When it comes to the product creation process, teams are often limited with many things like time, budget, resources and so on. The situation gets worse when you have a few projects and a few teams at a time, and some teams often share the same people, and the schedule is tight and so on. In this case it becomes critically important to have a project plan.
While this conclusion may seem obvious, the stats draw a different picture. For instance, the Standish Group had found out that less than 30% of all projects in 2013 were successfully completed with the planned budget and on time. And according to PMI stats collected throughout 2014, low-performing organizations complete only 36% of their projects successfully. Now compare it to 89% of projects done by high performers.
One of the most effective and widely used tools to plan and manage projects are Gantt charts (the PMBOK also names it "bar charts"). A Gantt chart is basically a visual representation of a project schedule that was first contrived more than a century ago and back then turned out to be a revolutionary approach in project management.
Not only Gantt charts simply visualize your workflow, but also help to:
- Break the project into small and easy-to-do tasks
- Schedule the work of each team member helping them to stay organized and effective throughout the project lifecycle
- Find new and creative ideas to optimize the process via brainstorming if required
- Set accurate deadlines
- See the project dependencies for the team members who then can better communicate
- Monitor the project progress and quickly adapt to the sudden changes
Before creating a Gantt chart you need to have all the necessary info collected. That is all the processes within the required projects, and the deadlines, milestones, and dependencies for each task to be done. Then it’s time to map this info.
For that matter you can either use specific software like Matchware or Microsoft Project, draw such chart via Microsoft Excel/Apple’s Numbers or even use the classic paper and pencils. Here we’re going to focus on the theoretical approach of the Gantt chart.
Horizontal axis are usually used for representing time. Depending on the speed of your project and the tasks to be done you can brake time in days, weeks or even quarters. The vertical axes are used to represent the tasks and\or milestones. At this point it should look something like this:
Now it's time to fill the middle of the chart by bars representing the tasks and its time spans. The Gantt charts allow different relationships between tasks, the most important are:
- Finish to Start, when a task can start only when previous task is finished.
- Start to Start, when a task can start only if another task starts.
- Finish to Finish, when a task can end only after a preceding tasks ends.
Other relationships are too rare to mention here.
Here is another simple representation of a Gantt chart:
However, most companies find it useful to add more functionality to such representation. Here are a few advice if you’re already using Gantt charts:
- Use colors to represent tasks for different teams or team members, or to visualize the different statuses of the tasks
- Turn task bars into task progress bars
- Have a TODAY line to quickly see the project’s current state.
- Find the critical tasks and show its dependencies with additional arrows
- Add milestone markers if your project has major events requiring the large part of work to be done before doing anything else
- Check out the functionality of your software — you might find useful features for your goals, for instance, dynamic layers can help you quickly switch between the planned and actual progress on your project.
Of course, eventually you’ll find your own unique to take the best advantage of Gantt charts, but the main point is that such charts can then be shown to the team members and the client for better understanding of the project timeline. And if something goes wrong, the Gantt chart will help you to adapt to the changes and revise all the plan quickly and thoroughly.