I hate the way they look. I hate the way people interact with them. I hate the time it takes to build one. I hate the way it encourages people to behave. Think back to the last Gantt chart you saw. It probably looked like a sprawl of boxes where your “resources” were happily delivering packages of work to set schedules. Gantt charts are fixed. That gives them a veneer of reliability and objectivity. That’s why organisations often drop screenshots of a chart into multiple slide decks which are then handed round the organisation as evidence of operational excellence. (This evidence is flimsy at best, but it might occasionally dupe senior management.) While life shifts around a Gantt chart, the charts are usually fixed in place. They are framed and held aloft until the project is well and truly off target. Only then will project managers scramble and cut the scope of the “less important” final stages of the project which is almost always quality assurance.
The problem with Gantt charts is that they seem to articulate a worldview that is clear, ordered and precise. They make managers think they can influence time. They make you think that decision making around sequencing and moving work between teams is as simple as a swipe across a spreadsheet or a drag across a grid. We need this to happen earlier , someone says. Easy: let’s just drag it or squeeze the date a little . But here’s the fundamental problem. Work never starts on time, it doesn’t occupy full days of effort and it rarely gracefully completes on schedule with no repercussions. Work morphs and flexes. Things are discovered. People go on holiday. Communication breaks down. This has implications on the plan and causes projects to slip away, missing deadlines. To quote Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” What is a deadline? The term itself is thought by some to come from the US Civil War, referring to a visual boundary around a prison. If a prisoner crossed it, they would be shot on site. We put these in our projects to indicate the same idea - whether the punishment for crossing your deadline is the same as that in the Civil War will largely depend on where you work. And yet it’s rarely such a clean death. Instead the project sponsor withdraws funding and asks for frequent updates, slowly starving the team of its resources until it either limps over the delivery line or dies trying at a much later date than anticipated.