Is the Gantt Chart Dead or Just Another Victim of Tool Disease?

I am a proponent of using lean and agile project management concepts, whenever the context calls for them, be it on part of a project or the whole of it. I don’t care if the project is a construction project, a software development project or the implementation of a PMO. The original agile philosophy, that I espouse, is the following: “To every project its own methodology”.

I consider what’s in the PMBOK as including major concepts about project management, universal processes for me, particularly the IPECC processes (what has been opened must be closed, being the gist of it). As for methodology, I have an agile mindset: “Context dictates”. That’s the paradigm I live in.

However, even agile management promoters eventually forget about what agility means and end up becoming tyrants, blinded by almost religious fanaticism, just like some traditional project management gurus. Some of those agile gurus even push for the adoption of a Universal Agile Methodology, for which you must be certified, (APMP certification?), to be considered genuine, the antithesis of what agility is all about. Concepts, methodologies and tools become a single, huge, monolithic dictate that must be closely followed to assure your salvation. Sounds familiar? Has agile/lean project management caught Tool Disease? Has it fallen to this plague that makes people stop thinking about their project context (or just stop thinking, plain and simple)? Must we use lean and agile as a big recipe to manage all projects, with compulsory tools that you cannot stray away from without being doomed? Sounds familiar again?

It happens to me quite often nowadays. When I teach project management “universal processes”, then talk about lean and agile, and then talk about specific tools, and then mention Gantt charts and CPM in passing, I’ll be strongly challenged by an angry agile adept. Basically, what I am told is that lean and agile PMs do not use Gantt charts and even forbid such “dangerous” tools. This is what was told to them by so-called saviours coming to this world with a new recipe and its brand new set of tools. This belief in the eminent demise of the Gantt chart is also reinforced by surveys like the one done by Scott Ambler (http://www.ambysoft.com/surveys/agileMarch2007.html), in which close to 70% of the 781 respondents consider detailed Gantt charts as having no value, or close to no value, in helping them manage their projects.

So here we go again with new fads for the unthinking mind. Forget about context, forget about Gantt charts, just forget about common sense. To those who believe that Gantt charts are a dead case, I suggest they read The Demise of the Gantt Chart in Agile Software Projects by Tate Stuntz on the context of agile software projects and on why Gantt charts are not a good idea in this context. To those who have to manage crazy projects like the “commissioning, start-up and production ramp-up of a two billion dollar aluminium production plant”, I ask: “Is it so different from the one I had to work on once…a feat we were only able to achieve with the help of a 10, 000 tasks CPM network and the associated, very useful, Gantt chart?”

So I say: “Think twice before not doing your homework in the name of lean or agile principles; you will find chaos and a big loss in your agility to see things coming and take proper action.” Never forget that “Context dictates”. Stay away from recipes, do not catch Tool Disease (or look fast for a cure) and do not forfeit your responsibility to be a thinking project manager using common sense and a functioning brain.

And you, what do you say ?

It

David Barrett’s Monthly Blog

Sounds simple. Almost sounds too basic. But in my travels I can tell you that this is the biggest issue that project managers have. Scheduling is easy. Balancing resource loads is tougher. Managing scope creep is tough and getting tougher.

But in the end, it’s the people that make the job the hardest. If you do not know how to manage people, work with people, deal with stakeholders, talk to senior management – then I think you are in the wrong business.

So often we are working with people who do not report to us. We have to make them believe in us, work with us and be lead by us.

Often we are working with people in another office – very seldom working face to face. That’s even harder.

And what about these new ‘virtual teams’? The toughest of all – especially through different cultures.

Then we have Baby Boomers trying to manage Gen Xers, and Gen Ys working with Gen Xers and no one can understand why people are acting like they do?

I heard a great story from a vendor of one of those personality assessment organizations, contracted to help a US company that had just acquired a company in Ireland. The first year was terrible. Fighting, bickering, nothing got done and the integration of the two companies went nowhere.

The personality assessment folks took all managers off site and handed them the assessment. Afterwards, they put a coloured hat on each person indicating their personality type: the type As in red, the artists in green, and so on. The first exercise simply had them stand in a room in groups of coloured hats and look around. All they heard was “ahhhhh – so this is our problem!”. Once they figured out that everyone at the management level wasn’t a type A, red hat control type, they started to get the job done.

We all need to step back and figure out who our teammates are. What colour hat they might wear. We need to find out where the strength and weaknesses are; where we are at risk as a team.

As leaders, we need to discover each team member’s gifts and leverage them. Like the guy in the corner who can tell the best jokes to lighten things up when it all gets too stressful. Simple. But a great contribution to a team.

As leaders we need to take leadership seriously. We should all be taking leadership courses of some sort every year – and there are plenty of them out there.

As leaders, we need to be more open, more adaptable and, in many cases, we need to lighten up. Most people want to be lead. They want a strong leader who will make them all look like stars in the end – once the project is delivered. No one wants to fail. And failure never lands on just the project manager’s head. It affects us all.

Start tomorrow. Look at your team or teams. Write down something positive about each member – highlighting a strength. Find a way to use that strength and highlight that person’s contribution over the next two weeks.

Make a hero out of someone!


David Barrett is publisher of Project Times, Conference Director, ProjectWorld and BusinessAnalystWorld, and Program Director of The Masters Certificate in Project Management, Schulich Executive Education Centre.

Where Do Projects Go Wrong?

Andrew Miller’s Monthly Blog

I am going to let you in on a little secret. There is one area on which few projects spend the appropriate amount of time and all projects should: communication.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself that this is a ridiculous comment because on projects we are communicating all of the time in meetings, through email, on the phone. Have you ever been on a project where you got towards the end of the project and one of the stakeholders delays further work because they were unsure of the direction of the project? What about dealing with a multi-facility implementation where employees at different facilities have a different expectation of what is being delivered? How about implementing a fancy new software system only to find out that the way the system works will not support the daily operations of the business that purchased it? I am sure that most if not all of you have experienced something like this.

It is very easy, and in fact necessary, to say on every project that communication is going to be the key to a successful completion of the project deliverables. But do we really give it the attention it deserves? Do we spend the time to develop a communication strategy and determine what mechanisms can be used? Do we spend the time to do a detailed stakeholder analysis to determine who the stakeholders are, what influence they have, what message they want to hear and how often? Do we then turn that information into a detailed communication plan outlining what we are going to say to whom, how often and in what format? And once we have gotten that far, do we assign responsibility to another/others to ensure that the communication plan gets executed, and then follow-up to ensure that expectations are being met? I think you can guess what my answer will be. Most projects do assign communication a high priority, but once deadlines are being pushed back and workload is increasing, communication is the first thing that falls off the radar screen.

It is one thing to communicate; it is another thing to communicate effectively. The best PMs are not the ones who communicate the most, but they are the ones who communicate the best, and get everyone else to buy in to and communicate their message.

 


Andrew Miller is President of ACM Consulting Inc. (www.acmconsulting.ca), a company that provides supply chain and project management solutions. Andrew is PMP certified and has led a variety of clients through complex systems implementations and organizational changes. He is an Instructor of the Procurement and Contracting course, part of the Masters Certificate in Project Management program through the Schulich School of Business Executive Education Centre (SEEC) in Toronto. Andrew has an International MBA from the Schulich School of Business with majors in Logistics and Marketing. He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Decision Making: Trusting Your Data

Decision-making is an inherent part of managing projects. How those decisions are made, and the information that they are based upon, can make the difference between a successfully run project and a potential disaster.

Projects are comprised of hundreds, and potentially thousands of issues. Where do you focus your attention for the greatest gain?

Your information is only as good as the effort you put into keeping it current. What you need is project data.

What you learn from your data can be the difference between managing by the skin of your teeth and managing your projects as a professional PM; making decisions based on facts.

It is the difference between following every goose-chase, looking for the ones that might put your project at risk, and identifying the real risks quickly and early.

In order for ‘information’ to become project ‘data’ it must be documented.

Project data is any documented information related to your project, e.g., project plans, business cases, PMO documents, emails, logs, presentation decks, minutes, agendas, status updates, etc.

Project data is not hallway conversations, meeting discussions, gossip, innuendo, hearsay, body language, or tone of voice. Verbal information remains just that until the commitment to document it is made. It is more difficult to deny something that was written than to deny something that was said.

The value of the information is directly related to the level of commitment behind it. When project information is documented it is published for public scrutiny and does not rely on the accuracy of individual memories.

Using the Pareto rule, 80% of the problems are the result of 20% of the issues. To find that 20% you need to gather, organize, validate and analyze your project data. Mine the 20% that will give you the biggest bang for your buck and delegate the rest.

This could be interpreted as ‘passing the buck’, but at the end of the day your job is to manage the project, not to personally solve every single issue that arises. The 20% usually has a component whose consequences would directly affect the scope, schedule, cost or quality of the end product and, by this definition, falls under the jurisdiction of the PM to address. The remaining will generally fall within the realm of responsibility of the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), requiring a greater depth of knowledge/experience than a PM would typically possess.

After all, every project has a team. Each team member is responsible and accountable for their deliverables and it’s the PM’s job to leverage their skills, talents and strengths by assigning them the issues to manage that they are best suited to resolve.

For example, a working project plan with an unusually high number of tasks that are locked with “Start No Earlier Than” or “Start No Later Than” constraints will hide impacts to the critical path, particularly if these tasks have predecessors and successors.

Locked-down tasks are common and often done this way due to a lack of experience with project management applications like Microsoft Project. However it may also be done to intentionally give the false impression to unsuspecting stakeholders that certain key tasks, or milestones, are on track. In reality, delays to other related tasks, even if updated in the project plan, will never show you the TRUE state of the project.

This is a big yellow flag and should bring the status of the project into question. This is an example of using your data to drive decision-making. If your focus is too far down in the weeds (solutioning) this can be missed until it is too late to recover without going RED. The net impact is that this may bring a greater level of scrutiny to your project.

If you can’t clearly articulate (and back up with data) your project’s critical path and total slack in terms of number of days or weeks before your critical path is negatively impacted, your project plan data needs to be cleaned up.

Well, this ‘data’ is all over the place. How do I pull it all together in a way that makes it meaningful? At the end of the day, all data leads back to the project plan. This is your hub and baseline. The data is always reviewed and validated within the context of ‘how does this impact my scope, costs, schedule, quality of deliverable, or quality of my team’s performance?’

How often should you validate your data? If you’re working on a large project with a minimum lifecycle of six months to a year, anything more frequent than weekly is likely to be a waste of time. The numbers of mission critical issues that can crop up in that time are likely to be few. Less than monthly is too long for a potential risk to fester before it gets noticed.

Why should you spend your time validating and reviewing data? The real question is, ‘where is your time best spent?’ Meetings are excellent for validating existing information or to uncover new information followed by documentation. Consensus is vital to ensuring that the issues are clearly understood and your data is validated.

The real win is not whether you spend the time validating your data. Rather it is how efficient you become at it. For example, how you file away your information will directly impact the time it takes for you to find, analyze, and act on it.

You may have a project administrator who can do this in addition to the meeting bookings and minutes that they may be tasked to do. Depending on the size of your project (and the expected Net Present Value of the business case) this resource may be fully cost justified. A well-trained, dedicated project admin is worth their weight in gold!

For those who do not have that luxury, there are tools out there to analyze your data, (Gantt Charts, PERT Charts, WBS Charts, etc.) a simple to use but well designed filing system (paper and electronic) can reduce the time spent doing this from hours to minutes. Any tool that you can use to capture, process and analyze your data is one worth spending money on.

Once you’ve spent the time validating your data, you need to take advantage of it. You need to mine your data, find the ‘nuggets’ that will separate you from the pack, and make your decisions with conviction.

Keep your data current. Trust your data.


Sean Best, PMP is a project manager with the Operations & Technology PMO of TD Bank Financial Group. His 14+ years of project experience includes work in the banking, payment processing, telecommunications and software industries. He can be reached at [email protected]

Tamara Best, BSc, PMP has been a project manager with the Apotex Group of Companies Inc for seven years. Her project experience includes managing the start up of a clinical research facility in Bangalore, India. She can be reached at [email protected].

10 Ways Project Management Skills Can Help Your Career

In today’s digital world, what employers are looking for may surprise you. They assume you’re going to be technologically literate and that you have the skills that are specific to your industry. Once you have the basics, they want to know that you can perform, achieve results and play well with others.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2007 survey, employers rated communication skills, and honesty and integrity equally at the top of their list of what they look for in potential employees. Following closely behind communication, and honesty and integrity were: interpersonal skills, motivation/initiative, strong work ethic and teamwork skills.

What struck me as I read those skills was that all of them are inherent in project management, and it emphasized what I’ve believed for years: project management is a career accelerator.

Here’s how you can use project management to put your career in high gear:

  1. SHOW RESULTS. Project management is the art and science of getting things done. When you improve your project management skills, you know how to get things done quickly, and even more important, you learn how to document the results. In our careers, we are often as good as our last hit. You can’t be a one-hit wonder. Instead, you want to keep charting, year after year, with success after success. 
  2. BE EFFICIENT. When you apply project management principles to your work or your home life, you stop reinventing the wheel. Project management teaches you how to make the most efficient use of resources to generate the best results in the least amount of time. At the end of every project, you capture best practices and lessons learned, creating an invaluable documentation of hits and misses. Sound too good to be true? Good project managers do this on every project, and you can, too.
  3. CREATE AN ONGOING DIALOGUE. One mistake I see a lot in project management and on teams is the assumption that there’s one meeting and everyone goes away, and then the communication ends, and somehow everything is still going to magically get done. Your communication skills are not about your vocabulary. They are about how you manage your communication. Are you communicating frequently enough and with clarity? Are you communicating what is relevant? Are you communicating your successes?
  4. PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS. People hear the word teamwork, and they groan or they say that they are, of course, a team player. That’s why I like to bring it back to the kindergarten place in our mind: Back to the sandbox. Do you play well with others? Do other people want to be on your project team? Are you respected? Do you listen actively to what others have to say? Good project managers know when to lead and when to get out of the way. When someone is interviewing you, you know what that person is thinking: Can I work with him? Will my team work well with her?
  5. LET YOUR CONFIDENCE SHINE. When someone shows confidence, everyone in the room feels it, too. One thing I consistently hear from our students is that the biggest payoff from their project management training or PMP certification is the confidence that they gained. They went back to their job with a solid project management foundation that made them feel more competent and able to project more confidence to their team and their boss.
  6. KEEP YOUR COMMITMENTS. Missed deadlines and projects that slip through the cracks are career killers. Project management skills focus on timelines and results that build your reputation and give team members a reason to trust you. “I know that I can always count on her (or him) to get the job done.” That quote can – and should – be about you.
  7. GET A GRIP. Good project managers don’t have to freak out. They can remain calm and in control because they have a Project Agreement which has all the critical information about the project in it. They know when all the deadlines are, who is responsible for what and when, and they’ve also documented changes. Everyone wants to have someone on the team who can stay calm when a project gets rocky, and bring stability to chaos.
  8. ADAPT TO CHANGE. Don’t ignore change. Companies change. Deadlines change. People come and go. Good project managers know they often have to adapt their plans and document what has changed and how that impacts the entire project.
  9. KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What skills do you need to move from the status quo to the next level? Once you have a solid foundation of project management skills, keep building on that foundation. Don’t stagnate. Continuous learning and a thirst for knowledge are always attractive to employers and team members.
  10. LEAD WITH PURPOSE AND PASSION. People will follow those who know what they are doing and who can generate results. Project management is a powerful leadership tool because it not only shows us how to keep our eye on the prize and the purpose, but it’s also about the passion to achieve and succeed. Nothing feels better than accomplishment.

Getting and staying certified is one way to get your career on the fast track and watch it soar. But take time to have some fun along the way. Try our crossword puzzle and see how many of the 10 ways you can remember. Then get started by downloading our complimentary PMP toolkit at www.cheetahsmartstart.com.

Buckle up and enjoy the flight!


Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and project management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into the market leader for project management training and professional development. In 2006, The Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org, selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry. Michelle is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner & President Management program for entrepreneurs, and is the author of Cheetah Project Management and Cheetah Negotiations.

® 2007 Cheetah Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.