A customer recently said something that really stuck with me. He said that “teams and leadership are all bored to death of looking at complex Gantt charts and project schedules.” This was a senior Project Manager in a global aeronautics company. My sense was that he has probably worked on some pretty big projects and that he had seen his fair share of Gantt diagrams. His comment resonated because I have made this mistake in my career.
Over my tenure at a global enterprise, my early Gantt chart presentations must have bored audiences out of their chairs. The type of Gantt chart template my project software produced was too complicated for customer presentations and reviews with management. Since these presentations were always done in PowerPoint, the Gantt diagrams that my project software produced just didn’t work well. They were really difficult to present and hard for my audiences to get excited about. Net, my presentations were not inspiring them. I needed to build something simple and beautiful like this.
Keep in mind these were not deep project reviews, rather they were important high level presentations. I can categorize these audiences into three groups; my staff, my management and my customers. Although they were gracious enough to never yawn loudly when I presented a slide with a Gantt diagram pasted on it, I did lose their attention. These folks needed a different type of project presentation, much lighter, much more graphical and something produced natively in PowerPoint which was their preferred platform for communication.
As I look back the mistake was trying to use my project software or Visio for Gantt chart presentation work. It was difficult to paste their images into PowerPoint and really hard to finesse them so they looked ok. Despite best effort and lots of time trying to get these slides into a presentable state the result was never really that good. They had too much data squished onto each image and the aesthetics were awful. This is what made it difficult for audiences to follow. I needed a Gantt chart maker that was native to PowerPoint so the slide could be manipulated, updated, edited and changed in PowerPoint as my project evolved.
Now there is only so much you can fit on a PowerPoint slide, so I also needed to learn which parts of my project schedule were “presentation worthy,” and which parts could be left out of the presentation. Early on I thought presenting as much Gantt chart detail was the right thing to do. But overtime I learned to summarize the key milestones and tasks, particularly for presentations to my leadership and to my clients. When I was able to condense project schedules it was easier to build more engaging slides. This made it much easier to communicate them and I felt like I could win the management and customer support I needed.
The images above illustrate the difference between the complexity of a Gantt chart that my project management software produces and the summarized view of a PowerPoint Gantt template. My lesson was to not “shoehorn” complicated project schedules from my project software onto a PowerPoint slide, but rather to summarize them and build them with a native PowerPoint timeline maker. (see post How to make a PowerPoint Timelineor Gantt Chart quickly.)
Of course there are many scenarios where clients and executives required more than a simple summary level PowerPoint Gantt chart. For example including a Gantt diagram in project proposals or scoping work. Presenting richer detail in a clear and easy to read graphical Gantt diagram, like the one below, seemed to make a lot of sense since I would not have to talk through each item in high level presentation. Rather I would be including them in the project plan documentation.The video below shows how to quickly build and manage Gantt chart presentations in PowerPoint and how to easily expand them into a Gantt diagram that includes another level of detail.
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Someone I know well runs a large sales team. She is on the hook for delivering$200,000,000 to the business each year. That is a pretty big nut but she smart and exceptionally good at what she does.
If you asked her what a Gantt chart or Gantt diagram was, I doubt you would get a good answer because she doesn’t care about project management in Excel and does not find Gantt charts particularly interesting (what a surprise). I suspect she would probably tell you that Gantt charts were for product development teams, and Gantt diagrams were for IT folks or consultants. Fair enough but that's why we have a tutorial for making a Gantt chart with Excel
Interestingly though, she breaks down her $200,000,000 quota and forecasts it on a timeline predicting revenue attainment goals (milestones) at key points throughout a fiscal year. She also lists the necessary activities (tasks) her team must do to accomplish these milestones. Then she breaks down each of those activities into smaller pieces (sub tasks) and assigns them to her team. The model sounded like a Gantt chart to me so I made the template below with Office Timeline
Click for detailed image
Office Timeline is a free timeline maker that is embedded into PowerPoint, so using it to create and share a Gantt chart or and Gantt diagram templates is intuitive and quick. It starts with a simple wizard for entering the key milestones and tasks of your business plan or you can import that data directly from Excel. Then with a push of a button this business plan is turned into a graphical Gantt chart on a PowerPoint slide.
Now my friend above does not intentionally use the principles of Gantt, however she is applying one of the fundamental rules of project management, WBS (work breakdown structure). The benefit of this is that she can deliver a repeatable rhythm to her business year in and out. She showed me how this was all planned out for her business planning reviews…and they were Gantt templates that she re-purposes each fiscal year.
The process of using a timeline maker for business planning made me realize how powerful and ubiquitous they are. Since so much in business is about planning and executing campaigns, timelines are very relevant. Although Gantt charts have typically been the domain of project oriented people, I can recall them being effectively used in business roles.
Beyond using gantt diagrams for sales planning, here are a couple other scenarios of business leaders using them to effectively communicate business plans. The first was a training scenario where the general manager mapped out specific training due dates to his team in the field. In his case he used a PowerPoint timeline template to clearly communicate the training commitments and the due dates (tasks and milestones) he was holding his team accountable for. The second scenario was a marketing leader who was communicating a marketing plan to her team. She also used a Gantt template to map out the phases of her campaign (tasks) and the key deliverable dates (milestones).
As I digested all of this I realized that PowerPoint is the way they communicate and being able to easily present business plans on a Gantt chart or timeline makes sense.
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