code?

Work breakdown structure (WBS) codes are alphanumeric codes that identify each task’s unique place in the outline structure of your project. WBS codes can be used for reporting schedules and tracking costs. There are two types of WBS codes in Microsoft Project.

  1. Outline numbers. Outline numbers are the simplest type of WBS code; Microsoft Project calculates outline numbers for each task based on the outline structure of the task list. Outline numbers consist of numbers only, and you can’t edit them, but they change automatically when you move a task up or down in the task list or indent or outdent tasks.
  2. Custom Codes. The second type of WBS code is a custom code that you define. You can define one set of custom WBS codes per project and display it in the WBS field. Each level of the WBS code represents an outline level in the task list. But unlike outline numbers, the levels of the code can be represented as uppercase or lowercase letters, numbers, or characters (a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers), depending on which you specify for each level in the code mask when you create the WBS code. You can choose whether to automatically calculate custom WBS codes for new tasks and whether to allow duplicate WBS codes for different tasks.

To display WBS codes

  1. To display WBS codes, select a sheet view displaying tasks.
  • To display the Task Sheet, on the View menu, click More Views. In the Views box, click Task Sheet, and then click Apply.

  • To display the Gantt Chart, on the View menu, click Gantt Chart.

  1. Click the field to the right of where you want to insert the WBS field. For example, click the Task Name field to insert the WBS code to the left of the task names.
  2. On the Insert menu, click Column.
  3. In the Field name box, click WBS.
  4. In the Align title and Align data boxes, click the alignment you want to use.
  5. Click Best Fit.

Custom WBS Codes

Why use Custom WBS Codes

The task IDs give you your basic structure of the project. The WBS codes are a further hierarchical way of organising, viewing and tracking tasks based on the WBS coding system. The WBS takes account of summary tasks as shown in the previous section. But what happens if you need to view your project’s hierarchy in a certain way that is separate to the basic (chronological) order. For example, your financial department might dictate a certain hierarchical structure based on an accounting system. Or, you may wish to have a standard WBS system across a company’s range of projects. A company WBS standard.

How to create a work breakdown structure code

Code Masking

If your organization or client requires a particular work breakdown structure (WBS) code format, you can define a sequence for each level of the WBS code by using a custom code mask. Microsoft Project uses the code mask to assign WBS codes to tasks depending on their places in the hierarchy of the project’s outline. You can define a WBS code mask by using:

  • A project code prefix to identify the project at the highest level of the WBS code. This prefix can be useful to identify subprojects consolidated within a master project. You can enter any combination of numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and symbols for the project code prefix.
  • Numbers (ordered) to display a numerical WBS code.
  • Uppercase letters (ordered) to display uppercase alphabetical WBS codes (to show, for example, A, B, and C for the first three summary tasks in the project).
  • Lowercase letters (ordered) to display lowercase alphabetical WBS codes (to show, for example, a, b, and c for the first three summary tasks in the project).
  • Characters (unordered) to display any combination of numbers and uppercase and lowercase letters you enter (to show, for example, Arch1, Const1, and Insp1 for the first three summary tasks in the project). Choosing unordered characters gives you the most flexibility for entering customized WBS codes. Microsoft Project displays an asterisk (*) in the WBS field until you type or enter a string of characters for this level of the WBS code.
  • The length of each level to set a prescribed number of characters or numbers for each level. Users must enter the exact length of the level you specify, or you can specify “any” to allow any length of characters or numbers for the code level.
  • Code separators to distinguish each level of the WBS code by displaying a different symbol instead of the default separator, a period.

Create a custom WBS code mask

  1. To view WBS codes, display a sheet view.
  • To display the Task Sheet view, on the View menu, click More Views. In the Views box, click Task Sheet, and then click Apply.

  • To display the Gantt Chart view, on the View menu, click Gantt Chart.

  1. On the Project menu, point to WBS, and then click Define Code.
  2. To specify a project code prefix that distinguishes the tasks in this project from tasks in other projects, type a prefix in the Project Code Prefix

Note: If you work with multiple projects consolidated in a master project or often have projects with links to external tasks, adding a project code prefix can help you distinguish tasks from different projects.

To specify the code string for first-level tasks, in the first row in the Sequence column, click the type of character you want to use for this level.

  • Click Numbers (ordered) to show a numerical WBS code for this level.

  • Click Uppercase Letters (ordered) to show uppercase alphabetical WBS codes (for example A, B, and C for the first three summary tasks in the project).

  • Click Lowercase Letters (ordered) to show lowercase alphabetical WBS codes (for example a, b, and c for the first three summary tasks in the project).

  • Click Characters (unordered) to show any combination of numbers and uppercase and lowercase letters (for example, Arch1, Const1, and Insp1 and for the first three summary tasks in the project). Choosing this option gives you the most flexibility for entering customized WBS codes. Microsoft Project displays an asterisk (*) in the WBS field until you type or enter a string of characters for this level of the WBS code.

  1. In the first row of the Length column, type or select a number for the maximum number of characters in the first-level code string. For example, type 3 to make three characters the mandatory number of characters to enter in this level of the WBS code. The total length of a WBS code can be up to 255 characters.
  2. In the first row of the Separator column, type or select a character to separate the code string for one level from the code string for the next level. By default, the separator character is a period.

Notes:

  • You can have different separator characters between each code level.

  • You can type a character other than a period, minus sign, plus sign, or slash; for example, you can type an ampersand (&) or a number sign (#).

  1. You can choose to have no separator character between code levels. In the Length field, click a number. In the Separator field, delete the separator character.
  2. To continue to specify code strings for each level, click the next row in the Sequence column and repeat steps 3–6.

Specify one code string for each level of indented tasks in your outline.

  1. If you don’t want Microsoft Project to assign a WBS code each time you enter a new task, clear the Generate WBS code for new task check box.
  2. If you want to use the same WBS code for different tasks, clear the Verify uniqueness of new WBS codes check box.
  1. After you create a WBS code mask, you can display the WBS field in your project task sheet.

To change WBS Codes

If you have defined a mask for WBS codes, and WBS codes have been calculated for tasks, you can change the WBS code by redefining levels of the code mask. You can change any level of the code mask from Numbers (ordered), Uppercase Letters (ordered), Lowercase Letters (ordered) or Characters (unordered) to another type.

To change Codes

  1. If you want to change WBS codes after you have created a code mask and Microsoft Project has calculated them, on the Project menu, point to WBS, and then click Define Code.
  2. In the Sequence box, change the type of character for any level of the code mask.

Notes:

  • If you change a level of the code mask to Characters (unordered), you can manually change that level of the WBS code to any combination of uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.

  • If you have entered a string of characters in a level of the WBS code defined as Characters (unordered), you can change it to another set of characters only at the highest level at which it appears in the task list. You can’t change the characters in the WBS code for a subtask, only for the summary task where that level of the WBS code is defined.

Adding, Moving, or Deleting tasks

Custom work breakdown structure (WBS) codes are not changed automatically when you add, move, or delete tasks. But you can choose to renumber selected tasks or all tasks in the project to correct the sequence of WBS codes. If you choose to renumber selected tasks, Microsoft Project uses the first task in a multiple selection as a reference point for renumbering the others, so the first task isn’t renumbered.

If you have subprojects inserted within your project and want to renumber some or all tasks in the subproject, click Show, and then click All Subtasks. If a subproject’s tasks are not displayed, Microsoft Project doesn’t renumber them.

Renumber the custom WBS codes of tasks

If you move, delete, or rearrange tasks, you may notice that their custom WBS codes are not in the correct sequence. You can change the WBS codes one at a time, manually, or all at once if you need to update more than a few tasks. If the WBS codes are not shown, you can add a WBS column to a sheet view to display them.

  1. To view WBS codes, display a task view.
  • To display the Task Sheet view, on the View menu, click More Views. In the Views box, click Task Sheet, and then click Apply.

  • To display the Gantt Chart view, on the View menu, click Gantt Chart.

  1. To correct the WBS code sequence for a group of adjacent tasks, select two or more tasks.

Notes:

  • If you do not select any tasks or if only one task is selected, Microsoft Project corrects the custom WBS codes for the entire project. If multiple tasks are selected, the first task in the selection is not renumbered because it is used as the reference for renumbering the other tasks.

  • If you have subprojects inserted within your project and want to renumber some or all tasks in the subproject, click Show, and then click All Subtasks. If a subproject’s tasks are not displayed, Microsoft Project doesn’t renumber them.

  1. On the Project menu, point to WBS, and then click Renumber.
  1. To correct the WBS code sequence for selected adjacent tasks, click Selected tasks. To correct the WBS code sequence for all tasks in the project, click Entire project.

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