Over the past decade, we‘ve seen big increases in both the amount of data being collected and the amount of product and project managers analyzing this data by project charts and reporting dashboards. The typical project in todays day and age is more complicated, larger in size and generally has more moving pieces than ever before – which means understanding the core data points are incredibly important to provide successful outcomes.
Advances in unified communications and contact center technology as well as globalization have played a large part in the rise of multi-dimensional, complex projects. More complexity in projects means that more strategic planning and management is required, and several studies have shown that companies have been slow to see the importance of project management. According to The Standish Group’s 2020 CHAOS report, approximately 66% of projects fail in the software industry alone.
Failed projects are generally the result of poor planning, miscommunication and a lack of insight during project execution. Projects that fail to meet expectations, come in late and/or run over budget result in a host of problems including lost time, lost money, damaged reputations and employee burnout.
In order to manage big, complex projects successfully, a good project management chart can go a long way. There are a number of great options, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For most projects, it will be necessary to use several different charts and project milestones because they serve different purposes. Just like an omnichannel contact center benefits from having a variety of communication options, a project manager will benefit from having a variety of project management charts in their toolkit.
In order to find out what charts will work best for your team, work style, goals and data, we put together this list. Let’s start out by taking a look at what exactly a project management chart is and how it can help your business in the planning and execution of a large project.
What Is A Project Chart?
Before we define what a project management chart is, let’s look at what is meant by project management in general. A project is defined as a one-time (non-repeating) endeavor that consists of a series of tasks and a defined goal. Project management is the use of methods, processes, skills and tools to make sure that a project is progressing and meeting agreed-upon objectives. A project management chart is a visual representation of data that is being analyzed in a project.
Project management charts are one of the most helpful tools a project manager can use because they organize vast amounts of data into a readable format that gives valuable insight into a project’s progression in a specific area.
Benefits of Project Charts
Think about all the data that needs to be analyzed when managing a large and/or complex project. There are different employees working on different tasks with various deadlines and milestones. All of these need to be tracked.
There is also the finances of the project. This might include budgets, bills, invoices, labor costs and overtime. There also might be resource allocation data to keep track of. As business projects get bigger and more complex, the data load increases. Putting all of these data points into a project management chart simplifies things and offers a number of benefits.
Save Time with Project Charts
Project management charts will save your project manager and teammates time because they don’t have to go through large spreadsheets or pages and pages of data manually. Humans can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. This means that your PMs can analyze more data and make more informed decisions without wasting time.
Save Money by Using Project Management Charts
Project management charts can save your company money too. With project data organized in a systematic way, there will be fewer mistakes and uninformed decisions made in project management. With an accessible way to see all of the information on a project at once, there can be more eyes on the data. This means more collaboration which will lead to more productivity and efficiency.
Increased Success and Decreased Frustration when Project Charts are Used
With the ability to easily understand the big picture of how a project is progressing, PMs can plan better, make better decisions, meet more deadlines, reach more milestones and experience more successful projects.
Additionally, project management charts greatly reduce the need to comb through vast amounts of data. Time-consuming, repetitive tasks are the cause of the most frustration and cases of burnout among employees.
Top 15 Project Charts
Now that we’ve learned what a project management chart is and what the benefits are, let’s take a look at the 15 most popular options.
1. Gantt Chart (Most Commonly Used Project Charts)
A Gantt chart is the most recognizable and popular project management chart by far. It is mainly a timeline view of open projects, but it also shows you at a glance how the tasks for each project are progressing and how departments, team members and activities are working together. Along the y-axis of a Gantt chart you will see the tasks and along the x-axis is the time passed and project milestones.
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Pros: The pros of using a Gantt chart is that it is easy to use and will allow you to assign tasks, plan projects, set dependencies and track progress.
Cons: The cons of Gantt charts is that they require more effort for creation than some other charts and they don’t allow you to see all of the tasks in one view.
Ideal for: Complex projects of all sizes.
2. PERT Chart (Most Popular Project Management Diagram)
One of the most popular project management diagrams is a PERT chart. PERT is an acronym for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. A PERT chart is in a diagram format and uses circles and arrows or lines to represent the milestones and activities involved in a project.
Pros: The pros of using a PERT chart is that you can easily track activities and tasks that have uncertain time frames. Additionally, you can see non-critical parallel activities.
Cons: The cons of a PERT chart is that they are a little complicated to read at first. They also aren’t as good for tracking tasks that are time bound.
Ideal for: Projects that involve many tasks with uncertain time frames.
3. Work-Breakdown Structure (WBS) Chart
A work-breakdown structure chart organizes a project into levels. The first level is the most broad and general. It might be the main task or the overall project. The following levels break down the first level more and more into smaller tasks or budgets.
Pros: The pros of a WBS chart is that it can help you simplify and plan out a large complex project. It works well for breaking down a budget.
Cons: The major downside to a WBS chart is that you can’t see the task dependencies or timeline of a project.
Ideal for: Any project that can be logically broken down into smaller parts.
A flowchart uses boxes or other shapes, arrows and color to visually represent the progression of a project. For a smaller team project that has some complicated workflows, a flow chart can simplify things and get everyone on the same page.
Pros: The pros of using a flowchart is that it presents a project’s steps and processes in a graphic way which is especially helpful for visual learners.
Cons: The cons of flowcharts is that they won’t work for large projects with many steps or when several departments are involved.
Ideal for: Small projects with a complex flow of activities.
5. Cause-Effect Project Charts
A cause-effect diagram helps the PM plan for problems that may arise during the execution of a project. By charting out all the possible causes of a particular problem, PMs will be able to find the source of issues and resolve them faster.
Pros: A cause-effect chart is that it helps PMs and team members anticipate problems before they arise and come up with proactive solutions to avoid wasting time and money.
Cons: A cause-effect chart has a narrow focus and doesn’t give information about other aspects of a project outside of possible roadblocks.
Ideal for: Brainstorming and problem solving.
6. Burn-up or Burn-down Project Charts
A burn-up/burn-down chart focuses on how a project is progressing. A burn-up chart shows you how much work has been done and a burn-down chart shows how much work is remaining. Either one offers vital information for a PM who needs to hit a deadline. These charts are easy to create and can be generated automatically with some project management software solutions.
Pros: The pros of using a burn-up/burn-down chart is that it allows the PM to quickly see if the project is on track to finish on time so that he or she can make adjustments. Burn-up/burn-down charts are also easy to make changes to as the project progresses.
Cons: The cons of using a burn-up/burn-down chart is that it doesn’t show your PM which tasks are in progress and how close they are to being completed.
Ideal for: Tracking progress on projects.
7. Bar Chart
Bar charts are a classic when it comes to the visualization of data. They are simple, versatile and easy to interpret. On one axis will be a variable that you are measuring. It could be anything from billable hours to completed tasks. On the other axis will be the units of measurement for that variable. These charts are created automatically by nearly all project management software solutions and even most cloud phone systems.
Pros: The pros of using a bar chart is that it is easy to create and interpret, and you can compile a large amount of data into something very understandable.
Cons: The cons of using a bar chart is that you can only address one specific aspect of a project at a time.
Ideal for: Visualizing a specific aspect of a project.
8. Pareto Chart
A Pareto chart is a combination of a bar chart and a line graph. The left vertical axis will have a unit of measure such as frequency of occurrence while the the right vertical axis will have a cumulative or total for the particular unit of measure. Along the horizontal axis will be whatever variables you are measuring.
Pros: The pros of using a Pareto chart is that it includes elements of both a bar graph and a line chart so it is much easier to look at this chart and see what kind of an impact certain solutions will have on a problem. A Pareto chart can also be easily generated from a spreadsheet.
Cons: The cons of using a Pareto chart is that, similar to the cause-effect chart, it is singular in its purpose and doesn’t show the “big picture” of a project.
Ideal for: Identification of problems and complications in a project.
9. Pie Chart (Ideal Project Management Charts)
A pie chart is easy to create and can be used for a wide variety of data. A pie chart is circular (like a pie) and shows a breakdown of something as segments of the circle. It is useful when there is an asset, budget or task that can be logically broken down into categories and when the proportions of such categories are significant.
Pros: The pros of a pie chart are that it allows a PM to quickly see the impact of categories on the whole. Pie charts are also easily shared with others because they are very user friendly and most people are familiar with them.
Cons: The cons of a pie chart is that it is narrow in focus like the bar graph.
Ideal for: Data segmentation.
10. Control Chart
A control chart maps out a specific process over time. It is meant to quickly show erratic changes. The distinguishing characteristic of a control chart is that there is an upper limit and lower limit line on the graph and then an average middle line. Ideally the process that is being tracked will remain around the average midline, but if it fluctuates over the upper limit or below the lower limit, the PM can quickly investigate and adjust before a problem arises.
Pros: The pros of a control chart are that it provides a picture of a process over time so that you can quickly see if a task is being performed as was intended, or if a tool is working properly.
Cons: The cons of using a control chart are that it doesn’t show the cause of variation in a process, so it may create a “false alarm” if there is a common-cause variation. Another con of the control chart is that they do require some training to create and interpret. If the limit lines are too high or too low the control chart will not be helpful.
Idea for: Monitoring a specific task or process.
11. Matrix Diagram
A matrix diagram shows relationships between different elements or groups of elements. There are several forms of matrix diagrams, some compare two groups to a common standard, some compare four elements to each other, some compare three sets of data. All matrix diagrams create a visualization of how data sets are working together and related to each other.
Pros: The pros of using a matrix diagram is that it is very customizable. You can choose a common format, or create your own to fit the type of data you have and your goals.
Cons: The cons of a matrix diagram is that they can be more complicated to create and are limited in scope.
Ideal for: Complex projects with many interdependent elements/processes.
A timeline, as you might imagine, is a chart that shows the planned and actual progression of the entire project from beginning to end. This visualization highlights milestones and mission critical events that are time bound so that PMs can see if a project is on track at a glance.
Pros: The pros of a timeline is that it is flexible. It can be very detailed with hundreds of tasks or very simple with only major tasks and milestones. A timeline gives a simple bird’s eye view of the entire project.
Cons: The cons of a timeline are that it doesn’t give much actionable information. It may show that a project is behind schedule, but it doesn’t give any information as to what the issue is.
Ideal for: Big projects that have a strict deadline.
13. Critical Path Diagram (CPM)
A critical path diagram shows the most important tasks involved in a project, in sequence. This can help a PM visualize task duration, set a realistic deadline and budget for a project, and make sure a project stays on track to completion.
Pros: The pros of the critical path diagram is that it simplifies a project into its most important tasks. Figuring the time and effort needed for these critical tasks can give a lot of valuable information for the project as a whole.
Cons: If using a critical path diagram, the “critical path” must be mapped out accurately. If there is a critical step that is missed, this could cause big problems later on. With larger complex projects, this may be difficult to do or the diagram may become too complex to be helpful.
Idea for: Initial project planning.
14. Cumulative Flow Project Charts (CFD)
A cumulative flow chart (CFD) gives you a visual of the work in progress as well as cycle time and throughput. CFDs are generally brightly colored and visually appealing. They are similar to a burn-up chart in that they display the work that is done, but they give more information about different stages of tasks than a burn-up chart does.
Pros: A CFD allows a PM to keep track of how the project is progressing as well as to see where the bottlenecks are at a glance. CFDs can handle very large amounts of data.
Cons: A CFD only shows historical data, so they are only useful after some time has passed and they cannot be used to predict when a project or task will be completed.
Ideal for: Identifying bottlenecks and tracking progress on long term projects.
15. Kanban Board (Most Flexible Project Management Diagram)
A kanban or scrumban board is a visualization of a workflow and is made up of columns and cards. Each column represents an activity or status such as “in progress”, while each card represents a specific task. Cards flow from one column to another. Kanban boards can be physical or digital.
Pros: Kanban boards are flexible and customizable to fit the needs of the project. They are great for encouraging team collaboration and identifying bottlenecks and checkpoints in the workflow.
Cons: There are no dates on a Kanban board so it is impossible to tell when tasks will be completed or whether a project will meet its deadline.
Ideal for: Projects with small to medium size teams who will need to collaborate.
Final Thoughts on Project Charts
All of the project charts mentioned above are helpful in compressing large amounts of data into something that is easy to understand at a glance, but they all serve different purposes. For complex projects, it will be most helpful to use a variety of project management charts to get a full understanding of how the project is progressing, what issues need to be addressed and whether the project is on track to come in on-time and under budget.