IPMA International Project Management Association
2 July 2018 / 10:45

ISO 21511 Work breakdown structures for project and programme management published

Recently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published with ISO 21511:2018 “Work breakdown structures for project and programme management” the next standard developed by ISO TC 258 Project, Programme and Portfolio Management [https://www.iso.org/committee/624837.html].

The purpose of the international standard is to provide guidance on work breakdown structure for those individuals working in project and programme management, and who are involved in developing and using a work breakdown structure. The document incorporates practices to provide benefits for project or programme planning and control, and provides guidance on work breakdown structure concepts, composition and relationships with other structures. It is applicable to any type of organization including public or private and any size of organization or sector, as well as any type of project and programme in terms of complexity, size or duration. It complements ISO 21500 and ISO 21503.

ISO 21511:2018 provides relevant terms and definitions, concepts, characteristics, benefits, uses, integration and relationships related to work breakdown structures. It does not provide guidance on the use of processes, methods or tools in the practice of developing and using a work breakdown structure. The

Annexes A and B provide examples of work breakdown structures and relationships to other breakdown structures.

The standard defines a work breakdown structure (WBS) as decomposition of the entire scope of work that should be completed in order to achieve defined project or programme objectives. It is used throughout a project or programme, to establish the framework for managing work. “Each descending level of the work breakdown structure should provide a more detailed definition of the work. Work may be product-oriented, deliverable-oriented or result-oriented; and, additionally, may be focused on project or programme phases, disciplines or locations. The entire scope of work of the project or programme should include work to be done by the project or programme management team or team members; subcontractors; and other stakeholders.”

According ISO 21511 the benefits of a work breakdown structure may include the following factors:

  1. a) segregation of a project or programme into work breakdown structure elements, and clarification of the relationship among the elements;
  2. b) estimation of work breakdown structure element costs, risks and durations;
  3. c) facilitation of planning and assignment of management and technical responsibilities;
  4. d) facilitation of tracking technical performance, durations, risks, resource allocations and costs;
  5. e) communication with stakeholders including management, customers and suppliers;
  6. f) provision of information and structure for the earned value management system;
  7. g) provision of a link to the integrated master plan and the integrated master schedule for consistency, and analysis and assessment;
  8. h) facilitation of a project budget by providing a structure for allocation;
  9. i) facilitation of configuration management of the work breakdown structure elements.

The new standard can be acquired through the ISO website: https://www.iso.org/standard/69702.html


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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.