Say hello to one Mr. Henry Laurence Gantt, saviour of the assembly line factory and often the bane of project managers. Yes, this is the man who made the Gantt chart.
Look at him – Gantt was a dashing man, for his day. But he’d probably need a new look today, right? Trim that moustache, get a pair of fashion glasses, maybe open his collar…after all, what was in fashion one hundred years ago is no longer in fashion today.
Henry was an analytical sort of fellow. He pioneered a way of visually mapping out production lines to increase factory efficiency. By showing the workflow of the factory line, with each machine’s efficiency, a factory could locate production bottlenecks easily and fine-tune their production lines for maximum efficiency. Gantt’s charts were used for the construction of the Hoover Dam and Interstate Highway system, and in factories around the world. Gantt died in 1919, after a long career. He effected a meaningful change in planning lines of production.
The Gantt Chart: A Hundred Years Old
Then, in the 1980s, the Gantt chart arrived in project management. At first, they were great. Productivity increased, the visual component helped people understand what was going on, and the glorified bar charts kept progress, well, progressing. There was something odd about using a production line planning tool for managing people (people aren’t really machines!), but it worked well enough.
But then the world changed, as it tends to do. Global companies had teams located on different continents. Computers kept getting more powerful (your smartphone has far more computing power than the computers used to land men on the moon). Software went from simple programs to complex applications. New approaches were developed for project planning. What used to be a simple and linear was now holistic and complex.
And yet, despite all the progress and change in the business world, the Gantt chart remains the standard tool for project planning. We still plan our projects and chart our progress by listing tasks in bar charts.
Is there any other industry still using a one hundred year old productivity tool?
The Gantt Chart Is Simple. Too Simple.
Creating a Gantt chart can be done easily, with a prefabricated Gantt chart template. You can find thousands of Gantt chart templates online, for free. There is a reason those Gantt chart templates are given away for free – that is what it is worth! Like a door prize at a store or concert, the real value in a Gantt chart template is in getting you to enter a website, where you can be pitched a better and more effective project management solution.
The Gantt chart is a simple tool, meant for simple processes. At its best, a Gantt chart is a task schedule presented as a bar chart. Have you ever seen a complex project plan presented in a Gantt chart? It’s nearly impossible to understand. For starters, there is a scale problem – the longer the time frame of the project, the longer the Gantt chart will be…and the more difficult it becomes to see the project as a whole. The best you can do is locate an individual task as a marker, and try to scroll around from there.
The Modern Work Environment
The modern work environment is far more complex than the automated assembly lines of a hundred years ago. It is more complex than building a big dam or highway. Project goals are multilayered. Projects stretch out over years, with multiple moving parts and sectors. The Gantt chart simply doesn’t work for such complex projects.
Agile project management incorporates cross-functional teams, and increasingly utilizes a flow-to-work strategy that takes team capacity and applies it to the task that needs it most. Gantt charts are useless for plotting this kind of workflow. Truth be told, Gantt charts are nearly useless for plotting ANY kind of workflow. That’s why task management tools stay away from the Gantt, and use a Kanban board instead. It is no accident that workflow tools use different timelines. Project planning requires a timeline, but managing the project seems to work better without it.
From Idea to Reality
Imagine a new movie. The movie pitch gets approved: now the studio now has to assign writers, camera crews, lighting designers, set builders, actors, stunt performers, marketers, special effects designers, directors, producers, directors, and who knows who else.
Actors need to be screen tested and signed. Film locations need to be scouted, booked, and planned. Editing crews sitting in ten different offices have to splice together the movie, along with a director who is on location. Marketing teams have to built in each country the movie will be released. There are media bookings to promote the movie. Flights need to be coordinated. There are even riders for each actor, down to the food in their trailers.
Do you think you can plan a movie on a Gantt chart? The individual task list would run into tens of thousands of entries. There is simply too much going on at once to ever build an accurate Gantt chart, let alone use it to manage the project.
Why The Gantt Chart Needs a Makeover
Think about the layout of a Gantt chart. Your left-hand side delineates tasks. You can assign different tasks to different people, but the chart is tooled around the things to be done, not the people doing them. It zooms in on the wrong variable – by focusing on each task, it misses the actual organizing principle. People are the drivers of a project!
The Gantt chart view lists every task on the left side individually. Perhaps, with connected groupings of tasks, it lists them under a heading. The project plan quickly devolves into a bar chart report for task management. The visual component no longer serves as an at-a-glance tool for an explanation, nor is it an efficiency tool. It’s just another chore for a project manager to do – and we all know what needing to update a Gantt chart is like.
The Next Generation Gantt Chart
Now think what happens when you make a small change to the Gantt chart: instead of listing tasks, you start with thinking about the core areas of the project and the groups of people who will be doing those tasks. Who’s at the kick-off meeting? What teams or project areas do they represent? Thinking along those lines and mapping out the answers creates a project plan like this:
Look at what a major difference one little change makes!
The left-hand side no longer lists tasks. Instead, tasks now occupy a more intuitive space: on the bar chart itself, and the project plan centers around groups of people, and/or core areas of the project.
Instead of a glorified bar chart schedule, your plan gains a visual component missing in the Gantt chart. It’s not a list of tasks, it’s what we call a “project map.”
Now, at one glance, you see – and understand – the project as a whole! Imagine what this kind of clarity can do for your team. Imagine what this kind of clarity can do for you.
The Most Important Change: How You Think About Project Management
Focusing on project structure changes the way you think about project management. The Gantt chart frames your focus on tasks. With Gantt charts, you build your project as a kind of task roadmap. Task one leads to task two, task three is dependent on task one, task four ends in a milestone…and on and on and on. Planning by task is granular and is one of those obvious “miss the forest for the trees” types of logic. Drilling down to the task level of a project takes a project manager’s attention away from the project as a whole and focuses them on minute details that don’t matter. Tasks are important. They’re just not the best way to visually map a project. Task management belongs within the overall project planning interface.
With a project map, you’re focused on people, and on the project’s structure. Instead of focusing on task links, you’re looking at the way the different areas of the project are interacting with each other. Imagine – the production team finishes the widget and hands it off to logistics for shipping. How is that handoff going to be handled? Or think of the ultimate question, whether it comes from management or the client: “So how are we doing?” You know how you answer that question. You don’t update them on individual tasks! Instead of looking at task progress, you focus on the real issues. Which team is struggling the most with their tasks? Is someone ahead of schedule? How does each area of the project relate to project milestones? Is there something crucial being overlooked? Are we on schedule? On budget? This is project management.
The Next Generation Is Already Here!
The next generation in project management already arrived. It’s called Proggio.
Proggio was started by project managers just like you, fed up with the silliness of using a project planning system that hasn’t been updated for over a hundred years in the modern day workplace. Project managers know better than anyone else that people are the drivers of successful projects. Project manager know better than anyone else that the visual presentation of a project brings clarity to a project team – and that lacking a visual project plan sows confusion and eventual delays.
Our team built a project management tool around this simple idea: building a visual project map, around people, will position a project for success. Include the right task management tools, and you change the way projects are planned and managed for the better.
Finally, Gantt got a makeover. A little moustache trimming, a new pair of glasses, tasks on the timeline, visually optimized, planned around the team, and presto. He’s as good as new.
Don’t stick with a Model T when you can get a Porsche. Ditch the outdated Gantt chart. Try Proggio today.