Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gantt Charts vs Timelines-You Decide


In the early 1900's Henry Gantt introduced us to what is commonly referred to as the Gantt Chart, a way of visually communicating tasks and the timeline for each. In his 1919 book "Organizing for Work" [6] Gantt gives two principles for his charts:

  • one, measure activities by the amount of time needed to complete them;
  • two, the space on the chart can be used the represent the amount of the activity that should have been done in that time.
A lot has changed since 1919, and with the advent of computer technology we have seen a number of business project management software applications that take Gantt Charts to a whole new dimension. With the power of the personal computer we can now show not only task completion but the inter-dependencies of the tasks as they relate to the project completion. As more and more information gets added to the Gantt Chart and the visual complexity increases it certainly adds a real cognitive load for many, to make sense of the data. Recently, Wallace Tait and I had a conversation about Gantt Charts and their utility-which lead us to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the visual display when presenting information in a Gantt Chart. One of the real advantages of using Gantt Charts is the fact that it can pack a lot of rich information into a small area. But this can be its downfall as well-and it does take a certain knack to be able to decipher the information and the dependencies that are often displayed in a Gantt Chart.

While Gantt Charts have a rich tradition some people may have difficulty understanding the complexities that are displayed on the screen and choose not to use them to communicate project information. In this regard, some users may want to opt to use a Timeline to convey project information which is a more sequential way at looking at a tasks over time. While you certainly lose out on the richness of the Gantt Chart you are quickly able to see the flow of the project and when things need to be done. One mind mapping application that bridges the gap between Gantt Charts and Timelines is MindView 3 BE. In MindView 3 BE, you have the choice of looking at your project in various modes: as a mind map, a Gantt Chart, or as a Timeline. You can check out my previous post on MindView 3 BE to learn about the features and the project management tools. MindView 3 BE even lets you display your project using a cross between a Timeline with Duration bars. So the question I leave you with is: What are your preferences when you are displaying project information? Please complete the survey that I put together about Gantt Charts. I will report the results once they come in.

 
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