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- A wall chart is typically out of date as soon as the ink dries on the paper.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!