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Work Breakdown Structure
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Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with OpenProject

What is a Work Breakdown Structure?

When creating a new project it is very helpful to become aware of and visualize the individual steps needed to complete the project.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) provides exactly this: It allows you to take a project and decompose it into planable and controllable elements. Using the work breakdown structure, you can break tasks down into subtasks and individual work packages.

As an example, consider a construction repair project. Using the Work Breakdown Structure, you can break the project into individual phases (Project Definition, Detailed Design & Tender, Construction and Post project / project close).

In the next step, you can break these phases into sub-tasks and individual work packages which can then be estimated and assigned to project members.

Work breakdown structure

In order to better visualize the different hierarchical levels, it can be useful to number the phases, sub tasks and work packages. This gives you a good overview over the work package and task hierarchy.

Work Breakdown Structure

Why use a Work Breakdown Structure?

By using the Work Breakdown Structure, you can easily clarify and visualize the steps – right down to the individual work packages – necessary to complete a project.

This has several benefits:

  • By using the WBS you can make sure that you track all the project’s components.
  • The WBS forces you to think about the individual work packages needed to complete a project. Therefore, you can plan projects more accurately.
  • You become aware of the costs and resources needed to complete the project.
  • A project’s objectives and steps become transparent to the stakeholders involved in working in the project.
  • It provides a way to make successful projects repeatable.
  • The WBS minimizes the forgetting a critical deliverable or adding something outside the scope of the project.

How to implement a Work Breakdown Structure with OpenProject?

You can use OpenProject to implement a Work Breakdown Structure by following these simple steps:

Create a project

Set up your new project (e.g. Build a house) from the project dropdown menu at the top menu.
Optionally, you can configure the new project as a subproject of an existing project. Additionally, you can declare the project accountable.

Create new project

Create phases

Within the project, select Work packages from the side menu. Start out by setting up the main project phases.
For our Build a house project we can break the project into the following phases:

  1. Create architectural house plan.
  2. Create building foundation.
  3. Construct basic house structure.
  4. Build roof.
  5. Approve and finalize.

Create phases

Break phases down into work packages

For each of the individual phases continue by breaking them into subtasks and individual work packages. Simply right-click on a phase in the work package list and select Create new child.
Select a type (e.g. “Task” or “Work package”) and specify the name.

To keep track of the different hierarchy levels you can create a custom field and enter the hierarchy level in there (e.g. 1, 1.1, 1.1.1, …).

Repeat those steps for all the different phases until you created all the work packages.

Create breakdown structure

10 responses to “Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with OpenProject

  1. Jürgen says:


    you can wonderfully craft the WBS with a tool like XMind (Timelines) and then import it into OpenProject via the MS Project Import plugin. The advantage is you see a nice, easy to understand graphical presentation of the WBS ready for presentation to stakeholders.

    Grüsse, Jürgen

    1. Daniel Staifer says:

      Where can I find such MS Project plugin?

      1. Robin Wagner says:

        Hello Daniel,

        the MS Project plugin is no longer maintained but there is an Excel template which you can use to synchronize data between OpenProject and Excel (and by extension MS Project if you copy your Gantt chart in MS Project to Excel).
        You can download this Excel template for free from

        Best regards,

  2. miha says:

    WBS numbering should be a column available to add as a default, not custom column. This is a basic PM feature to use.

    1. Robin Wagner says:

      Hello Miha,

      you can add the WBS numbering as a default column (without having to add it manually) if you configure it as one of the standard columns in the administration (“Administration” > “System settings” > “Work package tracking” tab > “Customize the appearance of the work package lists”). There you can check the option “Display by default” for the WBS numbering.

      Best regards,

      1. Andrea Zanasi says:

        Hello Robin,
        I followed your instructions but the “WBS numbering” in not listed in the options so I can’t check it.

        Best Regards,

        1. Robin Wagner says:

          Hello Andrea,

          you first need to create a custom field called “WBS numbering” (or using a different name). Then you can use it as a default column.
          To create such a custom field, go to “Administration” > “Custom fields”. The tab “Work packages” is pre-selected. Click on the green “+ Custom field” button, select e.g. “Format: Float”, provide the name (e.g. “WBS numbering”), select “For all projects” (if you want to use it for all projects) and click on “Save”.

          Next, go to “Administration” > “Work package types” and click on a type which should use “WBS numbering” (e.g. “Phase”). Select the tab “Form configuration” and move the custom field (“WBS numbering”) from the “Inactive” column on the right side over to one of the attribute columns on the left side (e.g. “Details”). Then click on “Save”.
          Repeat these steps for the other types which should use the custom field (e.g. “Milestone”, “Task”).

          Now, you can go to “System settings” > “Work packge tracking” tab (as described above) to set the custom field “WBS numbering” as a default column.

          Best regards,

          1. Andrea Zanasi says:

            Thank you!

            Would be a really great feature to have the WBS auto numbering as default feature without having to insert it manually for each work package.
            With auto numbering I mean that the software automatically associates the WBS number to each work package based on the hierarchy.

  3. Eric Rehm says:

    > click on a phase in the work package list and select Create new child.
    > Select a type (e.g. “Task” or “Work package”) and specify the name.

    When I right click on the Phase and select “Create new child”, I am not asked to select the type of child. Further, “Work package ” is not an available type. OP 9.0

  4. Robin Wagner says:

    Hello Eric,

    When you right-click on a phase and select “Create new child” the work package split screen view opens on the right side. You can simply click on “TASK” (which is the default type) right next to “New” to change the type. This is going to open a dropdown menu from which you can select any of the activated types in the project (e.g. “Task”, “Milestone”, “Phase”).

    The type “Work package” is not one of the default types (this is just given as an example). You can however create an additional type (e.g. “Work package”) from the OpenProject administration. To do this, click on your user avatar in the top right side and select “Administration” from the dropdown menu. You can then select “Work package type” from the side menu on the left and click on the green “+ Type” button to create a new type. Feel free to assign it any name. You can find more information regarding this topic in the OpenProject user guide:

    Best regards,

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