Project Management Tools: Beyond Gantt Charts

27 Comments

In my career as a contract technical writer, a project management pain point I’ve seen time and time again is in the communications of project schedules and status. The venerable Gantt chart is a project management staple, but stakeholders without formal project management training may find them difficult to understand.

When I’ve run up against clients and project stakeholders who didn’t understand (or want to understand) a Gantt chart, I take a consultative approach and work with them to see how they want to receive project scheduling and related status information. I believe that as a remote worker, any project scheduling and status data I communicate back to my employer or client has to stand on its own, without the need for further explanation by me.

In this post I am going to round up some alternatives to Gantt charts that I’ve used to communicate project scheduling and related information.

Mind Maps for Project Management
I originally started using mind maps to brainstorm article ideas, but now also use them as a project management tool. When a former client voiced disdain for Gantt charts, I suggested using mind maps to communicate project scheduling and status data. The selling point I used was showing how mind maps can graphically represent project status information on one page. The client saw the mind map as easier to to read than a Gantt chart that they would have to scroll through to decipher the project scheduling information they were after.

MindJet shows how a mind mapping tool can be used for project management, and its online template gallery includes some mind map templates for project management including project planning, project scope and risk assessment.


Web-based Project Management Tools

The real innovation in project management tools is taking place on the web, not the desktop. While this new generation of project management tools doesn’t always rely on the Gantt chart, they have the advantage of making project schedule and status available in ways that your team members and stakeholders can easily understand without needing a project management certification. For example, Zoho Projects (reviewed for WWD by Doriano) includes a number of management views that don’t require an intimacy with the nuances and mysteries of the Gantt chart. Recently, Zoho launched a Task Details and Overdue Milestones View that make it easy for any project team member to see what project milestones are overdue.

Alternative Views in Project Management Applications

If mind maps and web-based project management tools are out of reach to your project team for whatever reason then it is important to know the alternative view options available in your project management tools. Microsoft Project (s msft) and OmniGroup OmniPlan both have alternative views, including calendar- and task-based views. These views are available within a few clicks and can be effective if Gantt charts aren’t working for you.

What alternatives to Gantt charts are you using to capture and communicate project scheduling and status? Share your tips below.

Artwork by stock.xchng user: jnatiuk.

27 Comments

Amy

Have you tried ProjectManager? Manage all your Projects within one easy to use tool which your whole team can access and update anywhere, anytime.

issue tracker

Nice article- I think you hit on a key point here, that half the battle with project management is getting those who are outside of the project management world to find and understand methods they are comfortable with.

Proworkflow

Traditional Gantt bars are static buckets of time that correspond to single point estimates.I like to recommend to PMs of small projects the ConceptDraw suite. I often find myself speaking to small business PMs who cannoty afford top end or even MS level PM software.

Tim

PM packages such as those available from MS are expensive and often outside of the budget for a smaller business. This is why I use the PM feature in iMindMap Ultimate, its easy to use and it links dynamically to the Mind Map and visa versa and it is cost effective imports and exports to other packages such as MS PM. Concept Draw is a concept mapping programme and as a ‘pure mind mapper’ does not function to the level I require where as iMindMap does. If you have not tried it then I suggest that you might like to so down load a free 7 day trial from: http://destech.wordpress.com/buzan-imindmap-software/ I will be up front at this point and state clearly that I am a master trainer in this package and licensed trainer for the Buzan Organisation.

Yuriy

I use ConceptDraw Office as tool to manage my projects. Could your iMindMap automatically create visual reports by project? Or manage multiproject in the same document? I suggest “No” ;)
I don’t know who is PROWORKFLOW, but I wish him good luck :)

Joe

The article touches on something that I’ve had some difficutly with – getting other team members to have a “big picture” view of the project. I do like the mind maps approach, although it does lose the temporal paramteres, which for projects are perhaps one of the most challenging issues to a) actually deal with, and b) get people to recognise the interdependency, particularly the consequences of running late (or early sometimes). I also don’t like gannt charts, they are just very intuitive for most people. I do like some of the agile related methodology and charts (e.g., http://www.agilekiwi.com/agile_charts.htm), it’s a nice way to get a big picture view with realtively little complexity.

John

When we first started developing Intervals we swore we’d never implement a Gantt chart, mainly for the reasons you give above. It’s surprising though how many people think you can’t do project management without them. We’ve started implementing a quasi-gantt-ish chart we are calling the Periscope report. The idea is to give focus on giving users an above sea level view of their projects and tasks. There is no critical path and resource and task dependencies. It’s just a timeline of project, milestone and task durations. It’s proven to be quite helpful.

Horák Jan

goplanapp.com but now as i found how Outlook 2010 is good and start to use it i lack at least two way TODO sync. Outlook – GoPlanApp.com

Also Gantt charts could be included.

Kristina Podnar

We use Merlin (on Mac) which forces most project managers to get outside of the Gantt chart mode. Using the Net Plan view allows one to more logically think about the project from multiple perspectives. Great article – thanks for stirring the thinking!

Orgchartpro123

OrgChart software is the Powerful Organizational Chart Software helps you to build Succession Planning Chart, Organizational Structure, Enable Resource Planning and Employee Communications.

Jill

SmartDraw offers a multiple alternatives to using a Gantt chart for project management. With over 70 pre-made professional quality templates and SmartDraw’s easy automation feature, project management becomes a snap. Learn more about the power of SMartDraw here: http://www.smartdraw.com/product/features

Rob Nachbar

LiquidPlanner has a slightly different approach to Gantt bars (i.e., “Visual Gantt bars:). What makes their Gantt bars unique is that they help teams visualize the uncertainty that’s present in each task in a schedule. Traditional Gantt bars are static buckets of time that correspond to single point estimates (i.e., 5 days). Because LiquidPlanner enables teans to estimate their tasks in ranges (say 3 – 7 days), their Gantt bars are designed to reflect the full spectrum of each estimate (i.e., you can over the bar itself to see the expected completion date, worst and best case finish date, etc.). You can see a complete breakdown of how LiquidPlanner visually represents schedules here: http://www.liquidplanner.com/scheduling/

Lisa Sieverts

I’m addicted to two tools for project management: MindJet MindManager for thinking and planning, and Liquid Planner for organization and scheduling. No connection to either except as satisfied user. Well, I’d be more satisfied if the Mac version of MindManager received any attention from the company, but the truth is that the stripped-down Mac version does everything I need.

Mike Clayton

Hi – Nice blog – I like to recommend to PMs of small projects the ConceptDraw suite. I often find myself speaking to small business PMs who cannoty afford top end or even MS level PM software. They are also often wary (as am I) of over complicating their planning.
You may like to look at ConceptDraw MindMap, because you can import it into ConceptDraw Project as a WBS.

However, my favourite non-Gantt tool is the simple Linear responsibility Chart – I can use it to allocate and balance resources, calculate workpackage and workstream budgets, and communicate a whole project in an easy form.

PS: No ties to ConceptDraw – except as an infrequent user

Yuriy

More than import! ConceptDraw MINDMAP and PROJECT use the same document to work with project. I usually come back from Cantt Chart to MindMap to rework and improve projects.

TimF

Hi Interesting article: I agree most people I came across in education having limited or no understanding of project management and planning. Most certainly don’t understand Gantt charts. I use the PM feature in iMindMap Ultimate, its easy to use and it links dynamically to the Mind Map and visa versa. http://destech.wordpress.com/buzan-imindmap-software/

Heather

I use (http://www.mindmeister.com/) MindMeister for “big picture” planning (laundry, world domination, etc.) and Google Calendar and Tasks to break each thing down into steps (sort, gain super powers, etc.)

The tricky part is following that well-planned route.

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