True Confessions of a PM: Rant Against the Gantt

True confessions of a PM: I don't get Gantt charts. I've blogged before about how I'm not a visual person, so I'm sure that has something to do with it. Maybe my readers can educate me about how the Gantt chart adds value, but I frankly don't see it. I can't tell you how many hours of my life I've spent resizing MS Project schedules to print in a desperate, but ultimately futile, attempt to confine a multi-year schedule to an 8 x 11 friendly format.

When your Gantt chart won’t fit to one page, the project feels like it’s failed before it’s even started.
— Disappointed PMs everywhere

Until now, I've kept my opinions on Gantt charts quietly to myself. But I can now step into the light, because, on a recent engagement, a senior executive's request for a Gantt chart inspired a collective groan from the project team. Not surprisingly, the typical grumblings about why this information was being requested ensued. The project team just wanted to be left alone to do their work. But then, one of the team members piped up, "Who even needs a Gantt chart anyway?" Bingo.

I don't dispute the need to keep senior executives informed of project progress. Maybe the project team wants to be left alone to do the work, but there's no such thing as working alone when you're on a change engagement. You'll quickly be alone--with no work to do--if the project sponsors aren't aware of the project's benefits. They'll pull the plug.

While I don't dispute the need for updates, what I do dispute is the tired Gantt chart view that we churn out without thinking. When a project sponsor asks for a Gantt chart, consider what he or she really wants to see. A 45-page printout of long bars extending into oblivion? Unless your project is simple enough that this type of view can be confined to one page, I'd ditch it. Here are some good alternatives to Gantt charts that'll dish the project dirt without requiring formatting gymnastics:

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Milestone Chart

A list of upcoming activities with dates is probably sufficient to let the executive know about upcoming project activities without flooding them with the details of how those activities will get done and by whom.

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Stoplight Chart

If your executive needs something a bit more visual, why not try a stoplight chart? Red is off track, yellow is at risk, green is on track. The Gantt chart's intent is to show planned project activities but also to let the executive know which items may be off schedule and why. Combining a milestone chart with a stoplight chart and/or risk register can answer the mail on this request.

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Gantt Chart Made Simple

Sometimes, ranting against the Gantt just won't do. The sponsor wants a Gantt chart because he or she is used to seeing information in this format. In these instances, I urge you not to wrestle with the format print function on MS Project. Opt instead for this simple, free MS Excel Gantt chart template and populate it with the info relevant to your project. I personally find Excel a bit clunky for maintaining project schedules, so I'd probably only update it as often as you brief the sponsor.