4 Reasons Why Gantt Charts Are Ill-suited for Modern Project Management

Teamweek is an alternative to Gantt charts that have been around for a little more than 100 years. After Henry Gantt outlined the concept in 1910, its first major implementation was during World War One, when the American general Crozier used Gantt charts to manage complex weapon production and logistics operations.

We have come a long way since then. Although the major innovation of mr. Gantt, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) remains relevant today, Gantt charts itself have several major drawbacks that make the concept in general more or less obsolete in modern project management.

During the last two decades we have seen the rise of the so-called knowledge-worker, or as Seth Godin puts it – “the artist”. These are people who operate in loosely coupled and geographically diverse teams, whose projects are often defined abstractly, and whose work results are more valued by quality rather than quantity. Seldom do these artists work only on a single project for 3 months or more. They have several ongoing projects, which they constantly need to juggle.

 

Gantt charts do not work well in this environment. That’s because:

  • Projects are flexible, not fixed. Most of the projects nowadays are not fixed-length, clearly determined and with one clear path to success
  • Long-term detailed planning doesn’t work. Quite often, projects have so many variables that precise planning for over 2-3 weeks is not rational
  • Changes happen everyday. Agile project management assumes that change is inevitable. Making changes to project plans should be fast, simple and transparent
  • Smooth communication within a team. Communication and staying up to date is the key for a team. Any changes made to project plans should immediately be reflected to each team member without any extra effort

What we see quite often is that Gantt charts are basically a write-once document, which gets done at the beginning of the project. Once the action starts rolling, the initial plan (quite surprisingly) starts changing fast. Since constantly updating the chart is time consuming and (due to dependencies) also quite complex, then more often than not people just stop updating the plan and just keep doing the stuff. After a while there is a lot of action and a little of plan. Indeed, not a good way to run a project.

teamweek-online-planner

 

Yes, the time is indeed ripe for a new concept which focuses on:

  • Embracing change. It should be very easy to change plans.
  • Enabling team communication. It should be even easier to share changes in project plans with your team and customers.
  • Being uncluttered and highly visual. A picture tells a thousand words. The picture should be much more efficient in terms of information per unit area of display.

Complex dependencies and hierarchical plans are not part of this concept. Instead of this we have only the most basic information to visualise the plan, make the decisions and reflect on the actions.

Are we ready for the new concept? Do we have a ganttidote?

Alari Aho is the co-founder and CEO of a team calendar and scheduling tool Teamweek. It is an online project planning tool with a team calendar. Being an antidote to clumsy Gantt charts, it allows managers to respond to change faster.

teamweek-gantt

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  1. Mr Nicholson

    A very narrow view taken on project management. A project is a clearly defined one-off piece of work, not the business as usual description posted above.

    Project scheduling takes a lot of forms at different stages for different audiences. Sometimes a gantt is good, sometimes a list of milestones or something else – it depends.

  2. David Bare

    To put it lightly, there are a few holes in this article:
    Projects are flexible, not fixed. – ah, wrong. While I’ve worked on a lot of projects where this is correct, however, most have had hard, written in stone, coming-down-from-Mt. Sinai, release dates that are as unrealistic as they are unmovable. I want to know where this guy works where dates are considered “flexible.” As far as no “one path to success,” well, I call that the critical path, and I plan all of my resources activities around it.

    No more long term plans. – Granted, in an agile world, it seems that all projects are shorter duration than the times between my haircuts, however, this would be incorrect. I RARELY get any assignments less than three weeks, and I’ve planned year long projects to within two weeks of the projected end date… maybe I’m the exception, but maybe not.

    Changes happen everyday. – No kidding. Really… how hard is it to update MS Project? I can make complex updates to my project plan faster than I can usually drag the new dates out of my resources. Once again, maybe it’s me, I’ve been using MS project since it came out and we made the transition from excel to project… but then again, maybe not.

    Smooth communication within a team. – If you are depending on your Gantt Chart to ensure smooth communication on the teams, you aren’t really a project manager. Sorry, that’s just plain and simple.

    You have to remember that any document that you create for a project is a living document, from the requirements all the way down to the lessons learned notes, until you are finished closing out the project, and then they are “complete.” But not until then…

    All in all, the author is right, in the very narrow scope of the few projects that fit his criteria… however, I don’t think that it’s a good representation of projects overall.

  3. ToddZ

    Geez guys. Teamweek is another product from Toggl. Of course this post is biased. It’s a promotional piece aimed at people who may be frustrated with Gantt charts in their environment. If MS Project rocks for you, then you should certainly carry on with it.

  4. David Bare

    Hey, I have a hard enough time getting developers and OPS resources to give me dates and update what little documentation that I can get out of them.

    I want to make sure that when one of them forwards a post to me saying that Gantt charts aren’t needed and they should have flexible dates, and since “change is inevitable, why do I need to bother with change tickets,” that they see that I have already weighed in on the topic.

    And if you don’t think that they would say/do something like that, you are sadly mistaken.

  5. Simon

    I agree that creating multi year plans is counter productive. However, there is still a need for planning and milestones. That is why I favour rolling plans focusing on 90 – 180 day horizons.

    Simon
    http://www.practicalpmo.com

  6. Whatevers

    There’s a reason it has been used for over 100 years. I love seeing the new “alternatives” to tried and true methods people have been relying and depending on for a long time. Look at the amount of information and complexity in a typical Gantt chart, then look at their “solution.” It obviously contains barely a fraction of the information the Gantt would. Even if you added the same amount of information you need to scroll through screen after screen after screen to get to the specific information you need and never view an overall project picture. If you need an alternative to Gantt to manage your social life I guess this is your fix.

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