Data visualization for PPM: Don’t take it for Gantted

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The humble Gantt chart is much more than meets the eye.

Throughout my time working within PPM systems, I’ve consistently found the Gantt chart to be the first visualization that people associate project management with. Outside of simply providing the dates or budget figures, the Gantt chart is the heart and soul of project-related reporting. Very few other visualizations give you the same degree of information that a Gantt chart does—the most basic charts tell you how long an activity is going to take, as well as the relative timing of those activities.

In practice, surfacing Gantt charts from project plans at a program level is challenging—while Microsoft Project already has built-in functionality to support a visual Gantt chart and there are numerous third-party tools to help PMs display Gantts on a project by project basis, effective enterprise-level displays of multiple projects and programs can be more difficult to generate due to the various types of data necessary to present an effective Gantt chart. It takes time to collate and gather information across the projects you’re trying to combine together.

Take for example a clinical drug development program. When viewing the timeline to a global health submission, you need to see the timing of clinical studies and regulatory meetings and events at bare minimum in order to understand when a new drug application can be filed. On top of that, it is important to understand the timing for individual workstreams that contribute to study completion or regulatory events. Despite having all of the information at their fingertips in their study timelines, it’s a manual process for the PM to combine the data together in a coherent program report. In short, it’s kind of a drag.

This is where PPM systems like Microsoft Project Server really shine. Because most enterprise PPM systems can capture and govern this information at a high level, it is easier to introduce standards and data models that support enterprise reporting for programs. Whereas project managers in charge of several clinical studies at the same time might normally have to create multiple reports specifically for certain presentations or updates, a fairly standardized PPM data model can capture and process information for reporting extremely quickly. The same project manager can run the same report and have all of their study timelines in reporting quality within moments, sourced from the project plan they saved minutes before. It’s this kind of efficiency that allows a PM to spend their time on the things that really matter, like the story behind the Gantt chart and how they got there.

So the next time someone shows you a Gantt chart summarizing projects together, think about what it took for someone to make the report. Don’t take it for Gantted.