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Do Your Digital Agency Projects Really Need Gantt Charts?

Posted by Laura Hernalsteen on Dec 18, 2015

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Gantt charts are a tool which project managers have long used to visualise a project’s path from concept to completion. But is this the best way for your digital agency to plan and manage its projects?

Today I’m looking at the advantages and disadvantages of Gantt charts, and offering an alternative (and arguably more effective) way to manage your digital agency’s projects.

Advantages of Gantt Charts

1) Highly Visual

Gantt charts are highly visual, and give everyone involved in the project an excellent way to comprehend its path from start to finish. They break the project down into smaller tasks and sub-tasks and map them out.

2) Easy to Identify Dependencies Between Tasks

By displaying the project visually, it’s easy to identify dependencies between different stages or tasks. For example, Leon needs to write and publish a blog post before he can send out an email to your subscribers promoting it.

3) Help to Establish Project Timeframes

Gantt charts help to establish the timeframes for your project. By identifying dependencies between different tasks and sub-tasks you can work out the critical path of the project – the shortest time possible that you’ll need to complete it. However, focusing on only one project means that it doesn’t take into account other elements of your employees’ workloads.

4) Your Colleagues and Customers Will Be Impressed!

Let’s face it – mapping out a project from start to finish and showing this on a chart looks great. For project managers it’s a good tool to take to meetings with customers, or to show your team before you kick off the project because Gantt charts look impressive.

Disadvantages of Gantt Charts

Rigidly Linear and Sequential

The success of your Gantt chart depends on you being able to map out your project in a linear fashion from start to end.

This means you need to know what the end result will look like and what steps you’ll need to take before you even start – perfect if you’re building a house, but less useful if you’re a team of software engineers working from your client’s initial concept and you don’t know how the finished product will work until it’s been built.

Very Complex

Gantt charts can become very complex – particularly if you’re working on a big or complicated project, or you have a large team involved. A big project could have dozens, even hundreds, of tasks associated with it, and displaying all of them on a Gantt chart will be overwhelming and hard to read.

Time-consuming to Update

Gantt charts are developed early in the planning stages, and it’s likely that the project will change as it gets underway, you consult with clients, or deadlines move. Due to the waterfall nature of Gantt charts (where the project is broken down into sequential steps), if one component changes or a deadline moves, all subsequent tasks need to shift to accommodate this change. 

Project deliverables can change so much (say a client changes their mind or priorities shift in response to the market) that it makes no sense to try and precisely define all future steps for the entire project before you begin.

Don’t Show the ‘Big Picture’ for your Agency

Firstly, they only show which tasks need doing and how long they should take – Gantt charts don’t offer a clear and actionable view into how much work is involved, how many people or resources each task will need, or how much it will cost. And secondly, it only looks at one project, and doesn’t show different projects your employees are working on. This means that if something changes on a different project and that becomes an urgent priority, your agency workload will drastically change and invalidate the timeframes outlined on your Gantt chart.

If your agency is working on projects for several clients, your team will need to draw up and consult different Gantt charts for each one, cross-referring to balance workloads and manage deadlines! This will make it difficult for the directors to monitor the progress and profitability of all the agency’s projects.

Alternatives to Gantt Charts

A waterfall Project Management approach (relying on tools like Gantt charts) is sequential – this happens, then this, then that. Your digital agency will need a different approach to manage projects that don’t fit the linear constraints of a Gantt chart.

Agile Project Management provides a more flexible approach. Instead of trying to define the whole project from start to finish, your team will work in short sprints to complete tasks from a backlog you’ve agreed with the client. Before the next sprint you would hold a retrospective – evaluating problems and successes from the last sprint, and using that to help define what you work on next.

A Resource Management tool offers a way to view resources and information using a more agile approach. Rather than focusing on an individual project like you would with a Project Management tool, Resource Management tools help to make best use of your agency’s key resources – time and skill – by providing an overview of the agency’s workload across different projects and teams.

Instead of focusing lots of time and energy creating detailed upfront plans (like Gantt charts), Resource Management tools encourage you to stick to high level, outline planning, only going into finer detail when tasks from your backlog become an immediate priority for your upcoming sprint.

This is much more flexible, and allows for changes to be made to projects more easily than with Gantt charts – ideal if your client changes their mind, your agency team grows or shrinks, or deadlines need to be moved. An agile approach allows for your projects to evolve as you work, keeping your results closely aligned with your clients’ needs.

Should Your Agency Use Gantt Charts?

When deciding whether your project needs a Gantt chart, the key question to ask is: Is my project a good fit for a Gantt chart, or are we just making one because it looks good / it will impress my boss / we did for our last project?

Is spending several hours over the course of the project creating and amending the Gantt chart really the best use of your project manager’s time, or would they be better off actually working on the project? A Gantt chart needs to provide your agency with more value than the effort that is required to create and update it.

If it’s a simple, linear project and you believe a Gantt chart will be a useful, valuable resource, then go for it. But if it’s a complex project with lots of variables to consider, an agile approach may be more suitable.

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