Gantt Charts – The Awful Truth

Gantt charts are undoubtedly appreciated by many. For some project managers, the Gantt is the holy grail of their project plan. To such project managers, using Gantt charts to find the critical chain is the crux of the project challenge.

Really?!

For every Gantt chart fan, there are ten professionals who are willing to climb Mount Everest just to avoid working with it. Some, like me, simply hate working with it and prefer clearer, less complex charts.

The idea that Gantt charts are advantageous for project planning was conceived in the ’80s, when methods from production line management were copied into the world of project management. Some of the explanations out there may sound pretty good on paper, especially the benefits of a timeline, but…

The higher the expectation, the greater the disappointment– and the more you have riding on it, the more Gantt charts quickly become a burden for the project manager and the organization.

Why do so many project management professionals hate Gantt charts? Here are some reasons:

Gantt Charts Are Empty!

You had probably already noticed this, but if you haven’t, take a look at the figure below. Gantt charts describe a hierarchical structure of tasks. The attempt to present these tasks in a chart creates some unused empty spaces. In today’s world, when most people look at information on their phone screen, who can afford to have so much empty space?? The chart requires several pages to display and is unreadable, even on a big screen.

old gantt chart

Gantt Charts Are Just Too Big For Display!

True, you can sit at your computer at home while you create, assign, and link task chains. But what about the project initiation meeting? It’s usually conducted on a whiteboard or another screening device. After the meeting, one of the participants has the “joyous” task of turning the discussion into a Gantt chart. Sounds familiar?

The final Gantt barely describes what the whiteboard expressed.

Moreover, the produced chart cannot be displayed and needs yet ANOTHER change of format! You can’t embed a Gantt chart into a presentation, so how do you share it? Post it? Can you “Send it to my WhatsApp?” Gantt charts can’t be linked to even the most basic sharing and collaboration tools on the market today.
So why make the all the effort, if the chart doesn’t really complement actual project management?

whiteboard planning

Can’t See The Wood For The Trees

Think of a one year project. Now imagine a chart with 600 lines and over 600 linked dependencies – and sometimes, projects of this scope have more than 1000! That’s because of the Gantt chart’s design. Do all of these links and dependencies require our attention as project managers? Of course not! Then again, the links are there to describe the expected project flow, so by definition, they’re critical to its success.

But think: which links will we talk about in the first project meeting?

It’s trendy to think that links on the critical chain require special attention. While it may be true, it’s also an assumption that the important links are part of the critical chain. Are they really?

The critical chain includes the longest path to project completion, but is it also the most important path? On the contrary! The project’s problems hide behind our underestimation of the complexity and duration of tasks! These places are farthest from the critical chain.

Gantt charts thrive on dependencies that create an entangled forest of links that are supposed to maintain the calculations for the critical chain, which as it turns out, is not that critical at all. We are therefore forced to look for the coin under a streetlight, while it’s somewhere else altogether.

How Do Porcupines Mate? Carefully…

Projects today are a complex structure of many partners, clients and suppliers. Even if lady luck lets you construct a Gantt chart you are content with, how will you link your beautiful project plan to another plan formulated by another party? Here, even porcupine precaution won’t help… It’s simply impossible.

The shared and already complex plan becomes inoperable. Trying to link two Gantt charts built differently is a real challenge. And for what? When there are several partners in a project, even if a mutual Gantt is created, it is illegible and will become obsolete even before it’s presented.

Now imagine your supplier works with a sub-supplier or two…

a porcupine

Fixated Thinking

Gantt charts encourage concentrating on the shortest path to project completion, while assuming that all the other factors are static. This turns the project into an enigma with a lot of constant data and one critical chain which needs finding.

Naturally, as intelligent human beings, you would try to solve the puzzle. The more complex it is, the greater the intellectual challenge becomes! It’s highly unlikely that in this “state” you’ll be able to see that the basic assumptions of the “puzzle” are simply wrong.

The famous puzzle about the traveling salesman is aimed precisely at this failure. In this classic tale, you are given a number of points the sales agent must visit. You are given several options for passing through these locations, and information about passage time between the points (the “distance”). You are asked to find the shortest route. To intensify the effect of the puzzle, you are told that there is one path which is shorter than the others, a fact that encourages you to verify that you have found it – and not a longer path.

The basic assumptions in this exercise are:

  • The agent must pass through all the points
  • Travel time cannot be shortened
  • Locations cannot be moved
  • No point can be skipped

Once you delve into the exercise, you will probably not suggest to fly the agent by helicopter, nor will you question why he even has to stop at all the points. You will probably not ask if you can enroll two agents, or give the task to a sub-supplier who has ten agents. While we’re exploring the options…what does the agent do at every stop anyway? Can’t any of it be done online? Why don’t they come to us?

This fixated thinking forms naturally upon first project analysis. You likely don’t feel it happening, but every time you use Gantt charts, your thinking becomes boxed and fixated.

Executive Summary

Gantt charts are ineffective, outdated, and fix your thought processes. They’re full of empty space, cannot be linked to other Gantt charts, and mask the risk levels of dependencies by treating them all the same.