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All about PERT charts

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A well-organized PERT chart can help project managers effectively schedule and coordinate tasks within a project to estimate the time it’ll take to complete. Keep reading to learn about the benefits of using a PERT chart, as well as how to create and implement your PERT chart.

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What is a PERT chart?

PERT is an acronym for program evaluation and review technique. A PERT chart is a project management tool used to analyze the individual tasks involved in completing a project. Intended for larger-scale projects, PERT charts are designed to identify the time needed to complete each task, estimating the shortest, longest, and most likely time requirements.

PERT charts provide a clear visual understanding of project time requirements and inter-task dependencies, allowing you to make informed decisions about task sequencing, deadlines, and more. Using this comprehensive map of your tasks and deadlines, you and your team can complete your project in less time, with less waste and confusion, producing better results for your team and your customers.

Advantages of using a PERT chart

PERT charts can be helpful when tackling non-routine or time-sensitive projects with many task dependencies. 

Using a PERT chart can:

  • Clarify time constraints for your team. 
  • Offer a detailed view of the sequence in which tasks should be performed.
  • Help you manage your time and resources across your team more effectively. 
  • Reduce waste and costs as you complete your project.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of using a PERT chart is the potential for higher worker and client satisfaction. When used effectively, the contextualized data in PERT charts can simplify the decision-making process and provide your team with a sense of accountability regarding project requirements. This means less stress, fewer missed deadlines, and more time to get to your next project.

What is the difference between a Gantt chart and a PERT chart?

Both PERT charts and Gantt charts are visual tools used for project management, but there are a few notable differences between the two charts. Most importantly, PERT charts are most commonly used before a project begins to break a larger project into smaller tasks, while Gantt charts are used during a project to schedule tasks by date and depict how much work has been completed. 

Consider using a PERT chart over a Gantt chart if you want to focus on visualizing inter-dependencies, determine your project’s critical path, or accurately estimate your project’s duration.

See the models below to visualize a PERT chart vs a Gantt chart:

 

PERT chart example:

Gantt chart example:

The difference between PERT and CPM

PERT charts and the critical path method (CPM) are both project management methods that focus heavily on the flow and sequencing of tasks within large-scale projects. Both can be effective tools for planning projects and increasing project efficiency. 

The main difference between PERT and CPM is that PERT charts are typically used when the time required to complete a project needs to be determined, while CPM deals with predictable projects that occur frequently. To break it down even further, PERT charts are a method of planning and managing time, while CPM is used to control cost and time.

For maximum benefit, consider using CPM in conjunction with PERT charts. Implementing both in your project management strategy can provide your team with a realistic deadline and optimal process flow for the best results possible. You can learn more about CPM using our guide.

PERT chart symbols, notations, and terminology

Here is a list of commonly used PERT chart symbols, icons, and terminology:

  • PERT chart: A PERT chart uses the symbols and notations of program evaluation and review technique to depict the flow of dependent tasks and other events in a project.

  • PERT event: A point in a PERT chart that marks the completion or start of one or more tasks. This point cannot occur until all of the activities leading to that event have been completed.

  • Predecessor event: An event that immediately precedes another event within your project without any other event intervening.

  • Successor event: An event that immediately follows another event without another event intervening.

  • Critical path: The path between the first and last events in your project, including all your project’s tasks and durations, that add up to the longest overall project duration. By identifying the longest duration possible, you can then determine the shortest time possible to complete your project.

  • Critical path activity: Project tasks that must start and finish on time so that your project is completed on schedule.

  • Crashing critical path: The act of adding additional resources to the project to complete activities and compress its schedule.

  • Fast tracking: Project activities that were initially supposed to be completed sequentially but are performed simultaneously to save time. 

  • Lag time: The delay between tasks that have a dependency.

  • Lead time: The time it takes to complete a task or a group of interdependent tasks.

Symbol

Symbol Name

Description

Terminator


Indicates start and end points

Node
(circular)

Used to represents events or milestones and contain numbers

 

Node
(rectangular)

Used to represent events or milestones and contain numbers

 

Task
(table)

Contains time estimations, projected start and finish dates, and task owner

 

Line Connector
Directional arrows used to depict dependencies sequentially

 

Dotted Line Connector
Directional arrows used to indicate dependencies that do not require resources

 

Lanes/Containers
Used to separate PERT chart into different zones, each representing different areas of the project

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The PERT formula and when to use it

There are a number of variables that can affect task completion, making it difficult to estimate how long it will take to complete a project. PERT chart users typically rely on four standard calculations when determining the appropriate length of their projects:

  • Optimistic time (O): The least possible amount of time required to accomplish a task
  • Most likely time (M): An educated estimate of how long a task will take to complete without problems or delays
  • Pessimistic time (P): The maximum amount of time required to accomplish a task
  • Expected time (E): A reasonable estimate of how long a task will take to complete, taking into account possible problems or delays

The basic PERT estimate equation used to determine your expected time is E= (O + 4M + P)/6.

Once you have identified each time estimate, they can be plugged into the PERT formula to more effectively calculate a project’s duration. 

Let’s demonstrate with a simple house remodel. If your optimistic time estimate is 160 days, your pessimistic time estimate is 365 days, and your most likely time estimate is 250 days, your equation will look like this:

E = (160 + 4 x 200 + 365)/6 

So, you can estimate that your home remodel will be complete in approximately 221 days.

How to make a PERT chart

Once you’ve decided to implement a PERT chart with your next project, use a visual workspace and take the following steps to create your PERT chart from scratch:

  1. Identify your tasks: Create a thorough list of what tasks need to be completed within your project. This is most easily done once your project is fully scoped and you’ve determined which tasks are critical and which are not. 
  2. Calculate time: Determine the optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely time frames of each task. Once each has been calculated, you can then find the estimated duration of the project.
  3. Plug your tasks into a project network diagram: Put your tasks into your diagram along with its estimated completion time. This diagram will give you a visual timeline of your project and help you determine your project’s critical path.

How to conduct a PERT analysis

A PERT analysis is used to determine the probability of your project being completed on time. To conduct a PERT analysis, use standard deviation to determine the amount of variation in your data. 

The formula for standard deviation is: (P - O)/6

The lower your standard deviation, the more confidence you can have in your expected completion date. 

PERT chart examples

Use any of the PERT chart templates below and modify them custom to your needs.

Simple PERT chart

This PERT chart template showcases a simple “activity on arrow” PERT chart design. Each arrow is labeled with the appropriate task and its expected time requirement, and the project’s critical path is clearly labeled.

Click to modify this template

 

Network PERT chart

This PERT chart template depicts task nodes laid out in a network diagram. Each node contains more detailed information about the task, including time estimations, durations, and start and finish times.

Click to modify this template​​​​​

 

Vertical PERT chart

This is another simple PERT chart example with a vertical layout. This example also uses circular nodes to depict task order, with the critical path marked with a red outline.

Click to modify this template

 


  • PERT Chart Templates
  • Critical Path Method and PERT Charts

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