There are many ways to create a project plan, although most project managers will automatically think of using project management software to build a Gantt chart. This is a bar graph that displays tasks down the side and dates across the top. You can also add in additional information in columns like dependencies and resource names. While the Gantt chart is a popular and professional way for building your project plan, it's not your only option.
Below are the pros and cons of 4 different options for building your project plan, including project management software
Spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel are designed for calculations such as managing your project budget, but many project managers find them useful for preparing project schedules as well.
- Spreadsheets are easy to use
- They are colorful
- They are basic enough for anyone to update without needing training
- You have to manually update a spreadsheet if the dates on your project change
- Not very sophisticated
- Printing can be difficult-you have to fiddle with the page layout to get it looking right
- You only get a 'calendar style' view, no option to view by resources unless you build in complex filters
2. Mind mapping software
Mind mapping software like iMindQ is not the first thing that you might think of when it comes to putting together a schedule, but modern software gives you many more features than the traditional maps for brainstorming sessions. You can also use the templates and map structure to organize project tasks and to create a work breakdown structure.
- Easy to add new tasks
- You can work with your team to create the schedule as it is very collaborative
- You can use it to create your work breakdown structure as well
- Useful for projects that start with a vague scope as you can record lots of information
- Not a traditional way to display project plans
- Some stakeholders may prefer a linear way of looking at project information, such as a calendar view
- You may need to add links to other documents or embed data items to capture everything on the map
Lots of software tools are available to produce documents, and one of my favourites is OpenOffice Writer. Documents are particular useful if you want to use tables, and as the formatting displayed on screen is what you get when you print the document it's also easy to see how it is going to come out.
- You can structure data in a linear or tabular, date-driven way
- Your plan can double up as a task list or to do list
- It's basic enough to share with anyone and to easily illustrate what has to be done on the project
- It could be too basic for some projects
- It's only really suitable for small projects or the list/table will be too long
- You have to manually update it if any dates change and this can be time consuming
4. Project management software
Finally, the option most experienced project managers will automatically think of is the project management software tool like Microsoft Project. However, even experienced project managers don't use this type of product all the time or for all audiences.
- This is normally considered the most professional way to display project task information
- It's suitable for large projects
- It produces a Gantt chart that automatically updates if any dates change (as long as you have this option switched on)
- It can be complex to use
- Licences can be expensive so you may not be able to allow all project team members to use it
- There is often a learning curve with any new piece of software
- It may have to be installed by your IT team