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Gantt Chart

Gantt charts have been around since 1917, when Henry L. Gantt created one as a way to analyze and synthesize workflows. His motivation was World War I, and trying to improve economic and labor results. He collaborated with the U.S. Army, which saw the value in his visual system.

Since the 1980s, Gantt charts have been going online and have become one of the great tools for project managers. They are a very useful tool when planning and executing a phase of your project, as they easily and visually identify tasks and allocated resources.

Think of a Gantt chart as a bar chart on steroids. It illustrates the start and finish dates of the many tasks and milestones of your project. The Gantt chart is also designed to show task dependencies between activities, and they are ideal ways to show a current schedule status using percent-complete shading.

Other than a visual timeline of tasks and projects, Gantt charts are great for managing projects because tasks can be color-coded by person, team or function. They make tracking dependent tasks easier. You can compare your planned versus your actual progress on the project. It’s also a means to view project baselines and critical paths, as well as defining core project milestones.

How to Use a Gantt Chart

Gantt chart can be complicated for the novice, but there are ways to make them simple and effective, such as when they’re part of your project management software tools.

1. Task Start and End Dates

The Gantt chart is not that different from a task list, at least in the sense that it’s a list of your tasks. Therefore, the first thing you should do is have a task-by-task breakdown of the project. Those will go in the first column. This may seem obvious, but the Gantt chart only works if you have every task assigned it’s own line so you can track the project as each tasks is completed.

Once the tasks are listed, you need to assign a start and end date to each one. This is part of the planning phase of your project. If you don’t have dates for when the project’s tasks start and when you expect them to end, there’s no way you’ll be able to control the scope of work on the project. Once you have these dates inserted into the proper columns you’ve begun the schedule of your project.

The final column in this section of the Gantt chart is the one titled duration. That, simply put, is the time it takes to complete the task. The duration is the sum of time between the start date and the end date.

2. Timeline View

This is where the Gantt chart stops being merely a glorified task list and turns into a visual aid in managing your project. What happens here is that all the data you imputed in the other columns is then generated here as a timeline. Now you have a visual aid in helping you see at-a-glance the progress of the project. This is where you can color-code tasks to reflect different teams, team members or functions. It’s a great way to highlight that information which is critical to your project and stay abreast of its progress.

There’s also the aforementioned task dependencies, which can complicate a schedule and potentially block team members sending the whole project off-track. Gantt charts have the feature where you can automate task dependencies so that when one tasks is delayed or complete it adjusts the other task dependent on it. And you can also automate emails to notify you and team members when these tasks are completed.

Create a visual tracking of your project tasks with our free Gantt chart Excel template. It’s a great way to see the duration of the overall project. Once you schedule your tasks on a Gantt chart you’ll never go back to the old-fashioned task list.

Work Schedule

A work schedule is a crucial arm in handling your employee resources, so you can control your project as it progresses to a successful completion. Organize your team’s work schedule to better manage your project’s workflow with this simple work schedule template. You can note the days your team is working on a project or a particular task, as well as collect their pay rate and hours spent completing those tasks.

What Is a Work Schedule?

A work schedule is a list of employees and their location, working times, & responsibilities, over a specific time period, such as a week or month.

There’s the schedule of 9 am to 5 pm. This is the traditional model, running Monday through Friday, but there are some jobs that run slightly differently. “Mondays” might in fact begin on Wednesday, and then Sunday is the new Friday. This is dependent on the type of job.

Then there’s the shift work schedule, when a company divides the day into shifts, usually because work is 24/7. Teams are then assigned to set periods of time, usually in eight-hour intervals. These shifts can be fixed or they can vary day to day or week to week, known as the rotating schedule.

A flexible works schedule is when your team member is allowed to vary their arrival and departure, often even choosing the days they want to work, as long as they get their tasks done within the allotted deadline.

Finally, there’s part-time and full-time schedules. Full-time is 40 hours a week, though this isn’t a legal definition. The standard for part-time is any time less than 40 hours a week. Again, neither of these definitions are written in stone and vary from organization to organization. Usually, full-time employees get benefits, but are not eligible for overtime when they work beyond 40 hours in a week.

Why You Need a Work Schedule

Regardless of what you do, a work schedule is a crucial element in making sure that you’re productive and being efficient.

One reason is that a work schedule helps you get your tasks completed in an organized manner. Work schedules reduce the cost of resources and make sure you get the most work from your team in the time you have scheduled for the project.

A work schedule also helps you meet your deadlines. It’s a structure that helps focus on the goals, making the project more manageable and it’s results easier to achieve.

You can also help define the work with a work schedule. You only have a set amount of time to get the project done, and a work schedule helps you prioritize that work by laying out what needs to be done and when.

It might not be evident, but an employee schedule helps with work-life balance, which makes your team more loyal and helps retain talent. By having a well-defined work schedule your team knows clearly when they’re expected to work and when they’re not. This is especially important for remote employees who can end up burning themselves out.

So, a work schedule helps manage the team and also keeps the stress level at a minimum. Sounds like a win-win. Automate the process and keep you from having to reinvent the wheel.

To-Do List

A to-do list is your first defence against the chaos of mounting tasks. It’s a way to take that onslaught of work and organize it, prioritize it and see at-a-glance when each individual assignment is due. This is how you start to manage workflow and create the beginnings of a schedule to help get things done on time.

What Is a To-Do List?

The to-do list is a tool to help you organize. It collects anything you are responsible for and captures those tasks in one place. The list must be thorough. Every little thing must be represented, and only after you’ve exhausted all the tasks can you then begin to prioritize them, add due dates and begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

It feels to some that the to-do list has been around as long as the wheel. People have been jotting down stuff on scraps of paper since there’s been paper. That’s because there’s always something to do.

That something has only gotten more complex and dense as time has gone on. From finding food and shelter, it’s evolved into a roadmap of many points to offer us direction in our increasingly hectic day.

Some tasks on your to-do list will show themselves not as important as others, so you can schedule your time more effectively. Others will stand out as critical. When you have a deadline attached to these important tasks, you can work backwards from that date to schedule your time wisely and accomplish what needs to be done.

Do To-Do Lists Work?

The simple answer as to whether a to-do list is effective is it depends. Mostly, it depends on if you use them. Just collecting and not acting is procrastinating. So, a to-do list is only as good as the person using it.

That said, there is some clinical data that backs up the to-do list as an effective organizational tool. Psychologist and author Dr. David Cohen believes to-do lists are psychologically helpful, if not the solution to the problem. That problem, of course, can only be resolved by executing the tasks on that to-do list successfully.

However, Dr. Cohen says to-do lists accomplish three major steps that lead one closer to acting on those tasks. Firstly, a to-do list helps to lower the level of anxiety that one feels when there’s a lot of work piling up. A to-do list also provides a much-needed structure to that work, which makes it more manageable. Finally, he says, at the end of the day, they show us that we’ve in fact accomplished something.

Why You Need a To-Do List

If you still need convincing about the value of using a to-do list, just look at your day. There’s a lot to do there, right? Whether you’re working or just living your life, there are tasks that need completion, bills that need to be paid, places you have to be, people you need to meet. The list can feel endless, which is why it’s best to have it physically written down, or better yet, collected in a , so you can see the full picture.

It should be clear now that a to-do list  will make you more organized. That means your work is more manageable, which means it’s more likely to get done. You have an outline to ground your actions, and it feels good to cross those to-do line items off your list.

Being organized also means that you feel a sense of progress, which gives you a sense of moving forward rather than just attacking whatever task comes at you in the moment. This will do wonders in terms of motivating you and keeping you from feeling overwhelmed. That’s because a to-do list is really the beginnings of a plan. Studies show the more time you spend planning, the more time you save when executing it.

Another benefit of the to-do list is that it helps your memory. That’s because no matter how good your memory might be, it’s never going to hold all the information you need to remember.

An average person can remember about seven items of information for 30 seconds, so if there are more than seven items you need to recall, you better get a to-do list.

By putting something in a to-do list you have permission to forget about it, but, ironically, you are more likely to retain that information after you write it down. And even if you don’t recall what it was you put on the to-do list, it’s there for you to access at any time.

To-do lists also help with productivity. When you prioritize, you’re able to see the wheat from the chaff and concentrate on those tasks that are critical, without wasting your time on the ones that are trivial. A Harvard Business Review study shows that 90 percent of managers waste time because of poor time management. Time can be better managed through to-do lists, among other things.

Also, a to-do list can help you focus. Distractions are distracting and that keeps productivity at bay. Having a to-do list to reference is like an anchor to keep you on task. You can dive deeply into your work and know that your to-do list is at hand when you need to see where you are in the process.

Finally, a to-do list is also a motivational tool. They clarify your goals and provide a sense of accomplishment as you cross each item off the list. That builds motivation and has a cumulative effect.

The Key to Delivering Success: Project Assurance

Written by Greg Bailey

Project assurance is a process that allows project stakeholders and project managers (PMs) to assess the risks and strengths of a project.

By outlining key threats, objective success criteria, and adequate project controls with project stakeholders, PMs can create a stronger infrastructure to increase the chance of success.

For projects with high financial value, project assurance is particularly beneficial, since it prevents overspending – but the concept can work for a project of any size. This blog will explore the key benefits of creating a formalized project assurance strategy.

A definition of project success

When undertaking a project, PMs should establish clear goals, so it’s easy to see what to deliver and when. This will establish how they prioritize work and how they report to stakeholders. Keeping all stakeholders united by common goals requires open communication. If a project doesn’t have goals that match their organization’s wider strategic goals, or that don’t fully meet stakeholders’ expectations, it risks failure.

To create objective criteria for a project, transparency is necessary. As well as objectively deciding whether the outcomes of a project are worth the expenditure, project assurance establishes the metrics by which project success will be judged. A project assurance team, consisting of stakeholders and PMs, can establish criteria for project success based on realistic factors like budget and resources. This helps project managers understand the criteria they’re working with, helping them deliver successful projects.

Risk monitoring

During a project, controls must be put in place to mitigate risks. Risk prevention is a priority for PMs and stakeholders alike. This requires careful examination of every potential threat to a project, including budget, supplier, or regulation. If threats are not identified and planned for, a project can be quickly derailed and doomed to failure.

Project assurance identifies all potential risks within a project.

These can be split into three categories: business, project framework, and execution. Project stakeholders are responsible for managing external factors concerning the business, so project framework and execution are the areas that PMs can have greatest influence over. The framework of a project outlines the structure and resources, and execution outlines the tasks and overall scope of work within the project. Delegating responsibility for risk monitoring in this way ensures greater accountability within projects.

Improved stakeholder expectations

Stakeholders have many concerns outside of an individual project – they’re responsible for wider business concerns and larger decisions. They don’t have time to micromanage every detail of a project’s progress. For this reason, it’s essential that a PM understands exactly what the specific deliverables and expectations of a project are. If these aren’t properly communicated, stakeholders will miss key project milestones and may not be happy with the finished project.

Increasing stakeholders’ visibility of a project helps establish communication about what’s expected and when. It’s easier to track success with solid, data-based metrics in place. To simplify reporting to stakeholders, a powerful tool that helps you collect resource and wider project data should be implemented. Project assurance includes setting regular checkpoints at which the project should be reviewed – these will identify any potential risks to the project, and check it stays on time and on budget.

Avoiding scope creep

Projects fall prey to scope creep when their goals are ill-defined, or their plans aren’t solid enough. Scope creep is when the deliverables of a project are increased midway through a project. A project gets more complex by adding extra work and resources, and it’s unwise to try and deliver more than was agreed in the initial plan.

Using project assurance can help a PM deliver project success, because the scope of the project is established in a much more structured way. Getting upfront approval of the project’s goals and success criteria from stakeholders greatly increases the chances of project success.

Supporting projects with the right technology

A project assurance strategy requires a lot of organization for all those involved. In order to minimize unnecessary work, the most simple and effective tools need to be selected to support a project. For stakeholders and PMs, the easiest way to track a project’s progress is through resource management software – users are able to:

Create a central pool of resources, creating greater visibility of not only one project’s resources, but all of an organization’s resources
Simplify data entry by synchronizing the software directly with data depositories, reducing administrative work whilst improving data quality
Model and forecast data to make better informed project decisions
Run alternate project scenarios to test potential outcomes
Create flexible project plans to safeguard against project failure

To keep a project running smoothly, you need to arm yourself with the best quality tools. With the right resource management software and a good project assurance strategy, you’re destined for project success.

Sample Project Management Flow Chart

You’ve heard the term before, but what is a flow chart? In project management, a flow chart is a visual aid to understand the methodology you’re using to manage the project. The diagram shows the interdependent and parallel processes over the course of the project’s life cycle.

Project managers use a flow chart to offer a clear picture of process and to find ways to improve project efficiency. A flow chart displays graphically the project’s objective and seeks to more logically order the activities therein. But, a flow chart can also help with monitoring progress and even status reporting.

The project management flow chart is one of the many tools you need as a project manager to control the project. With the right project management software, your management can be even more productive and efficient. But before we get to that, let’s look a little more closely at what a flow chart is outlining.

What Does a Flow Chart Outline?

First of all, a project management flow chart can outline whatever it is you want to outline. You can have one for the initiation process, for example, which would start with the initiation and flow to the project charter, it’s approval and whether that approval is given or not. That would then lead to two different streams: if the project charter isn’t approved, you must either adjust or cancel the project, which leads back to the initiation at the top of the flow chart, or it terminates in project cancelled. If the project charter is approved, then you can continue with the planning process. If you need help with your project charter, try our free project charter template.

The planning process is more complex. It starts with planning, collecting requirements and the development of scope. That can go either to project level indicators or a project scorecard, both of which lead to the project plan. That plan, of course, leads to resources, budgets, schedules, etc. Each of those subsets leads to another point in the flow chart, such as the communications or risk plan, which in turn flows into the change control plan and quality management. Eventually you get to approval, which leads to the executing process, or no approval, sending you back to the beginning.

Executing can be a whole other flowchart, leading to the development of the project team, securing resources for quality assurance and the manner of communication distribution. Again, you either adjust, cancel or continue, and depending on which you choose, you’re back at the beginning, cancelling that phase or moving on to the next procedure.

There is naturally a flow chart to note the monitoring and control processes of the project, which starts with monitoring and control and leads to an integrated change control plan. That leads to quality control, which flows into reporting risk and issues, and so forth.

Even closing a project is a process, and therefore can be visualized in a flow chart. Start with the close of the project, and then the activities that flow from that, including the verification and acceptance of project deliverables and operations, and then the transition to what lessons you’ve learned. Then, you’re ready to sign off

If you prefer, the whole project process can be captured in a project management flow chart that can be used in congress with the others or as a standalone visual. This macro-flow chart would start with the whole project, leading from the project creation, documentation, task assignments, meetings, agendas, reports, etc. Each of these can lead to its own stream, such as project creation flows into monitoring the project status, while documentation leads to budget, schedule, etc.

Why Is a Visual Diagram to View Process Important?

Visual diagrams are important because they aid in the understanding of complex systems, which helps you easily drive projects to successful ends. As noted, a flow chart is flexible and can suit your needs, whatever they might be. In fact, a flow chart can help you like your Gantt chart does, by creating a visual that helps you see progress more quickly and intimately than a stack of documents can.

The flow chart can assist in all manner of project processes, such as the planning of a new product, documenting that process and modeling the business process for the project. It can also help you manage workflow, data, the auditing process and anything else that is process-based.

Then there are different types of flow charts that you can use to diagram your process. A basic flow chart is a simple diagram that represents a series or sequence of steps that involve decision. The swimlane flow chart breaks up the flow into columns, which is helpful for organizing activities into separate visual categories that illustrate different responsibilities or roles. Value stream mapping is a lean flow chart used to analyze and design the flow of materials and information at the system level, mostly used in manufacturing and product development. There are many more types of flow charts, but they all share certain elements, such as visualizing a process to understand that process at a glance.

Flow charts offer the visual clarity you need to make multiple processes clear and easy to communicate. They can be used to replace meetings in many cases as they clarify process. A flow chart also sequences events to reduce the possibility of over tasking your team, which saves time and resources. This leads to increased efficiency and effective analysis, which makes for better problem solving.

How Do Flow Charts Differ from Work Breakdown Structures?

A work breakdown structure shows the tasks in a project. It is not good for showing process, like a project flow chart. A work breakdown structure is a hierarchical decomposition of the project scope that must be done by the project team to create the required deliverables.

A project management flow chart is better equipped to handle project process. They better communicate the process to everyone involved in the project and can be more effective in analyzing problems. They also serve as a good source of documentation and guide through the project’s process. Flow charts even help in the debugging process and maintenance by placing effort where it’s most needed and in a more efficient fashion.

Work breakdown structures have their place in your project plan, but they are designed for a more specific task. The flow chart is a more flexible tool, but it is also an instrument for the overall process of the project as opposed to the individual tasks that make up the project.

PM Tools Can Help Optimize Your Project Work Flow

Your project management flow chart is just a map, really, a guide to how you’re going to proceed over the course of your project. To best implement it you need the right tools. With the right PM software features, you’re able to better plan, implement, monitor and close your project, and follow the flow chart. For example, with a real-time dashboard you can track a project as it progresses through your planned flow chart.

Your workflow can also be facilitated with task management software, which gives your team the power to see what tasks are due, and when, on their personal task list. Those tasks can be assigned over multiple projects, which you can monitor to make sure that work is progressing as planned on your flow chart.

Flow charts help you visualize the project and project management software gives you the tools to take those visuals and execute them as planned. Use our sample project management flow chart as a template to start using flow charts in your own projects.

Scrum vs. Kanban Board: Which One Is Better for Building a Project Plan?

Six Sigma, Lean, PMBOK — there’s a lot of project management jargon thrown around that you may find confusing and unclear. However, there are a few methodologies that come to mind when you’re looking to create a project plan.

But first, it helps to know that any good project plan provides 3 things:

  • Transparency – Everyone involved knows the status of each moving piece and can jump in when needed.
  • Consistency – Essential to assuring quality and sustaining the expectations of the stakeholders.
  • Documentation – All updated information is centralized and distributed accordingly.

We also know a project never goes according to plan, so every team must maintain a certain amount of agility to keep up with project shifts and delays. That’s when these handy methodologies come into play.

Project management methodologies are meant to provide teams with a framework or theory to base their project planning around. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, but a couple of methodologies provide an advantageous way to visualize your project plan.

Both Scrum and Kanban fall under the Agile methodology umbrella, making them good frameworks for breaking down larger, complex projects into manageable chunks. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two, and how each can aid project planning.

What is a Scrum Board?

Scrum, originally created for software developers, is based around time-limited work periods, called sprints, which normally last around 2 weeks. During this time, the “Owner” of the project will typically be responsible for hosting “standups” or daily meetings to make sure everything is on track. The “Scrum Master” is responsible for the process itself, making sure the team is upholding the values and best practices of Scrum. And finally, the team members are ultimately responsible for working through those sprints.

Procurify, a purchasing software startup in Canada, found that they saved 70% of their time by planning their sprints using a collaboration tool. They now have visibility into one another’s work and can collaborate across different teams. “By having a central tool to manage the whole process, we’re able to actually see what individuals are doing and if it completely matches our company goals,” says Eugene Dong, Co-Founder and CTO of Procurify.

Pros:

  • Mistakes can be rectified and potential problems avoided.
  • Changes are easily accommodated due to short sprints with constant feedback.
  • You can change development at any stage as the process increases in flexibility.
  • Clients get access to a transparent process, which allows them to trace the entire procedure and measure individual productivity.
  • Scrum methodology is often budget-friendly due to its simplicity.


Cons:

  • It’s iterative in nature, so it requires continuous feedback from the team to improve the process.
  • This process requires a lot of trust within the team. If governance is too strict, the entire project can fail.
  • It’s not easy for a team member to leave during the process.
  • Scope creep might occur if no deadline is provided.
  • It doesn’t come with any predicted time limit and cost valuations, which can result in several sprints.
  • There is a greater pressure on team members, and they have to spend a large amount of time on project development.

What is a Kanban Board?

Unlike Scrum, Kanban is more to-do-list based and less time based. Kanban provides a workload-centric method of managing multiple deliverables across a team without overwhelming any one member.

“Kanban is meant to be an enhancement to existing organizational processes for continued improvement, while not totally changing organization’s existing systems,” says Joe Garner, Project Manager at Computer Design & Integration LLC.

Traditionally, Kanban involves a planning whiteboard or chalkboard, where statuses such as “Planned,” “In Progress,” “In Review,” etc. are all listed out. Then, each deliverable is written down on a Post-It and placed under the proper status. As the deliverable moves through the stages, -the Post-It moves on the project status whiteboard.

Pros:

  • It helps push work that often gets “stuck” through to completion.
  • It’s great for separating work based on assignee.
  • It’s ideal for deliverables highly dependent on their status.
  • It’s easy to set up and implement anywhere.
  • Workloads are visible and easily malleable.
  • You can quickly check and evaluate productivity across your team.

Cons:

  • Since there are no time constraints, deliverables can move slower.
  • Outdated Kanban boards can derail productivity.
  • If you’re using the traditional whiteboard organization system, it’s difficult to associate actual work with the board itself.

Which one is better for organizing a project?

The answer to this depends on the type of project you’re planning. But here’s a brief analysis:

  • For one-off projects that have many variables and uncertainties, are more deadline-oriented, and involve a larger team, Scrum is better.
  • For projects that you’ve done before or are recurring, involve many deliverables, and require keeping a close eye on individual capacity, Kanban is better.

Regardless of the project you’re tasked with, change is inevitable. Embracing an Agile methodology is the first step to improving collaboration, refining consistent processes, and having that flexibility built in, so you and your team are equipped for whatever is thrown your way.