WBS Dictionary and Agile Definition of Done


Personally, I find connecting what I already know to some new thing I am learning facilitates and understanding of that new thing.  We have frequently compared agile and conventional project management on our blog, for example, Epic Project Management Battle: Retrospective vs. White Book.  Today we are going to compare the WBS dictionary with the Agile Definition of Done.

WBS Dictionary

To understand the WBS Dictionary we should probably start with the WBS or Work Breakdown Structure.  This is the decomposed scope to a list of things that must happen to deliver to the scope and project objective.  This decomposition is used to help establish the workflow, areas of responsibility and to estimate the cost of the project.  The WBS is a list of identifiers or names for each item or portion of the project.  There is no context or constraints with just the identifying word. That is the gap which the WBS dictionary will close, as it describes the acceptable or expected outcome for that item identifying what success for that item would look like.  Using just the WBS name, nearly anything could be proposed as meeting the expectation.  This definition quantifies and qualifies the item facilitating a common understanding of completeness for the WBS item as a comparison.

Definition of Done

In agile, we do not have a WBS, but we will likely have user stories.  These user stories provide a description of the user and their exchange with the product defining the objective for the team and the sprint.  The definition of done provides enough detail to the user story, a documentation of the common understanding between the team and the customer what completeness looks like – what success looks like.


There are fewer differences than we may think between conventional project management and agile.   That is not to say these are identical, but that knowing each of the artifacts or approaches,  makes it possible to assess the situation and make rational decisions on the appropriate approach.  If we have to, we can make up other ways to achieve the objectives, crafting our tack based upon the logic of the situation and risks.

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