Monday, February 12, 2024

Risk Breakdown Structure and Work Breakdown Structure – A Combined Way!

The Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS) is mostly used in Risk Management, whereas the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is in Scope Management. But then they can be combined to provide you better value from both the breakdown structures. 

In an earlier article, I noted the following:

"RBS can be used in combination with WBS to identify potential sources of risk. For example, the XYZ work package of WBS can be technical, environmental and political risk categories."

In my interactions with management practitioners, when I inform them, surprised looks come-up with certain questions: 

  • How can RBS be used with a WBS?
  • What are the advantages in having a combined structure and analysis?

In this article, we will explore just that!

Let’s start with a sample WBS.

A Sample Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

I’ll reuse another WBS from one of my previous articles. This is depicted below. I’ve modified the WBS from the linked article a bit. 

As shown above, it’s only up-to Level 2 (L2). The reason is that I’m not going to identify the risks at the lowest level, but at a higher level. This way, I can refine more as I build the final-cut of RBS. This will be based on the areas identified in the WBS. 

Also, you’d have noticed that I’ve added another level (L0), which is the overall “Book Project”. Interpreting the above figure, you can say:

  • At Level – 0, we have the Book Project. I’ve added L0 so that the WBS is synchronized in its structure with the RBS.
  • At Level – 1, we have, Book – Risk Management
  • At Level – 2, we have Manuscript, Write Book, Edit Book, Publish Book.

Next, let’s take a look at the sample RBS.

A Sample Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS)

For the sample RBS, I’ll use it from my previous article (with modifications for the book) as well and I’ll keep the structure at a higher-level (L2).  

As shown above:

  • The Book Project is at the highest level, which is Level - 0 of the RBS.
  • Under it, at Level – 1 of the RBS, there is Book – Risk Management
  • Next, at Level – 2 of the RBS, we have multiple risks such as Writer’s Risk (e.g., writer’s block), Hosting Risk (e.g., online hosting problems), Editing Risk (e.g., wrong interpretation of meaning), Publishing Risk (e.g., publisher being unavailable). 

Finally, we are going to combine the RBS with the WBS, which will help us in identification of risks.

Combined RBS and WBS

While combining, I’ll keep the WBS in the X-axis (horizontal) and the RBS in the Y-axis (vertical).  

Let’s understand and interpret the above figure:

  • The risks are identified by considering the L2 of RBS and L2 of WBS.
  • In the lowest row of the table shown with tick marksthe “Writer’s Risk” category of the RBS is associated with “Write Book” and “Edit Book” of the WBS. It means one can have a cluster of writer’s risks while going for the deliverables of Write Book and Edit Book. 
  • Taking another example, in the topmost row of the table with tick marks, the “Publishing Risk” category is associated with “Manuscript” and “Publish Book” deliverables.  

Hence, considering the second bullet point above, one can say that a number of writer's risks (from the RBS) can be found while writing the book and editing the book (from the WBS).  Similarly, one can say a number of publishing risks can be found during the development of manuscript and of course, while publishing the book. 


When you combine the RBS and analyze the risk categories with the WBS, you can find the areas when the project is most likely to exhibit the most risk. 

As demonstrated in the final figure, one can quickly find the areas of the project, where you can find various categories of risk. In turn, it helps to build a more refined Risk Register.

[1] Practical RMP with Primavera Risk Analysis, by Satya Narayan Dash.

[3] RMP 30/40 Contact Hours Online, Satya Narayan Dash.

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