Keep it Simple, Stupid (1/3): Project Task Labels

In this three-part series, we’ll cover the KISS principle (Keep it Simple, Stupid) as it applies to project reporting. We’ve looked at thousands of timelines and Gantt charts over the years, and can safely say that the most successful project reports are ones that keep it simple by avoiding unnecessary complexity.

Practically speaking, you can reduce complexity by making good use of graphics and color while keeping text to a minimum. How and where you should use text in a project report is more of an art than a science, and in this series, we’ll share what we’ve seen work.¬†Our first installment covers what to do with the names of tasks and milestones themselves.

Label only once

Most likely, you’ll be forced to label the tasks and milestones in your project plan one way or another. You can’t usually get away with a Gantt chart that completely obscures the names of your tasks and milestones. With OnePager, you have the choice to (a) show your task labels on the left-hand side of the page or (b) show your task labels on or around the tasks themselves (click to enlarge):

Label Position

Keeping the labels to the left is more traditional and creates a Gantt chart similar to what you might get out of Microsoft Project. Placing labels on our around the tasks is a more presentation-friendly approach. It allows your audience to immediately see the name of the task, instead of having to scan back and forth between the task and the label on the left-hand side.

Under no circumstances should you place your labels in both places. Double-labeling tasks is redundant, clutters your report, and can actually lead to confusion as your audience tries to compare the two sets of labels to see what the difference is.

Abbreviation is OK

Projects are complex, and so are a lot of the tasks within them. Just because a task name is lengthy doesn’t mean you have to clutter up your report. OnePager lets you double-click on any label and cut it down to size. This includes abbreviating or deleting wordy descriptions, and inserting a line break to help long text wrap for easier readability:

Label Abbreviation

When you modify a task label for presentation purposes, OnePager will never change the task name in Microsoft Project or Excel, so you can rest assured that you’re not going to mess anything up with your underlying project plan.

Use color to take advantage of repetition

Using the two techniques above is a great way to keep text-heavy labels at bay, but there are times when you can go a step further and get rid of your labels altogether. Color is a great substitute for text if you have either of these two types of repetition across your tasks:

  • Repetitive Task Names: Many of your tasks have exactly the same name (e.g. “Design”)
  • Repetitive Task Categories: All of your tasks have different names, but can be grouped into distinct types of tasks (e.g. “Design Tasks”)

Here is an example of a project report with repetitive categories, even though the names of the tasks themselves are unique for each task:

With Task Labels

Using conditional formatting in OnePager Pro, we can add a few simple rules that assign a color based on the type of task. For example, any task with the word “Design” in it will be colored blue:

Task Category Rules

We don’t have to make any other edits to the MS Project or Excel document. These three simple rules allow us to turn off our task labels completely and just rely on a simple color scheme to tell the story:

With Conditional Formatting

This doesn’t work for every project plan–you need some degree of repetition among your tasks. If you have this commonality, it’s well worth your time to look at color in lieu of text for a much cleaner project report.

Next week, we’ll look at date labels as another way to inform and de-clutter your project reports. Until then, KISS.

This entry was posted in Gantt Art, Project Reporting by Safford. Bookmark the permalink.

About Safford

Safford is a versatile technology professional with a solid history of empowering emerging growth companies in a broad array of industries. His employment history includes energy industry consulting at Quorum Business Solutions, Senior Manager of Business Development and Technical Sales at telecom service aggregator GetConnected, and Vice President of Strategic Partner Management at electronic payment processor IP Commerce. Prior to his tenure as OnePager's COO, Safford was the company's Vice President of Marketing and Alliances. Safford holds a BA in Psychology and management from Rice University.

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