Project Smart ~ Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Calendar icon
Adobe PDF icon

Are you a Project Management Gantt Chart Slave?

~ By Phil Marks

Gantt chart and fountain pen

Gantt charts are a fundamental tool in a project manager's toolkit. However, an unseasoned project manager can find they take over the project and result in reduced control. How so? In this article I will look at the potential pitfalls and provide some tips and strategies for ensuring successful project management. Gantt charts are, after all, just one of many ways to present the project plan, and actual data that has been input.

Firstly, let me be clear that we are not going to talk about repetitive implementation rollout projects where a template project plan has been refined over a series of projects and becomes a standard checklist for project management (for example, commercial off-the-shelf software). This article is about those one-off (or initial template try-out) projects. These projects may be within organisations large or small.

Large organisations, which have mature and well run IT departments may well have formal project offices with established project planning standards, dedicated project office staff and probably automated plan-quality checking systems. For example, seeking orphan tasks, missing dependencies and measuring other metrics to provide an overall 'plan quality' assessment. Smaller organisations, such as solutions houses, may lack this level of sophistication, but will almost certainly need detailed project plans.

So what is good about Gantt charts?

Gantt charts are an excellent format for presenting dependency and progress data, but as with most things in life, the returns will be dependent on the investment. The more care that goes into the project plan data setup, the better the feedback will be. However, there is a danger the level of detail that can be built into the typical project plan can itself need a disproportionate amount of project management maintenance. We will not go into great detail here, but dependency and critical path management are of major importance. So, 'sweating the detail' in the plan is critical at the outset.

The actual project management overhead can get out of kilter with the budget. What suffers then? An overloaded project management team, under-maintained plan and actual data or even both together. The result is Gantt chart slavery.

How do we avoid this problem (apart from unlimited budgets)?

The approach I recommend is based on an initial comprehensive Risk Assessment of the project. The areas to be considered will include:

  • Organisational readiness and politics
  • Organisational technology literacy
  • Organisational staff skills level
  • Technology proposal
  • Business risk (for example, market issues, competitive pressure and degree of process change required)
  • Timescale, rate of business change
  • Resource including $ availability
  • Sponsorship weight

This will result in classifying the proposed project as low, moderate or high complexity. Note that a moderate complexity project may have a high complexity phase.

These levels of complexity will need differing amounts of project management effort set in the resource budget. As a rule of thumb, these would be:

  • Low Complexity: project management effort 7-11% of overall resource budget
  • Moderate Complexity: project management effort 12-17% of overall resource budget
  • High Complexity: project management effort 18-22% or more, of overall resource budget

These figures may seem excessively high to some people, but more than 30% of projects are deemed failures, and failure is always the result of inadequate project management (which includes risk assessment and management). So, the 'buck stops' at the quality or quantity of project management.

What has all this got to do with Gantt charts? Simply:

  • The plan structure should reflect the prioritised risk analysis with simple milestones and gateways
  • The degree of detail built into project plan should be proportional to the project complexity
  • The management reporting requirement should be proportional to the project complexity, thus only requiring proportionate maintenance

The maintenance requirement is focused on what really matters. The Gantt charts reflect this, with the degree of detail proportional to the phase risk.

This means that a project manager comes to the office every day thinking, 'How do I move the project forward today towards that milestone?' and not, 'Another 4 hours collecting data and 2 hours inputting it before I can get any real work done.'

The project manager's role is mainly one of pro-action and not one of administration.


Phil Marks has more than 20 years of successfully delivering and rescuing projects in banking, commerce, government, manufacturing and distribution. Find out more at projectPDQ

© Phil Marks 2010


Comments

Be the first to comment on this article.

Add a comment



(never displayed)



 
2000
Enter the last letter of the word satellite.
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Extreme Project Management

The running back dives for the first down with the defender on his back

Three war room strategies to try when you need to bring life back to a dead project, or save an engagement that is on the brink of disaster.

How to Deliver Project Status

Close-up of a businessman's hand with a gilded pen writing a document

This article recommendations how to deliver project status to management and the project team that you will hopefully find to be very effective.

Stealth Team Building

Four jigsaw puzzle pieces on the topic of team building

The effective project manager takes advantage of every opportunity the team gets together to develop team synergy.

12 Tips for Accurate Project Estimating

Money and a calculator

Using a set of proactive estimating techniques to scope, plan and constrain your project conditions can dramatically improve your estimating practices.

PROJECT SMART is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels improve their performance. We provide an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly exclusive updates, we keep you in touch with the latest project management thinking.

WE ARE CONNECTED ~ Follow us on social media to get regular updates and opinion on what's happening in the world of project management.


Latest Comments

Tery A TENNANT commented on…
A Brief History of SMART Goals
- Tue 14 August 4:21pm

Guru Kalle commented on…
10 Golden Rules of Project Risk Management
- Mon 13 August 11:09am

Andrew commented on…
A Brief History of Project Management | Project Smart
- Tue 31 July 4:08pm

Latest tweets

10 Golden Rules for New Project Managers https://t.co/SDOKJ52rWy The job of project manager is a challenging one. H… https://t.co/1yL58KL9qb about 15 hours ago

General Project Management • Project Manager: A Professional Who Wear Many Hats https://t.co/gBKCbSCRVM about 1 day ago

Project Manager: A Professional Who Wear Many Hats https://t.co/FzgksIqNiX #pmot #projectsmart about 1 day ago