What’s Wrong with Wall Charts

In February 2002, an unsuspecting project manager posted on Edward Tufte’s blog asking for help making a Gantt chart prettier. What followed was probably the most epic convergence of project management expertise we’ve ever seen — the thread is 161 posts long and still going!

The punch line? According to the dozens of assembled experts, instead of sharing around electronic copies of Gantt charts – PowerPoint slides, PNG files, etc. – project managers should make giant wall charts of their project plans to hang in the office. That way people can eyeball them, from close and afar, and visualize project status at any level of detail they desire.

I couldn’t disagree more. Here’s why.

A project management wall chart in its illegible glory.

A project management wall chart in its illegible glory.

  • A wall chart is typically out of date as soon as the ink dries on the paper. At most organizations, project plans simply change too quickly to make a marriage between a project plan and a dead tree rational.
  • Printing wall charts is a pain in the you-know-what. You need a special printer (aka a plotter) and special paper. Printing is expensive and takes a long time, meaning you’d better be 1000% sure all the details are right before you hit CTRL-P. (By the way, the aforementioned details will be changing as soon as you’re finished printing … but we already covered that.) Incidentally, it’s not very friendly to trees either.
  • In the corporate world of 2014, most project teams are not fully co-located. Your engineers in Shanghai and your developers in Mumbai are will be hard-pressed to justify a round-the-world flight to come to America and look at your office wall. Yes, you can take a digital photo of a wall chart. If you think those are easy to read, I hear CSI: Miami might have an opening.
  • Furthermore, even when teams are co-located, corporations are sticklers for security. I’ve worked on project teams where conference rooms had to be “scrubbed” down to blank whiteboards every time the contractors came over from the building next door. If your contractors can’t access the (unscrubbed) conference room where the wall chart is posted, they might as well not be on the team.

The thing is, many of the advantages of wall charts heralded by Tufte can be accomplished with the effective use of OnePager software. OnePager allows you to view project plans at both macro and micro levels of detail, using virtual summary tasks and/or multi-project visualization. You can make a OnePager project view as large or as small as you want – or make it several different sizes, filtering based on your audience. And unlike a wall chart, you can share a OnePager Project view without exhausting your company’s ink budget, ransacking a forest, or teleporting your global team to your office!

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Gantt Art, 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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