I'll make no secret of it: I never have liked Gantt charts. In 15+ years at being a program manager Microsoft I have made exactly one– and that was just to play around with Microsoft Project. Not one team I've been on in Microsoft used them. I do confess they occasionally appear in the hallways at Microsoft – but I've never caught a human looking at one.
The Gantt chart is a rational way to describe a schedule. These diagrams seem like something perfectly understandable to their authors. But I don't find them an effective way to communicate the project schedule with the rest of the team.
Gantt Chart Examples
And frankly, they just don't look that nice. Any my primary criticism: too much visual noise. Here are some examples from WIkimedia Commons.
By Vheilman (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
(click for PDF)
By TijlCrauwels (Own work) [CC0 (creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
An Alternative from Tufte
A discussion on Edward Tufte's website on this topic provided sense of what something cleaner might look like. Definitely easier for me to deal with.
My attempt at a clean visualization is below. It's a sprint-based schedule based on a fictional product called 'VixiDraw". (Those of you who remember I worked on the very non-fictional Microsoft PhotoDraw will have a sense about what the features in VixiDraw are about)
You can download the http://1drv.ms/1ct1Frs
Sprints are rendered as solid boxes with their exact begin and end dates. The current sprint is highlight in red.
Simple underlining of headers, indicates key segments of the project
Physically nesting the items identifies the hierarchy of segments. Below you see that VixiDraw v2 has several sub item items
We wouldn't want to see an endless number of underlined items. This is avoided by making a decision at some point to use simply typography to indicate structure. You can see this in the gray boxes. They contain simply bolded text followed by a list of items. I avoided using bullets in the lists to make it look cleaner.
PARTING THOUGHTS AND NOTES
- I don't mean to imply this visualization could replace a Gantt chart – only that it might be more effective in communicating a schedule.
- Using a sprint-based calendar simplifies the visualization because all workitems are aligned on begin and end dates. Also, the widths of all items are in consistent units.
- I don't think these should be too hard to programmatically render.
- The chart I made was build using simple rectangles in Visio 2010. Something similar could also be created in Excel.