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Decomposition project management for large-scale projects 8 min read
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If you’ve ever heard Will Smith speaking about his attitude towards success, you might have heard the story he tells about his father forcing him and his younger brother to build a wall from scratch. Just kids at the time, they felt that their father was simply punishing them needlessly by giving them an enormous and seemingly impossible task to complete. He talks about how long it took, and how by building it, he slowly learned the value of adopting a “brick-by-brick” mentality. Smith says, “You don’t try to build a wall, you don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ And you do that every single day and soon you have a wall.” This mindset is comparable to a particular practice in project management — decomposition project management.

Oftentimes, the most worthwhile projects are the ones that can feel overwhelming at the start. When a project that feels intimidating like that arises, a good way to approach it is to break it down into smaller, more manageable parts. This way, it becomes easier to comprehend — by doing so, you can assign subparts to teams so they have something clear and realistic to work on. Let’s take a closer look at what decomposition project management is, why it’s beneficial, and how to execute it. We’ll also explore some of the benefits and drawbacks of using this method.

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What is decomposition project management?

Decomposition project management is a process of breaking a large, complex project into smaller, more manageable parts. This technique can be used to decompose a project into smaller tasks or to decompose a large product into smaller component parts. Larger tasks or objectives are often referred to as  “deliverables” and when smaller subparts are assigned, they’re referred to as “work packages.”

When decomposing a project, it’s important to identify the dependencies between the various elements of the project and to create a clear plan for how the work will be completed. Decomposition project management can help to make a complex project more manageable and can also help to improve communication and coordination between team members.

“Decomposition project management” is a part of our Project Management Glossary — check out the full list of terms and definitions!

Decomposition project management vs. traditional project management

Traditional project management generally adheres to a linear model in which tasks are completed sequentially from start to finish. This approach can work well for simple projects that don’t involve too many moving parts. However, it can quickly become unwieldy as a project grows more complex. In contrast, project decomposition takes a more flexible approach, breaking a project down into smaller pieces that can be worked on independently. This allows for greater flexibility and agility as well as a better understanding of the project as a whole. It also makes it easier to identify and fix errors as each component can be debugged independently. As projects become increasingly complex, project decomposition may offer a more effective way to manage them. Let’s walk step-by-step through the process of project decomposition.

How to execute project decomposition

  1. Establish the big picture: The first step in any new project is to have the main objective, a big picture. Make sure you’re clear about that before continuing with the next steps.
  2. Decide on major project objectives and deliverables: Within the project, figure out what the major objectives or project categories are. For example, you could break it down into product development, branding, and marketing.
  3. Break these down into smaller chunks: Break each deliverable into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, marketing could be broken down into SEO content strategy, social media, and email marketing.
  4. Assess whether further breakdown is necessary: Depending on the project size and complexity, you may wish to break it down further to make it more manageable to work on.
  5. Create work packages to assign to team members: Work packages are what will actually be assigned to people. The average work package takes about 40 hours or one week’s worth of work.
  6. Organize a work breakdown structure (WBS): Once your project is sufficiently broken down, you can create a work breakdown structure using’s WBS Template. You can code and label blocks of work packages to easily assign tasks to people. A WBS helps you to visualize your project as a bigger picture made up of smaller components.

There are some benefits and drawbacks to decomposition project management, and understanding those aspects can help you employ this technique more efficiently and effectively.

Benefits and drawbacks of decomposition project management

Here are a few key aspects of decomposition project management to consider before moving forward with this method:


  • Breaking down the project makes it easier to assign tasks
  • Mistakes can be traced back to a particular component
  • Large projects become less overwhelming
  • Better time management as sub-tasks can be worked on simultaneously by different teams
  • Helps you create a more accurate budget


  • Not suitable for all types of projects (such as small projects or projects with no distinct parts)
  • May lead to a loss of focus on the overall goal if individual teams lose sight of the big picture
  • Can create duplicative work and can increase the chances of errors

As projects become more detailed, the number of interdependencies between tasks increases. This can make it difficult to make changes or adapt to unexpected events. As a result, decomposition should be carefully weighed against other factors such as time pressure and the need for flexibility.

When to decompose a project

Deliverables can be set according to departments, especially useful for cross-departmental collaborations, and they can be broken up into smaller work packages too. By contrast, it really wouldn’t make sense to break down a small project that only consists of one homogenous activity. In situations like that, there’s no reason to employ advanced project planning. When breaking down a project into work packages, it helps to make each work package roughly 40 hours long. That sums up to about a week of work for most people, so it can be easily organized and scheduled with project team members.

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Effectively map out your project decomposition with

A work breakdown structure template provides a clear and concise way to decompose projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. offers a WBS Template that can be used to map out work for projects of any size. The template includes scoping, planning, execution, and closeout. For each work package, there are a series of tasks that need to be completed to achieve the work package goal.

The scoping work package includes tasks such as identifying the project objectives and constraints, developing the project scope statement, and creating the project charter. The planning work package includes developing the project schedule, creating the work breakdown structure, and developing the project budget. The execution work package includes tasks such as executing the project plan, monitoring and controlling the project, and delivering the project outputs. Finally, the closeout work package includes tasks such as conducting lessons learned through analysis and archiving project documents. By using’s WBS Template, you can better monitor and control your projects, ensuring that they are completed on time and within budget.

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Frequently asked questions

How do you decompose a project?

To decompose a project, you’ll need to break the project down into smaller, more manageable pieces and assign them to team members in work packages. You can use a WBS template to help you break down the big picture of a project into smaller components.

How is chunking different from decomposing in project management?

Chunking and decomposing a project both refer to the process of breaking a larger project down into smaller, more achievable components. Because in project decomposition you break a larger deliverable down into smaller chunks, this process can also be called “chunking.”

Building projects brick-by-brick

If every time we set out to complete large, complex projects we tried to tackle it as a whole, nobody would ever succeed. It’s important to know when to break projects down into smaller components. Not only does this make a clear road map for how to achieve the primary objective, but it also makes assigning work much easier. When breaking down your project, you can use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to help you clearly visualize the project breakdown. offers a feature-rich WBS Template to help your decomposition project management process.

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