What Gantt Charts Have to Do with the Verdi Requiem

Next Tuesday, in my double life as a semi-professional classical baritone, I will be singing the 90-minute Verdi Requiem from memory. So I have been spending a lot of my downtime studying music that looks like this:

Verdi Requiem choral score, first movement, page 2

Free sample from http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/requiem-sheet-music/983445

Naturally, this has got me thinking about project management. So what does a set of lines and dots like my Verdi Requiem choral score have to do with planning and executing large, complex projects?

Think of it this way: Right now you’re basically looking at a Gantt chart. In fact, there are three Gantt charts on this page, telling the singers (and piano accompaniment) what milestones to accomplish (1) from measures 15-21 of the first movement, (2) from measures 22-27, and (3) from measures 28-35. The six lines in each of these Gantt charts represent six workstreams. I, as a baritone, pay the most attention to the fourth line from the top; my erstwhile friends in the tenor section follow the third line from the top, and so forth.

When publishers of music scores pull these things together, they have to ask a question that many project managers ask on a daily basis: How much visual complexity can and should my audience handle? What do they need to know, and how many workstreams can I show at once without making people’s brains explode?

In music publishing, as in project management, the answer is: it depends. As a choral baritone, I don’t really need to know what the oboes are doing in measure 24, so the publisher doesn’t tell me. But I do need to know what the sopranos, altos, and tenors are up to, because the four sections call and answer each other with the phrase “luceat eis.” So I see those three workstreams in addition to my own.

The soprano soloist, meanwhile, can’t be bothered by any other parts in the excerpt from her score below. She actually sings with the three other soloists in this part, but they’re all singing the same pitches and rhythms, so they don’t really need to see each other’s workstreams. Accordingly, the publisher leaves them out:

Soprano part to Verdi Requiem Angus Dei, page 1

Free sample from http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtdFPE.asp?ppn=MN0073212&ref=google

And then there is the conductor’s score (brace yourself!). He needs to see everything, and so he does. (My conductor friends have great arms from carrying around these tomes … well, that, and conducting.)

Verdi Requiem orchestral score, Dies Irae, page 1

Free sample from http://cantorion.org/music/3776/Requiem-2.-Dies-Irae

As a project manager, when you build Gantt charts, you should think of yourself as pulling together a score for a great orchestral work. You should ask yourself, first and foremost, who is my audience? What do they need to know about how their own role in the project relates to everybody else’s?

Unfortunately, many project managers just make one Gantt chart for their project plan, showing every team member every workstream. That’s dereliction of project management duty in my view, and would be tantamount to handing the choir the full 284-page orchestral score to the Verdi Requiem. (There would be tears.)

Instead, think about segmenting your Gantt charts by subsets of your team. The engineers probably need to see what the designers are up to in February, but they probably don’t care as much about the marketing department. And so forth. Only you and your top executive should see all workstreams at once – and even then, you can use summary tasks to make that information less overwhelming.

As it happens, OnePager allows you to create multiple versions of the same project plan through the use of multiple Flag fields in Microsoft Project. We have a terrific how-to article on how this is done, linked on the previous line, which I highly recommend to you and your PMO.

OK, back to cramming!

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Gantt Art, OnePager 5.1, Project Reporting, Project Visualization by Nathan. Bookmark the permalink.

About Nathan

Nathan Black was on the founding team of OnePager, joining as a beta tester in 2005. The product was exciting — the lack of paycheck, exciting in a different way. So he went out into the world, working as a project manager, management consultant, and academic (he was most recently a research fellow in the Government Department at Harvard University). Everywhere he went, he saw a need for more and better project management, particularly by people who don’t call themselves project managers but end up filling that role on teams and ventures large and small. In 2014, he returned to OnePager as Vice President of Solutions. His primary roles are (1) helping customers use OnePager more effectively and (2) developing new versions of the software. He is passionate about getting project visualization and reporting right, and eager to hear from project managers (in title or in reality) who feel the same way! Nathan lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Whitney and sons Ethan and Adam. They enjoy classical music, the outdoors, and politics. E-mail him at [email protected].

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