There are some topics that get all the attention in the trade media. That’s usually because the subject is exciting or novel. Mostly those topics are product-related and form a constellation of gushing puff-pieces when exciting new products are launched.
That’s not to say that every article about a new product is exciting. I once had an assignment for another publication to write a roundup of new vacuum cleaner technologies. Trying to make that topic exciting was unreasonably difficult.
Other subjects are less thrilling than new product launches, but arguably more important. If you’ve been around for a while, you may find yourself blasé about new products and more interested in learning more about things that will improve your company’s processes.
Gantt charts are a tool that is incredibly useful to understand, but isn’t necessarily breathtakingly exciting, so I’ll do my best.
If you don’t know, the Gantt chart is named after Henry Gantt, who developed and popularized the concept in the early 20th century. They’re used to visually represent a project schedule, from start to finish, and to illustrate the points at which certain elements have to be completed in order for work on other elements to commence.
Project managers use them primarily to schedule the deployment of personnel and resources. They’re also used for scheduling between multiple projects, in order to balance the time and resource requirements between them. In the old days this would have been done on large sheets of paper on the office wall; now there are software applications, some of which are integrated with your other office systems.
The Gantt chart is organized in vertical columns and horizontal rows, with the vertical being the list of tasks, and the horizontal being the timeline. Each task is represented by a solid bar, the length of which indicates it’s duration from the start time to its completion. That gives the project manager (and everyone else) a visual representation of:
- The start date and completion date of the project
- Each task
- The task’s start and finish times
- The task’s duration
- What overlap there is between tasks
- Which tasks depend upon the completion of other task before they can commence
Creating a Gantt chart for your project requires collecting information and answering key questions.
First, what are the major requirements? That’s everything from when the project needs to commence, when it needs to be completed and what resources are required. Put like that, it doesn’t sound like much but in reality that’s going to be a long list.
You also need to identify dependencies. That means if one task needs to be completed before another can begin, they need to be organized sequentially.
Personnel need to be identified and the roles they need to fulfil need to be spelled out.
Answering those questions and illustrating them on the Gantt chart allows for efficient management of the project’s resources. Now you have a clear visual illustration of each task and phase in the project. You and your team can see what tasks are scheduled, when they’re scheduled, and which team members are assigned to them.
There’s more, of course. And we’ll pick up in the next installment.