Project Management Tools: The Catch-22

Gantt charts are project management tools that were actually designed for optimizing factory production lines. For its time, the Gantt chart was a pretty intuitive, visual map of a production line. It showed all the inputs into the final product, the time each input needed, and the order they were run. You could glance at a chart, and immediately grasp exactly what was going on at the factory floor. Inefficiencies, bottlenecks, redundancies – all there for you to see when looking at the chart. It was a powerful tool, it revolutionized production, and that should have been the happy ending to the story.

happy ever after
And they lived happily ever after. Except they didn’t….

Gantt charts were, at a later point, adopted into project management as a visual aid. Project management is easier with a visual aid, it is true. But the Gantt is a glorified bar chart scheduler. That’s really all it is. Inputs became tasks. Outputs became project delivery. The Gantt chart thus became a way to just schedule peoples’ tasks on a graph. (Who knows how many man hours were spent on this glorified calendar over the previous decades.)

The Gantt Chart: Project Management Tool, Or Waste Of Time?

Project managers know that the Gantt is a status symbol. It’s a way of appearing to be in control of a project. At best it’s a system for simply knowing who is doing what, when. It’s nothing more. It might be far less. It’s a bar chart, for crying out loud. Your Google Calendar can show the bars across calendar dates now. Why bother creating a dedicated bar chart to do the same thing? There’s nothing intuitive – half the people on the project couldn’t “read” a Gantt chart if you showed it to them. And as visuals go, it’s literally a spreadsheet. Nearly half of project managers don’t use project management software – possibly because they’re using a spreadsheet tool, or graphing one on paper by hand. Why pay money for a spreadsheet when you already have one? To many, Gantt charts are a waste of time.

Project Management Tools: The Catch-22

It’s rare that a profession explodes in size while it stagnates in its creativity. Project management today is a wildly growing field – but there is little to no innovation taking place within the industry. Agile took the idea of traditional project management and turned it on its head, keeping the name only while in reality creating a vastly different discipline. Project management tools with Kanban boards were hungrily gobbled up by people looking to have some kind of effective workflow sorting system. This revolutionized task management – and removed the idea of timeline from the project management equation. Anyone who’s tried to manage a complex project using only a Kanban board knows how that ends up.

This is the real issue. The Gantt workarounds don’t have timelines. Gantt charts are timelines that don’t work. Project management, in its purest form, is taking a goal from idea to reality, by managing who does what, when – with a deadline. The timeline is meant to be the same kind of intuitive map that the Gantt chart was, back in its day. Without a timeline, project management is basically an augur’s to do list. And yet, there are project management tools without a timeline.

Agile: The Workaround That Wasn’t

Use of agile methodology skyrocketed over recent years, by resolving the timeline issue on the ground by adopting a completely different discipline for managing projects. By employing sprints and using a continuous delivery approach, organizations and project managers are trying to sidestep the timeline issue by removing the hard scheduling of tasks from the picture. This works, to some extent – agile projects are 28% more successful than traditional projects.

But it’s no accident that project management tools specifically tailored for agile teams, like Jira for software programmers, still use a Gantt chart. 

You simply can’t include the “deadline” part of “taking a goal from idea to reality, by managing who does what, when – with a deadline” without some kind of time frame mechanism in your work. Progress cannot be tracked with amorphous time frames. Furthermore, you will always need to be able to schedule who does what, when. Even in the bottom up planning approach of agile, there is still a need for that “who what when” framework.

And So Here We Are

This is the crossroads where project management, as a profession, finds itself today. We all know we need a timeline. We all know we don’t have one, and the most efficient workflow systems are the ones that avoid the problematic timeline. It’s a catch-22. You’ll manage your workflow better without a timeline, but you can’t put together your schedule to build that workflow unless you have that timeline.

All the project management tools out there have some kind of trick for hiding the Gantt. They either force you to only work with a Kanban board, or hide the timeline deficiency behind sleek graphics. Some don’t even bother trying at all. They just hope you accept the fact you need a timeline enough to spend money on a tool that is going to cause you as much pain as it will be helpful. After all, you need a timeline. You’re a captive audience.

Gantt charts don’t work. And the Gantt chart is all there is.

This is a gap in the project management software market that’s been known for years.

Project managers need a tool that can be both a timeline and a planning tool. Gantt charts don’t work. This gap affects every company running a project. Companies lose money, work hours, resources, plus pay an opportunity cost. There needs to be a better way to do things.

This is what motivated two project managers to take the plunge and start a company. They decided to make the project management software that will actually fill the gap. Their company, as you may have guessed, is called Proggio.

The kernel of their idea is this:

Visual project management is crucial.

While a timeline of tasks may be useless, tasks on the timeline can be a revolution.

proggio projectmap the smart gantt alternative project management tools

The timeline doesn’t have to be a bar chart task schedule. It can be a project blueprint. By moving tasks to the timeline itself, the project can be built around the team, instead of the tasks. Look at the left hand side of the picture above. The project layout focuses on core areas of activity, instead of just listing the tasks to do. Such an approach mimics the whiteboard planning session that is a hallmark of the kickoff meeting – the original, accurate, team-centered project plan. You actually see the project as a whole, at a glance, in a way that anyone in the team can understand immediately. That clarity goes a long way – all the way to successful delivery.

Thanks to the intuitive and visual design, you can easily track the changes to the project over time. No need to contrast versions of a Gantt chart. Forget sifting through the change log in whichever project management tools you’re using. Click a button, create a reference point, and voila – you can see every change on the timeline.

plan vs actual

Forget the project management tools that cement the ultimate inefficiency at the center of your project. Use the solution that solves the catch-22 and unlocks your potential to be the project manager hero you can be.