Work Breakdown Structure in Agile Projects

There is a great misconception out there that somehow if you use Agile project management methods like Scrum to manage your projects, then you can’t/shouldn’t use Work Breakdown Structure, WBS for short.

There’s too much confusion, a project manager gets no relief (I am borrowing from Bob Dylan here). 

There are those who swear by the Agile method and then there are those who think Agile is waste of time and does not work.

The argument of those who follow pure Agile is that at the beginning of the project, all work/tasks are not known, so WBS is useless for Agile projects.    

This is too bad because you will miss out the huge benefits which WBS offers in Agile environments.

Let me be the first one to tell you, Agile project method benefits greatly by using work breakdown structure for managing tasks and milestones in projects.

To take on Pure Agile advocates heads on, let me set the record straight. You can and should use WBS not just at the beginning of a project, but at the start of each sprint in the project. 

Work breakdown structure is used to simplify complex tasks by breaking down each task into many smaller tasks called sub-tasks.

The resulting tasks known as subtasks are broken down further into yet smaller tasks.

This process continues until the tasks resulted by this process are well defined and small enough that could start and finish in a few days or weeks at most.

The resulting subtasks only take a short time to work on and complete because they are well understood and defined well.

The benefits of work breakdown structure are well documented. Many experienced project managers use WBS to get a handle on very complex and large projects.

Combining Agile and work breakdown structure creates the best project management method to plan, track, and manage complex projects.Click To Tweet 

Agile & Work breakdown structure

The benefits of the Agile method are also well known. The fact that projects in Agile are broken down into small time slices called sprints make Agile and WBS natural partners for the best results.

I really believe, WBS is instrumental in helping Agile method to become a better project management tool and get wider acceptance in the project management community. 

The lean approach which both Agile and WBS are based on could help to better manage projects/work using Agile principles when used together.   

When managing a project using the Agile method, use WBS to break down tasks found in the backlog before sending them to the next sprint.

This way tasks that are worked on in each sprint are well defined and small enough that could finish in the sprint’s time frame.

project tracking software

In my work, I have used work breakdown structure in Agile in many projects in the past few years. The results have been anything but amazing.

What is surprising, this combined method works well for small and large projects.

Not surprisingly, the projects which have a little research in them and all work is not known at the start of the project, benefit most from using WBS in Agile. 

So how Binfire can help you use both Agile and WBS, you might ask? Binfire task manager is based on work breakdown structure and gives you the ability to create sub-tasks 6 levels deep.

This is enough for even the most complex projects as recommended by Project Management Institute or PMI for short.  The dashboard for each task has all the tools needed by Agile teams to work on that task.

Each project in Binfire has its own Kanban board. There is also a Kanban board that shows the cards from all your projects on the board.

The Kanban board is the perfect tool for Agile project management. One of the lists on the Kanban board is the backlog list.

You can add all project’s tasks in the backlog list at the start of the project. 

At the start of each sprint, move tasks you want from the backlog to “Open Task” list by using drag and drop.

A great feature in Binfire which helps to manage Agile projects easier is the ability to copy or move tasks from one project to another project.

This helps to keep tasks in the backlog list in one project and move them to new projects (or sprint) as they are needed.

Another feature lets you use one project that you have already populated and worked on as a template for your new projects.

All tasks, members and the other information you have in the original project are copied to the new project.

The start and end dates of the project and its tasks are adjusted to reflect a new start date.

These features make it easier to save a ton of time when managing multiple projects using Agile methods.

To understand how work breakdown structure works, read the WBS tutorial we recently published in Collaboration Corner.  

Recently a new project management concept called Hybrid project management which combines Agile and Work Breakdown structure is gaining wide acceptance.

Hybrid creates a potent new project management method which is based on the combination of Agile and WBS as we cover in this paper.

Hybrid is one of the hottest new trends in project management and gaining momentum among project managers.

If you are not familiar with Hybrid, give it a try. It helps to introduce Agie to teams which have used traditional project management methods

Try Binfire for free and see how it can help you manage your Agile projects better.

David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.

  1. "This way you have all tasks defined for the project in the backlog and for each sprint you move a small subset to sprint 1, sprint 2 and so on"


    There is one of two things happening here. Either you are using task to mean something different than that used in agile planning or you're fundamentally misunderstanding how the incremental and iterative planning works for agile teams.

    tasks are generally the smaller units of work done by teams that add up to user stories. Tasks represent effort while stories are user visible value. So large stories do get broken down into smaller stories and stories can eventually be broken down into tasks, but this happens throughout the entirely lifestyle of a project not up front. And task breakdowns occur inside the team as they are preparing to start working on a story.

    Was this your intention in describing how your tool would work in an agile context? Or we're you envisioning a PM doing this work at the start of a project? From your article it was nt clear.


    1. Hi Brian,
      Thank you for the comment. You are right, I was not clear enough in the post. I don't mean the PM doing all this work at the start, since it is not efficient and defeats the concept of incremental work.
      We use task containers (tasks which have sub-tasks and sub sub-tasks etc) for user stories. At each sprint we move some of the tasks from the user story to the sprint or the whole container task (user story) depending if it can be done in the time frame we use.


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