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Thursday, 13 September 2007 12:48

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

Written by Claude Emond

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 ?

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