The Gantt chart, a key in project management - and also in PQFORCE
A Gantt chart is a must, if not THE key component in any major project plan. It is an indispensable tool to visualize the work packages on the project timeline. How is it that a method invented more than 100 years ago is still at the heart of most project plans? And how does PQFORCE connect the Gantt chart with resource management?
What is a Gantt chart?
In short, a Gantt chart shows all project activities over time. This includes in particular project phases, work packages, smaller tasks and also milestones. Typically, the list of activities is located on the left side as a vertically nested tree of rows. This is the so-called Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The activities are placed in a hierarchy within it. Smaller tasks are grouped into work packages, which in turn belong to longer project phases. At the beginning of a project, it is often structured according to the top-down principle in a WBS - hence the name "Work-Breakdown Structure". Relatively small or short activities can also be mapped as TODOs in PQFORCE and managed in a Kanban Board. It is quite useful or even indispensable to plan the details of a WBS, i.e. the lower levels in the hierarchy, with such "electronic post-it notes", see the screenshot as an example.
Gantt chart has another component besides the WBS, the schedule, which is typically located on the right side of the display. Horizontally, the time axis is shown in a suitable scale, and each activity is represented by a horizontal bar. The position of the bar on the timeline reflects the start and end dates of the activity, and the length of the bar represents the duration of the activity. So you can see at a glance:
- what activities the project consists of
- when each activity starts and ends
- what are the dependencies between the activities (hierarchically in the WBS as well as temporally thanks to connecting lines)
- where activities overlap with other activities and by how much
The mentioned connecting lines between activities specify, for example, that an activity can only be started when another one is completed, because it needs results from the first one.
A Gantt chart therefore shows what needs to be done (this is what the project structure, i.e. the WBS, is for) and when (this is what the schedule is for). The project plans in PQFORCE are also based on these basic elements of a Gantt chart. Why is that?
The main advantages of Gantt charts
There are some main advantages of Gantt charts that contribute to their importance in the planning process.
- Those involved in the project have a common overview: Where there is a common visual framework for the work to be done, there is less risk for misunderstanding, especially when dealing with complex projects with a significant number of activities and stakeholders. Using Gantt charts allows all types of stakeholders to have the same information, set mutually understandable expectations, and execute their efforts according to the desired protocol. PQFORCE makes this possible because each project plan exists exactly once, with no copies, redundancies or inconsistencies. And this project plan is available to all stakeholders in real time.
- Keep track of project progress: Gantt charts were created to keep all project owners on track by providing a timeline for when certain tasks start and end. So you can immediately see what is in progress and what the progress is, typically expressed as a percentage, where 100% means the activity is done. PQFORCE also provides functions for this. Each activity - called a Task in PQFORCE - can be marked with a progress. We refer to this as Earned Value, not to be confused with "consumed" effort - how much effort has already been put into the activity.
- Understand task dependencies: When well maintained, Gantt charts make it clear how different activities are interconnected and may depend on the completion of others to achieve certain goals. These dependencies are about understanding the timing of each activity, which then impacts the other activities to be performed. This can ensure optimal workflow, maximum productivity, and overall project success. In PQFORCE, dependencies between tasks can be drawn in using drag and drop. These are then taken into account by the system when tasks are moved or extended so that, for example, subsequent tasks are automatically moved as well. In addition, offset values such as a minimum or maximum buffer time between tasks can also be entered for such dependencies.
- Keep control of the future: While project members can easily get caught up in the day-to-day activities as listed in a chart as detailed tasks, for example, one advantage of a Gantt chart is that it helps decision makers keep track of what's going on and look further into the future. This ensures that each project is working toward achieving the organization's long-term strategic goals and that one stays on track, especially with regard to milestones. In PQFORCE, the essential key figures from the Gantt chart are automatically calculated and transferred to the project status report - whether these are current forecast dates for milestones, current progress of work packages or even costs or man-hours already "consumed".
Resource planning in the project - often given far too little concrete attention
A Gantt chart with a bare WBS on the time axis is only half the battle in project planning. Only by allocating resources, especially employees, to the activities can they be processed - a key aspect in project management. The Gantt plan alone only tells you what needs to be done and when.
This is exactly where PQFORCE shows its strength. PQFORCE brings the resources into play on the spot and makes their availability visible in the Gantt chart already during planning. Thus, it can be estimated immediately during planning whether an activity can actually be executed in the desired timeframe - because the required resources with the right skills are available. The allocation of concrete resources (people) or abstract resources (organizational units or skills) can be done either directly or via a simple request-release workflow. We refer to this as resource allocations.
Unfortunately, resource allocation in the projects or for the projects often receives too little attention in practice. If it is done at all, then it is often done separately from the Gantt plans - sometimes two worlds are spoken of: the world of the project plan and the world of resource allocation. Especially in the increasingly dynamic project business, however, this separation is fatal. In the last resource planning meeting, the project manager has just received assurance for a few people for an important project phase, and already this phase is postponed by a month because a delivery date has been delayed. Seamless, immediate visibility into the resource situation is essential here. A platform like PQFORCE enables exactly this and allows fast and coordinated decisions thanks to immediate information in real time.
Webinar on Gantt Chart in PQFORCE
On Webinar #4 on October 5, 2022, the various features mentioned around the Gantt view in PQFORCE were demonstrated in detail as part of the PQFORCE Masterclass. The webinar is available as a recording here.
About the author
Dr. Daniel Hösli is Managing Director and Lead Consultant at INTRASOFT AG, whose SaaS solution PQFORCE is the leading platform for agile, project-oriented business management. He has been involved in the development of project management systems on a daily basis for 15 years in a consulting and project management capacity - both organizationally and technically - and thus has the experience from countless contacts and tasks from a wide variety of companies and different management levels.