How do I communicate project schedule?
December 31, 2011
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I asked some of my colleagues about their impression of the project management discipline. One comment that was near universal was the impression that Project Managers are unnecessarily wedded to their Gantt charts. Having given it some thought, I tend to agree. Project management is a discipline that is used to deliver business outcomes in a predictable nature. Project management in itself is not the deliverable. Therefore, visibility in the project team shouldn’t be the various project management artefacts.
That got me thinking … what do we use Gantt charts for? It helps us establish order of tasks, assignments, critical path, identify slack etc. Well and good. Now the project manager has a good understanding of the tolerances afforded to him within the project, in terms of time. Now what? The Project Manager is interested in the entire picture. Not all the teams involved in delivering the output of the project is interested in the whole picture. they want to know their schedule and an overall picture of the project. How do we give such an overview picture without too much extra work?
The key here is to understand your stakeholders and what each one needs or is interested in from the Project Manager. Most stakeholders need to understand the overall timeline and workstreams for their teams and those around them. I have found the Timeline feature in MS Project 2010 to be particularly helpful for this. You can create a timeline with the required level of detail straight from your Gantt chart. This is a more simplified view of the project and may be quite a good tool for many of your stakeholders.
High level project sponsors are unlikely to be interested in the actual timelines. Their concern probably begins and ends with your expected delivery dates and cost profile. Gantt chart is a total turn off at that level. Think about using something like Earned Value Analysis technique to show your progress and likely final cost and completion date. That is likely to get a more to the point feedback, than Gantt chart. Think about an IT project that is geared towards achieving some business efficiencies in a billing system. Your CEO is less likely to want to know about building of virtual servers than if the final date and cost is still under control.
This is not to say that the Gantt chart is not the tool to communicate schedule related matters with anyone. You need to use this to communicate the individual tasks for various teams and to give an understanding of dependencies. Just becasue you need to use the Gantt chart, do not be shy about using only parts of it relevant to the different teams to get your message across.
I will be paying more attention to what each of my teams are after to adjust my communication style in future.