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how to create a work breakdown structure


how can I create a work breakdown structure for a classic software development project? No answers please, that recommend agile methods.

Thanks in advance


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I think you need to define what a "work breakdown structure" is?


A work breakdown structure (wbs) is a kind of an organization chart that shows all the tasks in the project in a logical order. All of the well known charts used in a project (PERT, CPM, Gantt, etc) are based on the wbs.

Like Yohana Arios likes this

Yeah, except I've heard the phrase used to describe all sorts of things that are nothing like that. Heck, my main client at the moment has four workstreams with three totally different meanings for the phrase. It's not a standard phrase, even though it's in wikipedia. So I needed to check. The most common one I've seen and used in JIRA is the Gantt style charts - there are two addons on the marketplace which both do a good job of standard Gantt charting. You might also want to look at the JIRA Portfolio addon - it does quite a lot of cross-project reporting, but the bit that I think you'd like here is "automatic scheduling" - start at

Thanks Nic, that's helpful, I'll have a look a at it.

There are probably some other tricks to help you get more detail out, but the Gantt and Portfolio addons are a good starting point.

A work-breakdown structure is some form of graphical representation of a tree (the mathematical term) with one root ("the project") and as many levels as necessary, with leaves on the lowest level, that represent tasks: So every Step from: "I need a tool to process invoices" over "I need a GUI" to "The 'send invoice' button should be red".

OF COURSE there are different WBS, but I have never seen any that does not fall under this general definition. If you have, I would be interested in an example.

And to point out, where JIRA seems to make it impossible: I can have only three levels of nodes (epic --> task --> subtask) but I might need many more. I cannot break the tasks down to a small enough scale. And there is no usable graphical representation, not even for the three given levels, or is there? I am looking for something like accordion elements (show/hide subtasks for tasks).



Like jimag likes this

 Yes, my previous comment covers the fact that the phrase is quite simply too vague to be used to describe software.  You need to define what you want from one, for every single case where someone says "wbs".

JIRA is, at it's heart, an issue tracker.  Something needs attention, get on with it and track your progress.  Obviously you want planning, but it's not aimed at generating huge diagrams showing every complexity - the main aim is clarity for the users.  I can ask JIRA "what do I need to do?" or "where are we with?" and get an answer.  Most people simply don't need the graphs or breakdowns, they need to focus on their tasks and a broad overview.

there's a few WBS add-ins, there isn't one answer. The best link is here:


In JIRA, we have three levels of hierarchy: Projects -> Issues -> Sub-Tasks. If you want to push it, you can also include Project Categories. I found this basic hierarchy to be insufficient to represent a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and in this post we'll explore the possibilities at your disposal.

In JIRA, the term "Project" suggests you should use JIRA "Projects" to represent your own projects. However this is not always the best decision, because of the other elements associated with JIRA Projects, namely Versions and Components (not to mention any Configuration). Most of the larger organizations I've worked with use JIRA "Projects" to represent the different products or applications they work on. But what about actual projects?

With the JIRA Agile add-on, we add a new element to the basic JIRA hierarchy: Epics. In Agile, epics represent large deliverables that usually take longer than one Sprint to deliver. Epics are eventually broken down into Stories, which are also broken down into Sub-Tasks.

So now we have: Projects -> Epics -> Stories (issues) -> Sub-Tasks. This is definitely an improvement, but if you're using JIRA Projects to represent a product or an application, you still have nothing in JIRA to represent your actual projects.

Enter JIRA Portfolio

One of the most important aspects of JIRA Portfolio is the fact it adds a new element to the JIRA Structure: Initiatives. Initiatives allow you to group epics into higher-level projects. In fact, I believe Initiatives should be called Projects, but as we all know, the word is already used by JIRA.

If you're using JIRA Portfolio, you can make a clear distinction between your products / applications, and the actual projects your working on. With all these dimensions and levels at our disposal, we can (finally!) build a WBS directly in JIRA (Portfolio!)

Look ma! A WBS in JIRA Portfolio

JIRA Portfolio Demonstration

Do not hesitate to contact us if you're looking for a demonstration of JIRA Portfolio, we'll be glad to do one for you.

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