Project Management

The Enduring Inadequacy of Visualizing PM: The Need for a Better Picture

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

Project management has a problem. Well, arguably it has a few problems, but in particular I'm thinking about how we visualize--and visually present--information about our projects.

As I was preparing to write this month's column, one of the things that struck me is that there has been very little innovation in how we depict and portray information about our projects. The majority of visual tools that project managers are taught have been around since, quite literally, the dawn of modern project management. Gantt charts, PERT charts, resource histograms—all of these were tools that emerged in the early days of project management.

Of course, the mere fact that these tools have been around for a while is not in itself an indictment. The adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" exists for a reason, after all. And while PERT and Gantt aren't broken, per se--they do what they claim on the box--they also aren't awesome ways of presenting information about projects.

Let's start with the most popular (and also possibly most loathed) means of presenting a project: the Gantt chart. Theoretically, there is a lot to like about Gantts. The default view in Microsoft Project, after all, is a Gantt chart--and one displayed at a ridiculously granular level of detail. Manage a project with 10 tasks over a four-week period, and the default …

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