Using Project Management Tools

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Article Posted: 03/20/2009
Article Views: 1933
A Project Manager has to stay on top of three key elements of his/her project: budget, performance and personnel. Performance or task schedules include the day to start the task and the day the task should be completed. This detail forms the foundation for everything else on the project. Costs must be allocated to each task based on the time and materials required. This rolls up to the project budget, of particular importance to the customer. The Project Manager can rely on tools such as PERT and Gantt charts to manage aspects of his/her project. These tools can also serve as the basis for communications with the customer concerning timing and costs. But first the project has to be broken down into discreet steps and tasks using input from the customer to ensure accuracy and completeness. Using tools like these do not guarantee success but will be a great aid for the Project Manager.
Historically, the Program Evaluation and Review Method, also referred to as PERT, was a creation of the 1950s. PERT was and is an event-oriented scheduler, the labels go into the nodes on the diagram of the project. It has typically found uses in aerospace and R&D projects for which the time is uncertain for a given activity. PERT borrowed a feature from the old critical path method (CPM), an activity-oriented scheduler, which puts the activity label on the arrow from box to box in the PERT diagram enabling the manager to get a controllable time for each activity. Most PERT systems are hybrids nowadays, having the best of both the PERT and CPM worlds at the manager's command. A PERT chart looks like a lot of boxes connected by arrows, basically, is more like flow diagrams to the naked eye.
The linear format or bar chart will be used generally in scheduling at the task level. One among them is the Gantt chart. The time-phased requirements will be plotted against the task, personnel and total project for use. The PERT/CPM hybrids will be highly related to the Gantt chart. But the use of Gantt chart is easier as they show the critical paths and milestones clearly to the team on the first sight.
Understanding what a Gantt chart does is critical to using it. Microsoft Project, for example, has a Gantt chart generator. If you understand the elements of your project and when it is that you have to get them done, you can use this generator to plot how the project has to occur, and when the milestones have to happen, and build your chart that way. You can use Excel to create this type of chart by using the stacked bar chart type feature, but with all the other software on the market, it isn't the easiest way to do it. For any software you use, you will need to know exactly what your activities are for the project, and which activities hinge on others getting done. You will basically set up a timeline for the most critical events and backfill until everything occurs in the order in which you need it to for the project to get finished on time.
Even though there are more best laid plans, the occurrence of overruns in the project happens often. This the time to adjust the scheduled tools. The human intelligence is required to do that rather than more sophisticated software.
Even the best software can only be as good as the brain which uses it; thus, even with help from charts, it is truly up to the Project Manager, in the end, to comprehend the workflow for any particular project.
Steve Wilheir is a marketing and management consultant. Consult these resources to learn more about Gantt Diagrams , Pert Charting , and Project Management Software
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