How to Use Gantt Charts to Create a Project Management Schedule
There are many ways to create a project management schedule. Many project management methodologies, many project management processes, many project management tools. You can do something as simple as writing down tasks and assigning them on a piece of paper. You can use calendar apps like Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar. You can use the Kanban method and prioritize tasks. You can write down due dates for tasks on a whiteboard. And you can use Gantt charts.
Gantt charts can be used for traditional project management resource planning, resource management, and matrix planning. Us at Ganttic are big fans of matrix planning since it’s the methodology to use to get the best possible overview of who’s doing what and what’s where.
What is 'matrix planning'?Matrix planning is a resource management methodology that takes the best of both resource and project management. By pivoting the schedule, Gantt charts can be viewed both from resources’ and projects’ perspective. You can view resource utilization from the first angle and project progress from the other.
Although Gantt charts are often seen in project management resource planning templates, there are tools out there that make using Gantt charts much easier than any template would. That’s because most Gantt chart based resource management tools feature drag and drop scheduling.
What is 'drag and drop scheduling'?
Drag and drop scheduling is the act of planning tasks, bookings or events on a timeline by placing the cursor on the time and date where the task should start, and clicking and dragging until the time and date it should end. If the software features drag and drop, a booking or a Gantt chart should appear. It’s as simple as coloring cells on a spreadsheet but much easier to manage.
As you can gather, the part where you are actually using Gantt charts to create a project management schedule is quite simple. You just drag and drop. The part that calls for a how-to article is what’s happening before you get to that. It's making sure you are dragging and dropping Gantt charts in the right place, with the right length, information, and utilization.
To get all of that right with a resource management software, these are the steps you should take:
1. Have a project to schedule
You should always start by adding the project to the resource management software. Whether you are forecasting to see if the project fits into the current schedule or it’s already decided that the project must fit into the schedule, and you should find a way to do that. Start by adding the project.
You should also add all the data that’s important for the other project managers, the team, and the stakeholders. Some examples are the start and end date, the job code or the project code which are used in other systems, the project phase, the project manager, the client, all the milestones.
Depending on the project management tool you are using, the project might appear as a Gantt chart right away. If that’s the case, all the tasks that should be completed for the project to succeed are subtasks.
In Ganttic, projects are nothing more than a way to group tasks for people or bookings for equipment. If the resources are grouped by projects or if you are looking at a single project view the start and end date will appear as milestones on the timeline.
2. Find the resources to schedule
If your organization is using a general resource planning tool for project portfolio management, you are likely looking at hundreds of resources. You have two ways to find the resources you need. The first is to start by filtering out your location and/or department.
You’ll have less noise in seconds. Only the resources that have been tagged with the department and/or location you have selected will appear. A precondition to this approach is that you know the team and the equipment you are planning pretty well and you are only able to use resources from one location or department.
If you can move the resources around in a more flexible fashion or you are doing the kind of high-level resource planning where you don’t know much about the resources, you can filter out the resources with the skills you need. You can add multiple filters to the view to make sure you have all the skills represented.
You can mix and match those two options to find the approach that fits you the best but the goal here is to have a little noise as possible and to get the schedule up as quickly as possible. An additional tip is to sort the resources that appear by utilization to see which resources have the lowest utilization in the time period and thus can be booked.
3. Estimate the tasks you schedule
One way to use Gantt charts to create project management schedule is to plan detailed tasks and the other way is to do high-level planning to get an overview of resource capacity, resource allocation, and project progress.
The first calls for precise estimations and figuring out what’s the best way to prioritize and sequence the tasks. High-level resource scheduling is more about understanding priorities in the portfolio rather than a single project and planning according to the project phases or even just making sure that the resource would be available in the timeframe or letting others know that the resources aren’t available during the course of the project.
The other thing that you should consider while estimating task duration is the resource kind. Estimating task duration when scheduling equipment is quite simple. You know how long it’ll take for the machine to do its’ thing by experience, by looking back on the timeline or by consulting a specialist. No muss, no fuss.
However, if there’s a human factor involved, there’s definitely some muss and probably some fuss, too. You can still use your experience, past analysis, and expert advice (consulting other project managers, the person that’s actually responsible for the task, your mentor, etc). But there’s still a chance you’ll get it wrong.
There will be resource conflicts where the other managers need the team member you have already booked to work on another project. The team member could fall ill, there can be family emergencies, and a number of other things that happen to us humans.
If there are solid resource leveling and shifting procedures in your organization, those conflicts aren’t a struggle to solve. What can be quite a struggle is to let go of the expectation that you can have a project management schedule that’s perfect from the moment you created it. A good schedule is as flexible as a yogi and moves around just as much as a yogi would.
Nevertheless, even with all the leveling, shifting, and prioritizing, there’s still the question of how much work you should schedule a person with. The general rule is never to be too optimistic.
How much work is enough?
According to a survey, on average, a person is productive somewhere around 3 hours a day. That doesn’t have to necessarily mean that you can only schedule a resource with 15 hours worth of work per week but it’s something to keep in mind to keep you from being too optimistic. Remember that planning more work doesn’t translate into getting more work done. Additionally, keep your teams’ health in mind since it has been found that the average healthy work limit is just 39 hours per week. And yes, people can actually die from working too much.
4. Save time
Another thing to consider while using Gantt chart to create project management schedule is if there are any tasks that can be added to multiple resources at once and if there are any recurring tasks.
For example, if you are scheduling equipment and people for a project, it can happen that the two need to be at the same place at the same time. If that does happen, you can create one task, and then simply add it to the task to other resources’ timeline as well.
You are probably already familiar with the concept of something recurring. A weekly meeting? Set it to recur until the end of the project. A monthly project status update? Set it to recur. A maintenance cycle equipment? Recur!