Project Management Tools
Table of Contents
My first opportunity to use a project management technique was the Gantt Chart as part of my Engineering Senior Project while in college. At that time, it was all manual. Today, numerous software packages offer it along with other project visibility techniques (Figure 1):
- Gantt Chart
- Pert Chart
- Critical Path Analysis
- Affinity Diagrams
- Gap Analysis
Figure 1. Some of the visualization tools used for project management .
No matter what your job, you may have to manage, or play an active role in, a project at some point during your career. The time you spend learning project management skills will repay you handsomely.
Completing projects on time and on-budget will be one of your best endorsements. And when you know how to organize, schedule and delegate tasks, you make yourself more visible for promotions.
One of the most used tools is the Gantt chart and you need to collect all the activities involved in your project. As part of this process, you'll work out who will be responsible for each task, how long each task will take, and what problems your team may encounter. This detailed thinking helps you ensure that the schedule is workable, that the right people are assigned to each task, and that you have workarounds for potential problems before you start. The activities listed in my ‘Problem Solving’ BLOG will help you to collect all the aspects of the project and estimate minimum times and which activities need to be completed before others can start.
Finally, you can use them (Gantt charts) to keep your team and your boss informed of progress. All that is required is a simple update to show changes and how that may change or affect key tasks or critical path. The process for creating a Gantt chart includes:
Gantt charts don't give useful information unless they include all the activities needed for a project or project phases to be completed. So, to start, list all these activities. For each task, determine its earliest start date and its duration.
A Gantt chart is used to show the relationship between activities /tasks in a project. Some activities need to be completed before you can start another one. Other tasks can’t end until preceding tasks have ended. As an example, if you are creating a printed circuit board, you need to finish the design before you send it to prototype fabrication.
There are several dependent activities:
- “sequential” or "linear" activities/tasks
- “parallel” (the activity can be done at the same time as other activities).
Many times, it is not necessary to follow the ‘sequence’, but you may sometimes need other activities to be finished first. So, for example, the design of your printed circuit could begin before the prototype fabricator is selected.
When activities are dependent on other activities, note the relationship between them. But know which activities are parallel and which are sequential. Organizing the Gantt chart will depend on these relationships.
Note that in Gantt charts, there are three main relationships between sequential tasks:
- Finish to Start (FS)—Finish-to-Start activities can't start before a previous activity is finished. However, they can start later.
- Start to Start (SS)—Start-to-Start activities can't start until a preceding activity starts. However, they can start later.
- Finish to Finish (FF)—Finish-to-Finish activities can't end before a preceding activity ends. However, they can end later.
- Start to Finish (SF), a fourth type, is very rarely used.
If you do not want to draw your Gantt chart by hand, there are numerous free software available on the Internet. Some of these, like Microsoft Project, are cloud-based. This can allow many to work on the document simultaneously. Some are even available as templates for Excel.
The timeline uses the same inputs as a Gantt Chart but displays the information on one or a series of timelines, drawn to the scale of the time axis.
A PERT chart presents a graphic illustration of a project as a network diagram consisting of numbered nodes (either circles or rectangles) representing events, or activities of the project connected by arrows (directional lines) that represent activities in the project. The sequence of tasks/activities is indicated by the arrows.
As in the Gantt Chart, there are several dependent activities:
- Event Dependency-activities that must be completed but don’t require resources or times
- Dummy Activities-these are represented by arrows with dotted lines
- Time Allocation-numbers on the opposite sides of the vectors
If you prefer to illustrate clearly the task dependencies, then the PERT Chart can do this, but it is sometimes much more difficult to interpret. Many times, engineers will use both techniques.
There are two activities to create a PERT Chart:
Step 1: Identify Essential Activities/Tasks:
PERT charts don't give useful information unless they include all the activities needed for a project or project phases to be completed. All these activities need to be considered. Then, for each task, note its earliest start date, estimate the shortest possible time each activity will take, the most likely length of time, and the longest time. A useful formula to estimate the time for each project stage is:
- (longest time + shortest time + 4 x likely time) / 6
Unrealistic short time-scales normally plague a good PERT Chart. Many times, it is not necessary to follow the ‘sequence’, but you may sometimes need other activities to be finished first. When activities are dependent on other activities, note the relationship between them. But know which activities are parallel and which are sequential.
Step 2: Input Activities/Tasks into Software:
If you do not want to draw your PERT Chart by hand, there are numerous free software available on the Internet. Some of these, like Microsoft Project, are cloud-based. This can allow many to work on the document simultaneously. Some are even available as templates for Excel.
I will cover Affinity Diagrams on another BLOG when I introduce you to the “Figure of Merit” process.
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