Gantt charts make great wallpaper
But should we be evolving them to be more useful in 21st century?
While Henry Gantt gave us the wonderful Gantt charts back in the 1910s, the idea for a visual plan actually dates back to 1896 and Karol Adamiecki, a Polish engineer. Adamiecki came up with the harmonogram as a way of making life easier for everyone involved in project planning. He published it in Polish and Russian, so the idea didn’t catch on in the English speaking world until Gantt came along.
We still use this type of visual chart in project controls today but have we really evolved it much in the last 120 years? Does it still work for us, as projects become more complex and dynamic?
A 20th century tool for the 21st century?
Adamiecki’s and Gantt’s original purpose was to communicate production to supervisors in steelworks, so that they’d know if they were on schedule or behind. We still rely on Gantt charts today but shouldn’t we question our dependency on these charts? Given recent advances in technology, Gantt charts could be considered somewhat archaic. They have their limitations which can put projects at a disadvantage rather than helping them forward. Is it not time to unlock these disadvantages and look to technological alternatives?
Let’s face it, Gantt charts are somewhat static. While today’s electronic charting software allows us to produce sophisticated and complex charts, the outputs from the printer remain static pieces of paper. We list the activities, assign durations, add the milestones, group by categories, link with logic, schedule, and then finally print the chart out and stick it on a wall for nobody to look at.
Because a project will be continuously progressing, a Gantt chart is out-of-date pretty much as soon as you print and share it.
Instead, the way that we communicate project activities and milestones needs to engage directly with the people managing and delivering them.
Everyday communication tool
For Gantt charts to become a useful, everyday communication tool, they need to be clear, simple and relevant for the people needing to use them to control the project.
Does this mean providing tailored reporting to each member of the team? While we could do that, it would become an administrative nightmare.
Similarly, the simple bar display of a Gantt chart doesn’t always reflect the complexity, effort, resources or costs required of a project. It’s a very one-dimensional way of scoping a project out.
So what’s the answer? Are Gantt Charts a relic from the past, representing the status quo we’ve grown to expect? Or do they present opportunities for the future?
I’d be interested to understand your point of view.