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October 03, 2022

Jira work breakdown structures: 4 ways to visualize projects

Gantt Jira Project Management WBS & Backlog Structuring
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

work breakdown structure (WBS) in Jira outlines the deliverables your project will produce. It places those deliverables on a respective hierarchy level based on their size—but not order. Therefore, as such, Jira WBS is great for sheer scope planning. But to showcase project progress, timeline, and task dependencies, you will need to complement it with another tool.

In particular, BigPicture for Jira will help you use your Jira WBS tree to work with Agile, Hybrid, and Classic projects. Let’s delve straight into the topic.

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Gantt chart is one of the best-known project management tools for visualizing a project plan. It is created from the work breakdown structure and includes two sections: left and right. The left section includes a hierarchical top-down list of tasks that reflects a project work breakdown structure. The right section features a timeline with schedule bars representing the tasks from the left side.

A list of tasks (left) and a Gantt chart (right) in the BigPicture app for Jira.


As such, classic Jira WBS shows what you are to complete, whereas a Gantt chart shows when you should complete it. The backbone of the Gantt chart is a timeline showing how your project activities are progressing. You can zoom it in and out to gain the granularity level you need at any given moment.

See alsoGantt chart in Agile – how to make it work?

Agile and Hybrid Jira WBS with a Kanban board

WBS is often associated with classic project management methodologies such as Waterfall, where goals are unlikely to change. However, you can also use a work breakdown structure in Jira for Agile and Hybrid projects. In BigPicture, you can find an “Agile WBS” sitting alongside the Agile Board, where it represents a Sprint backlog.

A Kanban Board visualizing a “WBS” (Agile backlog structure; right section).

Jira WBS in Agile

In Agile, 4 primary elements provide the granularity of Product Backlog items: themes, epics, stories, and tasks. Themes and epics are the largest, and Agile teams cannot complete them in one iteration. But they can use an Agile work breakdown structure in Jira to make them manageable. How? By breaking themes and epics down into a collection of stories (or tasks) and sub-tasks.

A graph illustrating the granularity of product backlog items. Going from the top to the bottom, there are is a theme, then epics followed by user stories and tasks. Theme takes months, epic takes weeks, user stories take days, and tasks take hours.

But that is not all. In fact, you can build a more complex Jira WBS in Agile. The two other grouping elements you can add to your structure are initiatives and features. An initiative is a collection of epics that share the same objective. On the other hand, a feature is a functionality that satisfies a stakeholder’s needs. Therefore, this specific element of an Agile Jira WBS offers some business value.

Jira WBS in Scrum

In Scrum, specifically, a WBS can support the Sprint planning process by helping to define and assign tasks at the beginning of each Sprint. Consequently, the Jira work breakdown structure helps Agile team members understand (and follow) what they are working on. And since an Agile WBS (backlog) can be refined after each Sprint, it does not violate the Scrum value of continuous improvement.

Jira WBS in Scaled Agile

We can identify similar structures in SAFe®. Those are epics, capabilities, features, and stories that form the SAFe® Requirements Model.

A simplified SAFe® Requirements Model.


You generally describe a new functionality (or an update to existing functionality) from the top level and then break it down into smaller items. And although not every SAFe® team will need to use capabilities and epics, they all should use stories and features.

Using Jira WBS to visualize project scope

The Scope module is BigPicture’s core module for project management. In essence, it is a list of tasks for a given initiative. Therefore, it is perfect for comfortable viewing and managing your Jira work breakdown structure. With a quick filter option, you can additionally aggregate a scope view according to specific parameters.

Project scope in BigPicture (compact view).


At first glance, the scope view looks similar to a Gantt WBS you previously saw. Indeed it does. However, the Scope module will be more useful if you manage Agile projects. In such a case, Scope allows you to forget about Classic WBS and comfortably work on your backlog.

RelatedBigPicture Tutorial – How to manage scope? (video)

WBS widget in Jira issue detail view

There is one more place where you can find Jira WBS—or a fraction of it, to be more precise—namely in the Jira issue detail view.

BigPicture’s WBS widget displays a work breakdown structure directly inside the Jira issue. How does this widget work? First, it narrows down the WBS tree to the parents of a given issue. In other words, whenever you open the detail page of any issue, you will see a parent-child relationship for that particular issue.

Please take a look at the screenshot below.

Issue OA-78 details featuring a WBS widget (bottom section).


You can immediately see that the fragment of the Jira WBS is limited to only issue OA-78 and its parent issue (OA-11). And you found this information without even leaving Jira (you will need to go back to BigPicture only if you want to see the entire WBS).

Second, the widget view is very flexible. It means you can edit what columns you want to see and how you want to aggregate them. So let’s say you are an assignee, and you want the WBS widget to show the number of working days you will spend working on an issue. In such a case, you would add a Duration column to the WBS widget. This way, you will not need to launch a calendar and do mental math to figure out the task duration.

Here, we added a “Duration” column to the WBS widget. It calculates business working days based on the issue’s Start and End dates.


Hint: You can customize columns and aggregations in every task-based view in BigPicture, not only in the WBS widget. So, whenever you work with classic (Gantt), agile (Board and Scope), and portfolio level (Overview) WBS in BigPicture, you can customize their views to see only the data that is important to you.