Happy’s Essential Skills: Project/Program Management
My first opportunity to use the Gantt Chart was as part of my Senior Project while in college. At that time, it was all manual. Today, numerous software packages offer it along with other project visibility techniques (Figure 1):
- Gantt Chart
- Pert Chart
- Critical Path Analysis
- Affinity Diagrams
- Gap Analysis
Figure 1: Some of the visualization tools used for project management
No matter what your job, you may have to manage, or play an active role in, a project at some point during your career. It takes a great deal of skill to do this well, but the time you invest in building good project management skills can pay off enormously.
You contribute to meeting an organization's objectives by completing projects on time and on budget. This can produce real business results and enhance your reputation. And when you know how to organize, schedule and delegate tasks, you make yourself more visible for promotions.
In the late 1800s, Polish engineer Karol Adamiecki developed a visual work flow chart that he called a "harmonogram."
In around 1910, Henry Gantt, a management consultant and engineer, took Adamiecki's concept to the next stage. His chart was designed to help manufacturing supervisors see whether their work was on, ahead of, or behind schedule, and it formed the foundation of the tool we use today.
When you set up a Gantt chart, you need to think through all of the tasks involved in your project. As part of this process, you'll work out who will be responsible for each task, how long each task will take, and what problems your team may encounter. This detailed thinking helps you ensure that the schedule is workable, that the right people are assigned to each task, and that you have workarounds for potential problems before you start. They also help you work out practical aspects of a project, such as the minimum time it will take to deliver, and which tasks need to be completed before others can start. Plus, you can use them to identify the critical path—the sequence of tasks that must individually be completed on time if the whole project is to deliver on time.
Finally, you can use them to keep your team and your boss informed of progress. Simply update the chart to show schedule changes and their implications, or use it to communicate that key tasks have been completed, as seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Example of a Gantt chart.
The process for creating a Gantt chart includes:
Step 1: Identify Essential Tasks
Gantt charts don't give useful information unless they include all of the activities needed for a project or project phases to be completed. So, to start, list all of these activities. Use a work breakdown structure if you need to establish what the tasks are. Then, for each task, note its earliest start date and its estimated duration.
Step 2: Identify Task Relationships
The chart shows the relationship between the tasks in a project. Some tasks will need to be completed before you can start the next one, and others can't end until preceding ones have ended. For example, if you're creating a brochure, you need to finish the design before you can send it to print.
These dependent activities are called “sequential” or "linear" tasks. Other tasks will be “parallel” (i.e., they can be done at the same time as other tasks). You don't have to do these in sequence, but you may sometimes need other tasks to be finished first. So, for example, the design of your brochure could begin before the text has been edited (although you won't be able to finalize the design until the text is perfect).
Identify which of your project's tasks are parallel, and which are sequential. Where tasks are dependent on others, note down the relationship between them. This will give you a deeper understanding of how to organize your project, and it will help when you start scheduling activities on the chart.
Note that in Gantt charts, there are three main relationships between sequential tasks:
- Finish to Start (FS)—FS tasks can't start before a previous (and related) task is finished. However, they can start later.
- Start to Start (SS)—SS tasks can't start until a preceding task starts. However, they can start later.
- Finish to Finish (FF)—FF tasks can't end before a preceding task ends. However, they can end later.
- Start to Finish (SF), a fourth type, is very rare.
Step 3: Input Activities into Software or a Template
You can draw your charts by hand or use specialist software, such as Gantt, Matchware or Microsoft Project. Some of these tools are cloud-based, meaning that you and your team can access the document simultaneously from any location. (This helps a lot when you're discussing, optimizing, and reporting on a project.) Several Gantt templates have been created for Microsoft Excel, and you can also find free templates with a quick search online.
The timeline uses the same inputs as a Gantt Chart but displays the information on one or a series of timelines, drawn to the scale of the time axis.
A PERT chart is a project management tool used to schedule, organize, and coordinate tasks within a project. The acronym PERT stands for Program Evaluation Review Technique, a methodology developed by the U.S. Navy in the 1950s to manage Adm. Hyman Rickover’s Polaris submarine missile program. A similar methodology, the Critical Path Method (CPM) was developed for project management in the private sector at about the same time.
A PERT chart presents a graphic illustration of a project as a network diagram consisting of numbered nodes (either circles or rectangles) representing events, or milestones in the project linked by labelled vectors (directional lines) representing tasks in the project. The direction of the arrows on the lines indicates the sequence of tasks.
In Figure 3, for example, the tasks between nodes 1, 2, 4, 8, and 10 must be completed in sequence. These are called dependent or serial tasks. The tasks between nodes 1 and 2, and nodes 1 and 3 are not dependent on the completion of one to start the other and can be undertaken simultaneously. These tasks are called parallel or concurrent tasks.
Tasks that must be completed in sequence but that don't require resources or completion time are considered to have event dependency. These are represented by dotted lines with arrows and are called dummy activities. For example, the dashed arrow linking nodes 6 and 9 indicates that the system files must be converted before the user test can take place, but that the resources and time required to prepare for the user test (writing the user manual and user training) are on another path. Numbers on the opposite sides of the vectors indicate the time allotted for the task.
The PERT chart is sometimes preferred over the Gantt Chart because it clearly illustrates task dependencies. On the other hand, the PERT chart can be much more difficult to interpret, especially on complex projects. Frequently, project managers use both techniques.
The process for creating a PERT Chart is:
Step 1: Identify Essential Tasks
PERT charts don't give useful information unless they include all of the activities needed for a project or project phases to be completed. To start, list all of these activities. Use a work breakdown structure if you need to establish what the tasks are. Then, for each task, note its earliest start date, estimate the shortest possible time each activity will take, the most likely length of time, and the longest time that might be taken if the activity takes longer than expected. Use the formula below to calculate the time to use for each project stage:
(shortest time + 4 x likely time + longest time) / 6
This helps to bias time estimates away from the unrealistically short time-scales normally assumed. If tasks are sequential, show which stage they depend on.
Step 2: Input Activities into Software or a Template
You can draw your charts by hand or use specialist software, such as PERT, Matchware or Microsoft Project. Some of these tools are cloud-based, meaning that you and your team can access the document simultaneously, from any location. (This helps a lot when you're discussing, optimizing, and reporting on a project.) Several PERT templates have been created for Microsoft Excel, and you can also find free templates with a quick search online.
Figure 3: Example of a PERT chart.
Critical Path Analysis or Critical Path Method
These two methods were developed in the 1950s to control large defense projects, and have been used routinely since then. As with PERT chart, Critical Path Analysis (CPA) or the Critical Path Method (CPM) helps you to plan all tasks that must be completed as part of a project. They act as the basis both for preparation of a schedule and of resource planning. During management of a project, they allow you to monitor achievement of project goals. They help you to see where remedial action needs to be taken to get a project back on course.
Within a project it is likely that you will display your final project plan as a Gantt chart (using Microsoft Project or other software for projects of medium complexity or an excel spreadsheet for projects of low complexity). The benefit of using CPA within the planning process is to help you develop and test your plan to ensure that it is robust. Critical Path Analysis formally identifies tasks which must be completed on time for the whole project to be completed on time. It also identifies which tasks can be delayed if resource needs to be reallocated to catch up on missed or overrunning tasks. The disadvantage of CPA, if you use it as the technique by which your project plans are communicated and managed against, is that the relation of tasks to time is not as immediately obvious as with Gantt charts. This can make them more difficult to understand. A further benefit of Critical Path Analysis is that it helps you to identify the minimum length of time needed to complete a project. Where you need to run an accelerated project, it helps you to identify which project steps you should accelerate to complete the project within the available time.
Facts about the critical path:
1. In every project (network), there must exist at least one critical path.
2. More than one critical path may exist. Multiple paths may share some activities.
3. Any critical path must be continuous from the start of the project till its end.
Drawing a Critical Path Analysis Chart
Use the following steps to draw a CPA Chart:
Step 1. List all activities in the plan
For each activity, show the earliest start date, estimated length of time it will take, and whether it is parallel or sequential. If tasks are sequential, show which stage they depend on.
For the project example used here, you will end up with the same task list as explained in the article on Gantt charts (we will use the same example as with Gantt charts to compare the two techniques). The chart is repeated in Table 1.
Table 1: Task List: Planning a custom-written computer project
Step 2. Plot the activities as a circle and arrow diagram
Critical Path Analyses are presented using circle and arrow diagrams.
In these, circles show events within the project, such as the start and finish of tasks. The number shown in the left-hand half of the circle allows you to identify each one easily. Circles are sometimes known as nodes. An arrow running between two event circles shows the activity needed to complete that task. A description of the task is written underneath the arrow. The length of the task is shown above it. By convention, all arrows run left to right. Arrows are also sometimes called arcs. An example of a very simple diagram is shown in Figure 4.
This shows the start event (circle 1), and the completion of the 'High Level Analysis' task (circle 2). The arrow between them shows the activity of carrying out the High Level Analysis. This activity should take 1 week.
Where one activity cannot start until another has been completed, we start the arrow for the dependent activity at the completion event circle of the previous activity.
Figure 4: a) Simple circle and arrow diagram of activities/events; b) Circle and arrow diagram showing two activities that cannot be started until the first activity has been completed.
In this example, the activities of 'Select Hardware' and 'Core Module Analysis' cannot be started until 'High Level Analysis' has been completed. This diagram also brings out a number of other important points:
- Within Critical Path Analysis, we refer to activities by the numbers in the circles at each end. For example, the task 'Core Module Analysis' would be called activity 2 to 3. 'Select Hardware' would be activity 2 to 9.
- Activities are not drawn to scale. In the diagram above, activities are one week, two weeks, and one day. Arrows in this case are all the same length.
- In the example above, you can see a second number in the top, right hand quadrant of each circle. This shows the earliest start time for the following activity. It is conventional to start at 0. Here units are whole weeks.
A different case is shown in Figure 5. Here, activity 6 to 7 cannot start until the other four activities (11 to 6, 5 to 6, 4 to 6, and 8 to 6) have been completed.
Figure 5: Example of a Critical Path Analysis for computer project.
The Affinity Diagram is a good way to make sure you have discovered all the tasks, activities and events. The Affinity Diagram can be seen in Figures 1, 2 and 3 of my column on the Figure of Merit (FOM) process.
The process to create an Affinity Diagram follows Steps 1 through 6 in the FOM process.
What if you have just been assigned a difficult but important project. You already have some possible solutions in mind. However, before you choose a best solution, you need to identify what needs to be done to meet this project's objectives.
This is where Gap Analysis is useful. This simple tool helps you identify the gap between your current situation and the future state that you want to reach, along with the tasks that you need to complete to close this gap.
Gap Analysis is useful at the beginning of a project when developing a business case and it's essential when you're identifying the tasks that you need to complete to deliver your project.
Using Gap Analysis
To conduct a Gap Analysis for your project, follow these three steps:
1. Identify Your Future State
First, identify the objectives that you need to achieve. This gives you your future state—the "place" where you want to be once you've completed your project.
2. Analyze Your Current Situation
For each of your objectives, analyze your current situation. To do this, consider the following questions:
- Who has the knowledge that you need? Who will you need to speak with to get a good picture of your current situation?
- Is the information in people's heads, or is it documented somewhere?
- What's the best way to get this information? By using brainstorming workshops? Through one-to-one interviews? By reviewing documents? By observing project activities such as design workshops? Or in some other way?
3. Identify How You'll Bridge the Gap
Once you know your future state and your current situation, you can think about what you need to do to bridge the gap and reach your project's objectives.
Table 2: Example of element of a GAP Analysis to improve call-handling in your organization's contact center.
Happy Holden has worked in printed circuit technology since 1970, with Hewlett-Packard, NanYa/Westwood, Merix, Foxconn and Gentex. He is the co-editor, with Clyde Coombs, of the Printed Circuit Handbook, 7th Ed. To contact Holden, click here.