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Microsoft Project 2010 : Work Breakdown Structure Numbering (part 1) - Creating Custom WBS Codes

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4/25/2014 4:44:52 AM

Project has a field called WBS that can be customized to fit the organization’s WBS numbering schema. The default WBS code is identical to the outline numbers that Project generates and stores in the Outline Number field. You can display both of these fields in a table by inserting the columns, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The Outline Number field and the default WBS code are identical.

To insert these fields onto your screen, follow these steps:

Right-click on the column header where you want to insert the column (field), and choose Insert Column. This opens the Column Definition dialog box. All columns to the right, including the column in which you right-clicked, shift to the right to make room for the new column insertion.

In the Column Definition dialog box, choose either Outline Number or WBS from the drop-down list in the Field Name field.

Click OK to close the Column Definition dialog box and insert the column.

Repeat these steps to insert the other column (the one you did not just insert), either Outline Number or WBS.

If your team chooses to use these fields, you must be aware that the Outline Number field and WBS field are identical in Microsoft Project’s default mode and the number associated with a work package will change if the package is moved within the project schedule. If the WBS numbering schema must remain the same throughout the life of the project, use a custom field that you must then maintain instead of the automatic WBS field provided by Project.


By default, the value in the Microsoft Project WBS field will automatically change if a work package is moved from one location to another within the schedule.

Creating Custom WBS Codes

To customize the WBS code format in the Microsoft Project WBS field, you can generate custom codes using a WBS code mask. The mask contains numbers or characters for each outline level, with separators between the levels. There is a total limit of 255 characters, which is sufficient to handle even the most complex WBS structure. For projects that are part of a larger program, you can also include a project-level code that will be a prefix for all tasks within the project, or you can leave it blank.

To create a custom WBS code, follow these steps:

Choose the Project tab, WBS, Define Code to display the WBS Code Definition dialog box, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Project will create custom WBS codes through your formatted mask.

Enter a code prefix for the project, if needed, in the Project Code Prefix box. Identify a separator, such as a colon or period, to make it easier for the reader to identify the levels.

Click the first blank row under the Sequence column in the Code Mask table and select the option from the drop-down menu for numbers or letters, as appropriate for your organization. You can display your options with the pull-down arrow, which are as follows:

  • Numbers (ordered)— Project will insert sequential numbers for this part of the code. You can edit these numbers later.

  • Uppercase Letters (ordered)— Project will insert sequential uppercase letters.

  • Lowercase Letters (ordered)— Project will insert sequential lowercase letters.

  • Characters (unordered)— Project will insert an asterisk (*). You can go back and change it to any character later.

Specify the length of the field or choose Any to allow flexibility in the number of characters. Use the pull-down arrow in the Length column to show the options for the number of characters you can use for this part of the formatting:

  • Select Any when you want to later edit this part of the code, using a variety of number of characters.

  • Select 1 through 10 when you want to set a fixed number of characters for this section of formatting.

Identify a separator from the choices in the drop-down menu or type another symbol directly on the keyboard.

Repeat steps 3, 4, and 5 for each additional level of the WBS. The Code Preview field at the top of the dialog box will show you what the custom WBS code will look like as you are creating the mask.

If you want Project to automatically generate the WBS codes for you, select the box Generate WBS Code for New Task. If this box is cleared, you will need to enter the codes manually but will be required to follow the format defined in this process.

If you want Project to check for duplicate codes, select the box Verify Uniqueness of New WBS Codes. The check only occurs when you edit the codes, and you need to modify the codes manually to make them unique. It is generally a good idea to have this box selected to avoid confusion with the WBS codes.

Click OK to save the mask. Project automatically replaces the default WBS code with the new codes you have designed. If your project is complex and has many levels, you may need to widen the column to see the entire code. Select the column header and double-click the right-hand column border.


If you have not defined enough levels in the mask for all of your WBS, Project will use the default numbering system for the lower levels.

You can force Project to renumber all of the codes in your WBS, but you will lose any special coding that you have done manually.

If you use the check box to verify the uniqueness for new codes, Microsoft Project only checks the code when it is created or edited. If your project file has custom WBS codes that were set up when this feature was disabled, and you then decide to enable unique codes, Project will not check the existing codes for uniqueness. If necessary, you can force Project to renumber all of the codes, which is to say generate new codes for the task, to correct your non-unique ones. This also causes you to lose any codes you have entered manually.

If you want to reduce the number of defined levels in the mask, you can delete only the bottom-most level of the Sequence table. Start with the bottom-most level and use the Delete key to clear your mask, then work your way up the list, deleting from the bottom up.


If necessary, you can edit every task’s code, forcing Project to check each task’s uniqueness. You can do this quickly and easily by choosing the WBS column, so all of the cells are selected, and pressing F2 to edit the first cell. Then press Enter to force Microsoft Project 2010 to make a uniqueness check. If your code is unique, Project will move onto the next cell in the selection. Press F2 and Enter again to process the next cell. It is easy to move down the column this way quite quickly, provided the codes are unique. If not, you will have to stop and change the code before you finish.

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