October 19, 2023

How to Decompose a Project into Tasks (Real Example)

Decomposition is one of the most used techniques in project management. You can use it on different levels of project scope. But the way you use it differs depending on what you decompose. 

Decomposition is a planning technique that helps you break down big parts of the project scope into smaller, manageable pieces. First, we decompose project outcomes into deliverables. Then, we decompose deliverables into tasks (activities).

You need to use a Work Breakdown Structure to decompose a project into deliverables. Project life cycle and best practices of the industry and niche will guide your decisions. 

Below, I want to give an example of what you need to do to get from stakeholder requirements to actual tasks that your team will have to perform. 

Scope Decomposition Example

Let’s assume that I’m managing a project to develop the pmbasics101.com website. It’s actually my site, but let’s assume someone else owns it and is giving me requirements.

The project owner’s name is Julie.

By the way, you can go browse the site and check everything I describe below. 

Collecting Business Requirements and Research

During one of the meetings, Julie provided me with the following (stakeholder) requirement:

“We should have popups to collect emails and send out a PDF document as an incentive.”

Maybe just like you, I don’t have a clue what that means. So, first of all, I would do a quick search on the internet to get a basic understanding of these popups, how they work, and what they do.

You can follow this process with me. Just google “popup on website” and review the first three search results.

I would ask my business analyst to do likewise. We are not taking much time yet, only about 30 to 60 minutes. We just need enough information to form a scope of work.

Moreover, we don’t have any solution requirements yet, and these don’t just miraculously appear – the business analyst needs to write them out based on existing practices, products, and solutions or invent a new solution.

We learned the following from our brief research:

  • Common terminology of this niche, like “email service provider”, forms to capture emails, incentives, automation that happen as the next step, etc.
  • There are different best practices on how and when to collect emails, for example, when a person visits a site or when they want to leave it. You can add a form to collect emails at the bottom of an article or in a sidebar. 
  • There are dozens of third parties that provide these services, which we can easily integrate into our site.

Transforming Stakeholder Requirements into Solutions

So, I come up with a rough action plan in my head that we can follow. Actually, I got it from one of the blog posts on this topic that I found during research: 

  1. Select an email service provider.
  2. Create an account.
  3. Design a form to collect emails.
  4. Implement the designed form.
  5. Integrate with a mailing service provider.
  6. Upload the PDF document.
  7. Activate the form.
  8. Test the form.

However, this list of tasks is not enough. It doesn’t show 100% of the scope of work. And, for sure, it’s not a WBS. It is just a way to understand the scale of the stakeholder requirement at hand. 

So, the business analyst will do some more research at this point. Then, he’ll set up a meeting with the project owner to discuss possible solutions. As a result of this discussion, he will draft out several solution requirements:

“When a visitor decides to leave the site, a popup should appear based on the ‘exit intent’ technology. The popup will follow the design in this requirement (designed to be discussed later). It should happen only on blog posts of the site.”

“On all blog posts, in the sidebar, there should be a button which you can click for the same popup.”

“When a visitor adds their email and name to the form and clicks the subscribe button, we’ll send them to a ‘thank you’ page containing further instructions.”

“After they successfully subscribe, the visitor should get an email with a link to the incentive PDF.”

This is just a draft version of functional requirements. They are not complete yet. The business analyst will describe them all in more detail. Likewise, there will be requirements for the mailing service provider. But, for the purpose of this example, we’ll skip the requirements definition and get to the scope identification. 

Creating a Work Breakdown Structure

Work Breakdown Structure help to decompose a project into deliverables

Based on the requirements and our research, I would come up with the following WBS. The email capture form will be one of the main deliverables, and it will have several work packages:

1.3 Email Capture Form

1.3.1 Email Service Provider (ESP)

1.3.2 Incentive PDF

1.3.3 Integration with ESP

1.3.4 Popup Form

1.3.5 Incentive Email

1.3.6 Thank You Page

1.3.7 UAT Report

As you can see, there’s nothing special here. First, I took the action items from the research and converted them into proper WBS elements. Then, I used the principles of high-quality WBS. So, I described the elements with nouns.

Moreover, I added a special work package – the user acceptance testing (UAT) report. This is a work package to ensure that everything works as a whole.

The project owner and business analyst will finalize approved requirements with all designs required to implement this functionality in the next few days. 

Additional Scope Identification Example

Here’s another example that may help you understand the decomposition process on the Work Breakdown Structure level.

How to Decompose Deliverables into Tasks

So, first, I would ask the team to review all of it. Then, we’ll have a requirements review and scope identification meeting. Usually, it goes something like this. 

Dmitriy: “Okay, we need to break all of these down into tasks. Let’s start from the top. We have two main requirements for the email service provider. First, it should have this ‘exit intent’ capability, and it should cost under $90 per month”. 

John (business analyst):  Very well, I’ll need to research competitors to see what people actually use. Then, I need to create a quick comparison report on features and prices for Julie (the project owner). It will take some time to discuss it, and she needs to make a choice here. After that, she needs to create an account, pay for it, and give us the access. So, most probably, I need to record quick step-by-step instructions for her.” 

So, this is the list of tasks for the “1.3.1 Email Service Provider (ESP)” work package that we wrote down:

  1. Competitor analysis.
  2. Comparison report.
  3. Approval on the selected ESP.
  4. Create an instruction video to set up account.
  5. Access to the activated ESP account.

Dmitriy: “Let’s move on to the incentive PDF. There are no requirements here. We need to come up with a solution that the site owner will approve. Any ideas?” 

Jane (content manager): “That’s exciting! We have carte blanche! So, I would start by consulting a marketing expert in this area. Then, I would need to provide a list of options for vetting and get approval on the price. After that, we need to list possible options. We can put lots of different information into a PDF. But we need to decide on the strategy. So, coming up with a list of content ideas and lots of research. After that, we’ll create a draft of the text, and we need a beautiful design.” 

Dmitriy: “Uh-oh! That usually means coming up with several drafts. So, we actually need to create two or three versions to choose from. And let’s make a note that we need a freelancer for graphic design.”

Jane: “Yes, that’s right. Creative staff – you know the drill. Let’s make finding a graphic artist part of the first task as well. So, I’ll approve them in bulk. And, yes, it will take some time to get it done. So, the last task would be to get an approval.” 

Boris (website developer): “Not so fast! There’s a bit more to do here. We need to upload and store this file somewhere. So, I need a link. Otherwise, how do people get it from that MacBook of yours?” 

Therefore, that’s the list of tasks for the “1.3.2 Incentive PDF” work package that we wrote down as follows:

  1. List of freelancers.
  2. Budget approval.
  3. List of content ideas.
  4. Approved content idea.
  5. Draft of the text.
  6. Three versions of incentive PDF.
  7. Approve version of incentive PDF.
  8. Link to the incentive PDF.

Dmitriy: “Let’s talk about integration.”

Boris: “The issue here is that I will only know for sure once we get the approval on the ESP. They have different ways of integration. But I don’t expect problems here. So, I’ll need to review the documentation, follow the instructions for integration, and test it. Do we want to get an email if there’s an integration problem?”

Dmitriy: “No, I think that’s overkill. They guarantee 99% uptime.” 

Boris: “Then it should be easy. But I’m not testing the designs here, only that the integration works.”

So, that’s the list of tasks for the “1.3.3 Integration with ESP” work package:

  1. Review documentation.
  2. Implement integration.
  3. Integration testing.

Dmitriy: “What do we have next? The popup form.”

John: “In most ESPs, you can create this popup right inside the tool. You have an interface and everything. My granny could do it!”

Jane: “Yes, but who knows what Julie will actually want. We may need to make a custom version. So, we need a designer here as well. Now, if we look at it, we have lots of things to outsource here. I feel like it would be better to make it a separate work package. So, I would separate the selection and procurement parts.”

Dmitriy: “Okay, let’s do it. I’ll put it as a separate work package. And I’ll move the related tasks from the incentive PDF work package to this new one. “

Jane: “Yes, that will work better.”

So, we updated the WBS and added the “Approved Freelance Resources” work package:

1.3 Email Capture Form.

1.3.1 Email Service Provider (ESP).

1.3.2 Approved Freelance Resources. 

1.3.3 Incentive PDF.

1.3.4 Integration with ESP.

1.3.5 Popup Form.

1.3.6 Incentive Email.

1.3.7 Thank You Page.

1.3.8 UAT Report.

Jane: “Let’s rename the tasks and put the following: resource list, approved budget, and resource management plan. I’ll need exact dates and estimates for all these people.” 

So, that’s the list of tasks for the new “1.3.2 Approved Freelance Resources” work package:

  1. List of required resources.
  2. Approved budget for freelancers.
  3. Freelancers resource management plan.

Final Decomposition of a Deliverable

At this stage, we have broken down the tasks as follows in our project management software:

1.3 Email Capture Form

1.3.1 Email Service Provider (ESP)

  • Competitor analysis.
  • Comparison report.
  • Sign-off on the selected ESP.
  • Create an instruction video to setup account.
  • Access to the activated ESP account.

1.3.2 Approved Freelance Resources 

  • List of required resources.
  • Approved budget for freelancers.
  • Freelancers resource management plan.

1.3.3 Incentive PDF

  • List of content ideas.
  • Approved content idea.
  • Draft of the text.
  • Three versions of incentive PDF.
  • Approve version of incentive PDF.
  • Link to the incentive PDF.

1.3.4 Integration with ESP

  • Review documentation.
  • Implement integration.
  • Integration testing.

1.3.5 Popup Form

1.3.6 Incentive Email

1.3.7 Thank You Page

1.3.8 UAT Report

We followed the same pattern of discussion for the rest of the work packages. But I think you get the point.

How to Perform Decomposition

As you can see, I didn’t say much during the meeting. I simply structured it around the WBS elements we identified. The team members did the bulk of the work during the discussion. They are the experts – they should identify the work. It’s my job as a project manager to ask follow-up questions, share ideas, and clarify any of their points. 

What should you do if you don’t have a team or the required expertise? 

First of all, it’s a risk. Second, you need to hire someone with the relevant expertise or at least get direction from them. In most cases, there will be such people inside your organization. You just need to find them. If you can’t find them, see if you can hire a consultant or a freelancer. I appreciate there are obvious risks and costs to this approach. 

If there’s no one to help you, and if you don’t have the budget for a consultant, start digging around on the internet, ask your friends and colleagues, etc. However, if you don’t have a technical background and hands-on technical experience, you should not break down the project work yourself.


Unfortunately, this article was just one piece of a complex project scope management framework: Many other processes happen before and after this one.

If one part doesn’t work, the whole system breaks.

My Scope Management Plan Template connects all processes and tools into one cohesive system. It also provides access to other articles and videos on scope management. 

Don’t put your projects and reputation at risk. Ensure you know how scope management works in the real world.

All successful project managers know it’s better to learn from someone else’s experience (aka lessons learned). Tap into my 12 years of practical IT experience and get the Scope Management Plan Template.

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