A detailed Gantt Chart with grids, lines and colors can be a thing of beauty. But it is the kind of beauty that quickly fades. Indeed, many of the ugliest aspects of any Strategic Project can be traced right back to the Gantt Chart – especially where the chart has gone past its ‘best before’ date.
The Gantt Chart says: If everything works out this is how it will be. Here all the steps – just complete them and the project will succeed. It is a picture in time – an idealized view of the future. But fast forward 6 or 8 months and reality will have left most Gantt Charts in tatters.
A Gantt Chart is a project manager’s best effort at predicting the future. But in a fast-changing world those efforts are flawed, even futile. This happens when a Gannt Chart gives rise to a false sense of confidence, or certainty.
The Gantt Chart is a waterfall method – plan at the beginning and wait for 8, 12 or 16 months for the end result to appear over the top. In these fast-changing times, it is a key reason why many projects fail to stay above water.
Few of us would argue that predicting and planning the future is one of the greatest human strengths, indeed psychologists point to a range of biases that can lead to overconfidence. But, let’s focus on what is unquestionably is our greatest strength – that is the ability to adapt – to think on our feet – to adjust intelligently to a changing environment. But, when we find ourselves trapped inside one of those colored bars on a Gantt Chart that native ability to adapt is lost.
For those people and teams charged with execution, being prevented from adapting and adjusting – from taking ownership and making decisions about the best way forward – limits both performance and engagement.
Project Managers invest a lot of time in developing Gantt Charts and getting them signed-off. But what matters is not how detailed or beautiful a Gantt Chart is and certainly not how long it takes to create. What matters is how quickly and how regularly it can be updated, revised and redrawn (if needed).
Who wants to get into revising and updating something that may have taken many weeks or months to sign-off? It is easier to stay quiet in the next project planning meeting than to call out key project deliverables that are in question. So, beware, a Gantt Chart can become a barrier to agile planning and execution – to regular reviews and adjustments – unintentionally, it can stifle experimentation, innovation and fast learning.
The Gannt Chart is a last century tool – from a time when you lined up your troops and marched them in a straight line into battle. It is for marching not racing with speed, that after all is its origins. In reality, it prevents many potentially great teams from moving beyond mediocre. It ties their hands.
In this article we are taking aim at the gantt chart, but the message of caution applies equally to any other aspect of traditional project management that limits collaboration, agility and innovation (e.g. the project scope, work plan, budget, etc).
Traditional project management maybe at a low point in its popularity however please don’t mistake this article as a justification for bypassing the key basics of project rigour such as the Gantt Chart, project scope and budget, etc. These are as, if not more, important than ever. However they must be used in a way that enables the level of engagement, agility and innovation that is essential to success in an increasingly complex and fast changing business world.
How to adapt the Gantt Chart to the modern era? Well, that requires a more fluid and dynamic approach to work plans and timelines together with an agile approach to execution. It means that when people look at a Gantt Chart they say: ‘Here is what we thought would happen, here is what is happening in reality so let’s adjust accordingly’.
So, it is time to adjust that popular quote often attributed to John Maynard Keynes: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind and my Gantt Chart. What do you do, sir?’
When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?John Maynard Keynes