Project managers use Gantt charts as a highly useful tool for tracking and coordinating all of the small steps that go into a large project. Gantt charts can quickly become overwhelming and messy. They can prove especially confusing for people who don't know how to read them. Try to use a Gantt chart to explain your progress to a client or a colleague in another department, and you may have quite the challenge on your hands.
This isn't the only challenge Gantt charts present. The data in a Gantt chart typically requires special software for viewing, editing, and printing which is almost always a challenge. Furthermore, sometimes you only want to focus on a small part of a project without being overwhelmed by all of the additional information for the entire project.
While Gantt charts are one great solution for project management, they aren't the only one. When you need to look at a smaller sample of the information, or you need to present a simplified version—or portion of the information—in a situation when a Gantt chart would not be practical, an alternative method may fit the bill.
Everyone in the business community should be familiar and comfortable with a basic to-do list. In fact, being organized is one of the top skills for a project manager.
A task list takes the to-do list to the next level. With a task list, you can add additional columns to show who will be completing each task, the status of the task, the start and end dates, and the likelihood that the task will be completed on time. You may even add checkboxes for your team members to check as items are completed.
A simplified chart on a spreadsheet is another alternative. You can still list tasks along the left-hand side, and you can still shade bars to show your level of progress and the estimated start and end dates for the tasks.
Spreadsheets can be time-consuming to make and time-intensive to update, however, so you will not want to use them as your total project management solution. For a simple one-time report for a client or manager, however, a simplified spreadsheet can visually lay out the project in a way that is
easy to explain and understand. It's also a good option for tracking project progress.
Flow diagrams, or network diagrams, show the project tasks in the order they need to be completed. Flow diagrams can be as simple or complex as you'd like. For example, you may or may not want to list information such as the start and end date of each step, the task identification number, or
the location. Keep in mind that adding too much information can make these charts difficult to read.
While many people find flow diagrams easier to read and understand than Gantt charts, making them can be a hassle. Furthermore, they are often inappropriate for large and complex problems. Flow charts are best for presenting simple projects with tasks that naturally progress from one to
the next, but should not be used as a long-term tool or for overly complex projects.
Does your project have a large number of steps that don't necessarily have to be done in sequential order? Do you have multiple people working on the same project or are the tasks updated frequently? If so, Kanban may offer the ideal solution for you.
With a Kanban board, each project task is written on a sticky note and placed in the appropriate column, such as "to do," "in progress" or "done." As each task is completed, the corresponding sticky note is moved across the board until all of the notes are in the "done" column.
This organizational system is very easy to understand and modify quickly, but it is not very portable, and you will need to be careful that none of the notes fall and are lost.
Gantt charts are excellent tools for tracking your projects, not necessarily for communicating it. If all you need to do is communicate your progress with a client, your project sponsor or other team members, a status report can be your best option. Plus, many project management software programs will create simplified, easy-to-understand status reports with just a few clicks of the mouse, saving you valuable time and energy.
Gantt charts are highly practical for tracking all of the tasks that go into a large project, but they aren't always the best for communicating this information with others, particularly those who aren't used to reading them.
You do have several other alternatives. Try one of these five Gantt chart alternatives yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised by just how much time you can save.