Gantt Charts in Online Project Management - Requirement or Relic?

Mark Mader's blog - May 27 2010 - 2:04pm

Why do Gantt charts get a bad rap?

Is it because many people have lost a battle (or fifty) against complex tools which - no matter how hard you try - seem to perform visual gymnastics understood only by black belt project managers?  Or is it because real projects never play out as they were so neatly presented during the budget approval meeting?

Whatever the reason, people hold strong opinions on the topic. Online project management software providers do as well.  Some believe the answer lies in trying to 'webify' Microsoft Project. I commend them for building sophisticated web apps but wonder if they've ever wrestled or had their teams try to tame an unwieldy .mpp file.

Others focus on producing pretty displays that show task bars and even relationships between tasks, but fall woefully short on making it easy for the project team to update the underlying task data. Trust me, trying to update 40 items two hours before a checkpoint meeting with a web app that forces you to:


            ....navigate to next task



                 , repeat 38 more times....

...will flat out drive you nuts, not to mention rob you of time you can't spare.

Other well marketed online project tools, such as Basecamp, are well known for saying, in no uncertain terms, that a Gantt feature in overkill, introduces unnecessary complexity, and simply isn't how projects get done.

Having worked with a team of 200 consultants across many clients at Onyx - I can appreciate Basecamp's sentiment.  Many project tools are too complex and do cause major challenges - but is it really the Gantt's fault or more how the software provider elected to deliver the feature?

Have you ever been in a meeting where budget holder says, 'thanks for your show me what I asked for, damn it!'  Consider this, if you're shooting to win that contract and the process calls for showing a Gantt chart for the project you really want to show up and inform the steering committee that their request is flawed because 'that's not the way projects get done anymore?' If you try that angle, let me know how that works out for you.

We believe online project management, Gantt, and simplicity can effectively co-exist.  Earlier this year Smartsheet delivered the first version of its Gantt feature.  Focus was on speed of creation and management and hierarchically arranged tasks and enabling them to be displayed in visually compelling task bar Gantt view.  

We are less than a month away from releasing a major update to Smartsheet Gantt which includes simplified dependency management, drag/drop Gantt elements and relationships, and summary reporting.  I am pleased to say that great progress is being made towards being the first to market with a solution that combines the value of Gantt with an easy to use online project management tool.

Finally an option that won't confuse users, lets you work fast, and makes you look good when you share your project status.



great article.... a whole new (but really old) world

Great article, I look at the cloud-based gantt system opening a whole new world with gantt charts. It's like going from typewriters to wordprocessing. Because we can input detail with specific tasks in a gantt, have the detail rolled up in a parent field for better visibility and finally have a detailed task automatically distributed in reports to the task do'ers...... I believe we now have the critical mass of functionality, ease-of-use, visibility for all, so project management principles can taking much stronger foothold in all business processes.
I will take it one step further and say Gantt chart style management goes beyond A classic"project" with the standard " beginning, middle and end" and is now applicable to ongoing operation business processes. Benjamin Franklin would love this stuff!

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