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Necessary Project Management Tools

May 4 2010

Project management tools are practices that enable a clear and concise plan for project success.  Any project, large or small, simple or complicated, benefits from management tools.  While large companies with multiple projects have been utilizing project management tools for years, smaller companies and even the self-employed can see consistent success when following a management plan.  Not every project needs all of the available tools, but even a seemingly simple task can put these project management tools to good use.

Brainstorming is typically the first tool used when planning a project.  “Fishbone” Diagrams provide a clear visual schematic of the steps or phases and requirements of the project.  Critical Path Analysis Flow Diagrams are a method to plan and manage complex projects.  Gantt Charts are usually tables that aid in communicating schedules and budgets.

Brainstorming is the creative stage of the project management and project planning process.  This is a free-thinking, random method, often underused and even overlooked by those whose strengths are in processes and systems.  At this stage of the planning process, this project management tool is best facilitated by a team member that can think creatively and randomly, and help very organized people to do the same.

During a brainstorming session, all ideas are considered valid and no idea is judged or passed over.  The basic idea of brainstorming is to generate as many possibilities as can be.  After the free-thinking portion of this method, ideas are reviewed for practicality and applicability to the project.

Fishbone diagrams are project management tools chiefly used in quality management fault-detection, and in business process improvement, especially in manufacturing and production.  However, the model is also very useful in project management planning and task management generally.

Project management fishbone diagrams are useful for early planning, particularity when gathering and organizing factors, such as during brainstorming.  They are useful for identifying any hidden factors which can be significant in enabling larger activities, resources areas, or parts of a process.

The categories used in a fishbone diagram should be whatever makes sense for the project.  It is important that the chosen structure is right for the situation, rather than taking a standard set of category headings and hoping that it fits.

‘Critical Path Analysis’ sounds very complicated, but it’s a very logical and effective project management tool for planning and managing complex projects. A critical path analysis is normally shown as a flow diagram, whose format is linear (organized in a line), and specifically a time-line.

Critical Path Analysis flow diagrams are excellent for showing interdependent factors with timings that overlap or coincide. They also enable a plan to be scheduled according to a timescale. Critical Path Analysis flow diagrams also enable costings and budgeting, although not quite as easily as Gantt charts, and they also help planners to identify causal elements, although not quite so easily as fishbone diagrams.

Gantt Charts are extremely useful project management tools. The Gantt Chart is named after US engineer and consultant Henry Gantt (1861-1919) who devised the technique in the 1910s.

This project management tool is excellent for scheduling and for budgeting, and also reporting, presenting and communicating project plans and progress.  However, as a rule Gantt Charts are not as good as a Critical Path Analysis Flow Diagram for identifying and showing interdependent factors, or for ‘mapping’ a plan from and/or into all of its detailed causal or contributing elements.