Whether you are a seasoned project manager or a rookie, planning a project can be a hassle. The more drawn out and complex the project, the bigger the headache. Countless steps need to be planned, endless tasks need to be assigned, and at each point a whole slew of things can go wrong. And all of this information needs to be accounted for in your final project plan.
Usually this plan is represented in a Gantt chart, which, in theory, makes it easy to understand. The plan is supposed to convey critical information to stakeholders and keep team members informed and on schedule—that’s asking a lot of one diagram. The result is usually a convoluted mess of a chart. (Hate Gantt charts? Explore alternatives.)
If you’ve struggled with overly complex project plans, it may be time to step back and reconsider your method. The final Gantt chart should not be the only diagram used in the project planning process. There are a wide variety of other diagrams and charts that, when used in project planning and management, improve efficiency and clarity throughout the process. Taking advantage of these other diagrams results in a cleaner, simpler Gantt chart that stakeholders can easily understand.
The goal of a project plan is to communicate with stakeholders. Before this can be achieved, it is essential that you have an exhaustive list of stakeholders. Coming up with this list can be achieved in only a few brainstorming sessions—a process that should be facilitated by mind maps.
Using mind maps is a simple but effective way to visually record your brainstorming. Put the project name in the center bubble and attach several smaller containers. In each of these, write every entity or team that will be involved in the project: clients, marketing, engineering, board members, etc. From these containers, branch out into more containers that represent smaller categorizations of each team or individual names.
The finished diagram is a complete list of stakeholders and the relationship each one has to the project. Starting at each name, you can trace back towards the center bubble and see their role in the project.
A common problem in project planning is including too much information. It’s tempting to put every little detail in the Gantt chart, but doing so detracts from the chart’s effectiveness. A Gantt chart is meant to be easy to understand—adding additional details often detracts from overall clarity.
The key is to include only essential details. The plan should show overarching deliverables, due dates, and dependencies, but not the intricacies of each. The tasks and processes that go into each deliverable don’t need to be included. (Those details do need to be explicitly documented for the relevant team members, just not on the Gantt chart—more on that later, though.)
To determine what details to include in your project plan, you should perform stakeholder analysis. This process, usually done on a power/influence grid (also called a power/influence matrix), will clarify the importance of each stakeholder to the project. Plot each stakeholder on the grid, based on their power and influence; each box is labeled with the amount of attention stakeholders in that section need. Obviously, stakeholders with a high level of power and influence need the most attention.
Based on your power/influence grid, select which details to include in your project plan. The goal of the plan is to communicate with stakeholders, and the chart will show which stakeholders require the most information.
As mentioned above, it is important to list every task and process necessary for each deliverable—just don’t put this information in your Gantt chart. For every deliverable in your project, determine the team members involved. As you build your project plan, meet with them to discuss their responsibilities and reasonable due dates for each task. These dates will inform your Gantt chart but only on a macro level; the micro deadlines are only necessary for the team members they impact.
The complex processes that make up each deliverable can be diagrammed using process maps. These diagrams depict workflow and can be as detailed as you need. In your meetings with team members, discuss their responsibilities, and have them help you flesh out a detailed process map of their tasks.
To create your own custom process maps, sign up for Lucidchart!
As team members work on their assigned tasks, it may be helpful to supplement their process maps with another sort of diagram: Kanban boards. These charts provide yet another way of organizing workflow, tracking tasks from the backlog to completion.
A process map displays the order of tasks in great detail, but lacks a mechanism for tracking completion—Kanban boards fill this gap. Used in coordination, these two diagrams can be a powerful tool to stay on top of every task, track progress, and maximize efficiency.
Lucidchart: all your diagrams in one place
In Lucidchart, you can easily create all four of the diagrams listed above, and many others. Lucidchart’s intuitive interface allows you to start diagramming right away, without sacrificing any functionality. And, it solves another problem—how to keep track of your diagrams.
If you use diagrams throughout the project planning process, you’ll generate a lot of diagrams. Normally, that would mean frustration and headaches. However, Lucidchart is cloud-based, so you can access your diagrams from any computer, no matter the operating system. You can also easily share diagrams with co-workers and collaborate on them in real time; every team member will have access to the diagrams they need.