To Gantt or not to Gantt? That is the question!

A curious experience is looking on Microsoft's Project Template website for 'Software Development Project Plan Templates.' 

With Microsoft being a software development company and Project being what it is, you would think there would be many software development templates--some for Waterfall, some for SCRUM, some for XP, some for Crystal, etc. I found only two.  Both were quite rudimentary.  Interestingly enough, though, there are tons of cookie recipes, scrapbook planning templates, and other fun, useful project plans.  I was tempted to add a new subcategory for weekend jeep projects. This sort of begs the question about how many of us are really using Gantt Charts in our software development processes.  I've asked my peers about it and seem to get an overall answer that it takes as much time to update the gantt chart is it does to complete the project.  Hmmm.

We used gantt charts for a while at one of my client sites, in an attempt to display project status.  Although I think the executive staff felt catered to, I got a sort of 'deer in the headlights' effect from them. An interesting side affect was that the development team discovered we could use the gantt chart, projected on the wall in all it's glorious complexity, to underscore how busy our workload was and to negotiate for more time.  (This seemed to momentarily put us in the strongest negotiating position.)

Still searching for a better project status communication medium, I came across a wonderful process called Earned Value Management.  This is a process that developed in the government contractor circles, that displays--all-at-once--the project projected baseline for cost and progress, the actual cost, and the actual progress.  It's a wonderful tool, and after you understand it, you would think why would we do this any other way? Other tools exist, including Agile Burndown (or Burnup) charts--and they are helpful.  They show workload vs. schedule--two of the three series of information.  But Earned Value Charting seems to be the final endpoint for communicating succinctly the progress of your project.

Oh, btw, Microsoft Project will produce an Earned Value Chart for you.  You just need an advanced degree and probably another staff member to keep track of all the numbers it requires.  I wonder if anyone has ever tracked earned value progress on cookies baking in the oven?

Mike J Berry