August 23, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Planning Software – Gantt Charts or Kanban?

By Bryan Barrow

project planningWhen I started out in project management one of my first roles was to produce project plans on behalf of the team. I liked playing around with software packages and since I had never worked with project planning software before, I was more than happy spending time figuring out how to use it.

That was the first time that I’d really started to work with Gantt charting tools. The market has changed in many ways since then. The market is changing again.

Project Planning Software

Kanban tools have emerged from the growth in use of Lean and Six-Sigma. The market for Kanban based project planning software is heating up, with several products now becoming trend-setters. The question for you is: should you follow that trend?

There are three reasons why you should think very carefully before making a move away from using Gantt charts if you run a significant number of projects in your organisation.

#1 Scenario Planing, Forecasting, Trend Analysis

The first reason is scenario planning, forecasting and the ability to analyse trends. The real power of project planning software comes from its modelling ability. It is a power that for the past 20 years has been under-exploited.

Three key features of traditional tools are:

  • “What-if” scenario planning
  • Baselining
  • Earned Value

These are standard features for most traditional planning tools; we still need them.

#2 Dependency Management

The second reason is dependency management. Your projects are now more likely to be delivered in partnership with third parties than ever before. As a result your project is more likely now to need good dependency management than ever before, especially if there is a commercial or contractual impact. Few projects use software to map and manage dependencies. This is likely to get worse with a move to Kanban, not better.

#3 Resource Management

The third reason is the ability to plan and manage resources. Resource planning and management is the number one problem for many organisations. The delays caused by resource bottlenecks can be better managed only when you are able to see all the resource demands across your entire resource pool.

Part of the solution is for organisations to be more aggressive in chopping out projects that are not viable, but the other part is in better resource management. Tools which allow you to visualise and manage resources across your entire portfolio is the answer, not visual tools.

Why you need project software training, not new tools

The one thing that underpins effective use of project management software is training. Yet it is not unusual for someone to be given access to some software but no training to go along with it. As the use of Agile methods grows in the IT community the role of the project management specialist is going to decline and with it we will see a reduction in the number of people who have more advanced planning skills.

People are even less likely to receive training in project management software if it’s seen as something that a team of people can do by updating a wall chart or an online Kanban tool, but there’s a world of difference between a group of people independently updating a centralised tool and a specialist independently interpreting the results, assessing whether the project is on track and directing actions based on the results.

So if you’re thinking about swapping from using a planning tool that uses Gantt charts towards a Kanban-based project planning tool, think again. You may be surprised at what you’re already missing.

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About the author: Project leadership expert Bryan Barrow works with Project Management Office (PMO) Managers, Project Directors and organisations that need to deliver more of their projects on time and within budget, so that they achieve their strategic objectives. Barrow is the author of The Project Planning Workshop Handbook: How to Plan Your Next Project so it Gets Delivered.

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