Does Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Exist in Agile?


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Last week I published 3 Secrets to the Art of IT Project Estimation and it provoked a very interesting response from one of the readers. The reader asked how can Agile estimation techniques include building a WBS? (Of course, my article suggests building ‘agility and WBS’ at the same time!).

Just like that reader, there might be many who would wonder – “How can you build a WBS when you do not have all the requirements upfront?”

Agile estimation techniques do have WBS. However, in Agile the purpose and perspectives of a WBS are different than those in traditional SDLC. Let us first understand what exactly WBS means.

According to PMBOK Guide, WBS is defined as “a deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements that organizes and defines the total scope of the project: work not in the WBS is outside the scope of the project. As with the scope statement, the WBS is often used to develop or confirm a common understanding of project scope. Each descending level represents an increasingly detailed description of the project elements.

So, a traditional WBS tells you about the deliverables in detail, the scheduling and monitoring are done around the WBS, and the WBS is used as the base framework to start the estimation process. It is built around the project requirements document and design specification document.

However, in Agile, WBS is more popularly known as “epics” and “user stories”. An Agile based WBS is built around user functionality. You can use the same elements of the WBS (as in traditional method) to do a functional decomposing of a feature to arrive at the user stories at the atomic level (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: Agile based WBS


Experts say that the feature breakdown is equal to building product backlog. Each story after feature breakdown represents the work that has to be done to provide the incremental functionality to the end user. These user stories can be scheduled/re-scheduled based on the changing business priority, without affecting the iron triangle, provided the total scope of the project does not change.

So, what do you think about an Agile based WBS? Please share your inputs with us and share this post if you liked it. Thanks!


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