Feeds

Project managers do it with diagrams

When a picture says a thousand words

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Workshop Project managers usually opt for Microsoft Project, OmniGroup’s OmniPlan or one of many other specialist software products, but some also make use of the ready-made templates included in diagramming software.

Many diagramming tools make it possible to create Gantt charts, Pert charts and flowcharts, and some also offer templates for visualising resource management, collaboration, issue tracking, scheduling and project portfolio management.

Pert Chart (C) Ralph Lengler & Martin J. Eppler

Microsoft Visio, for example, includes templates for Gantt charts, network diagrams, workflow charts, timelines and work breakdown structures (WBSs). Omniplan has options for scheduling, resource allocation and Gantt charting.

But many firms favour tools that adapt easily as a project progresses. The problem with spending hours creating charts is that sometimes it doesn’t take long before they become redundant.

Process Event Chain (C) Ralph Lengler & Martin J. Eppler

Bob Walker, Microsoft Project technical sales specialist, says Pert charts are becoming less popular. “Most of our customers don’t use them and are not trained to use them, even though they are a good visualisation tool. Many prefer to create a WBS using Visio, and then to generate a Gantt chart from that data. There are also misconceptions about critical path, which some believe is fixed. It’s not, of course.”

A WBS is a tree diagram used to define separate work elements and estimate costings, working back from the final goal, with “progressive elaboration” giving increasingly granular details on activities. The WBS facilitates decisions about assigning responsibility, allocating resources and control of the project.

Dale Vile, managing director of the UK analyst firm FreeForm Dynamics, says the focus must be on diagramming that aids teamwork. “You need effective communication to ensure everyone involved has a common understanding of what is being delivered and how. This can involve illustrating business requirements in a way that is meaningful to technical staff,” he says.

“Diagramming tools are great for building visuals to assist with communication. PowerPoint is clearly one option, but the templates, standard iconography and conventions provided by tools such as Visio assures greater consistency, which is invaluable. Not having to reinvent the wheel when figuring out how to present subject matter is a big time saver.”

Burn down

The use of diagrams to demonstrate real-time progress is key. In agile project delivery, progress must be demonstrated continuously to ensure the project delivers constant value, so real-time reporting is extremely useful. “Burn-down” reports show progress toward a target for each phase of the project.

Julian Holmes, co-founder of software developer UPMentors, says: “The status on a chart can be collated manually but real-time data is also an option when the team uses tools to track their actions and log their work. Tools such as Jira from Atlassian, or Team Concert from IBM Rational, are leaders in the field.”

Whatever the tools project managers choose, their detractors are never far away so the visuals had better be robust. Register reader 'Anonymous Coward' is perhaps typical. “Where I work, the project manager title pretty much refers to any monkey able to randomly mash a keyboard with Microsoft Project open. I'd just occasionally like to see someone whose job title is PM actually do it,” he says.

Perhaps the arrival of diagramming software in the cloud will start to encourage new, collaborative ways of using project management documents. It is also likely to continue to spawn a host of applications for niche market sectors.

Chris Roth, editor of the Visio Guy website, believes that the on-the-fly nature of such software will eventually bring huge benefits. “Web-based diagramming apps look interesting. They can update features any time, as opposed to the very slow update and upgrade cycles of desktop software. You can also have a lot of people work on the same diagram at the same time,” he says. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Preview redux: Microsoft ships new Windows 10 build with 7,000 changes
Latest bleeding-edge bits borrow Action Center from Windows Phone
Google opens Inbox – email for people too thick to handle email
Print this article out and give it to someone tech-y if you get stuck
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on
Next driver to battle fake chips with 'non-invasive' methods
UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan
'Veteran Unix Admins' fear desktop emphasis is betraying open source
Entity Framework goes 'code first' as Microsoft pulls visual design tool
Visual Studio database diagramming's out the window
Google+ goes TITSUP. But WHO knew? How long? Anyone ... Hello ...
Wobbly Gmail, Contacts, Calendar on the other hand ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.