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Someone once told me, “Gantt is a thing of the past. It’s only useful for Waterfall projects.” And they were very passionate about it, too.
They had their reasons.
When Henry Gantt first published his bar charts in the early 1900s, they were state of the art. By listing tasks on a vertical axis and then depicting the schedule for completion graphically on a horizontal axis, project managers were able to help their project stakeholders visualize the overall project at a glance. For wartime and industrial-age projects, the Gantt chart became a popular tool for ensuring complex projects were completed on time and on budget.
Since then project managers have spurred on the evolution of the Gantt Chart. And today, rather than laboriously redrawing a chart each time the schedule changes, they use software to easily add additional information and reflect updates.
Gantt charts also became a common tool to help project managers clearly convey the status of important projects during meetings with senior management. Management became skilled at reading Gantt charts and noticing “tent-pole” tasks that were extending project deadlines and troublesome “pre-reqs” that were causing delays.
Unfortunately, Gantt charts sometimes told only part of the story and project managers were left trying to explain important details without having the necessary data readily available.
In 2001, seventeen software development practitioners got together and created the Agile Manifesto.
Side note: One of the seventeen, Jon Kern, works in the Atlassian ecosystem these days (for Atlassian Platinum Solution Provider, Adaptavist).
While the benefits of iterative and rapid development had been around for decades, the Agile Manifesto brought the concept of Agile software development to the mainstream.
The Agile Manifesto is rooted in four stated values:
Individual interactions over process and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
As you can imagine, many project managers interpreted this to mean: “no process, no plan, no documentation.” And the thought of losing those three control points caused them to break out in a cold sweat. Their livelihood was rooted in controlling projects. Even the Project Management Institute (PMI) highlighted “control” as one of the five phases of professional project management.
Despite the early resistance from project managers, Agile methods started to take hold. At first, it was a grassroots effort using Scrum or Kanban boards covered by a rainbow of sticky notes.
Over the next few years, project managers started seeing elements of Agile creep into their project management software.
However, a large percentage of project managers couldn’t figure out an effective way to incorporate Agile methods into their battled-tested, five-phase Waterfall approach to managing projects. After all, how can the scope change when management has already signed the requirements document?
What followed was a period where confusion and conflict reigned in software development shops all over the world. Project managers were continuing to develop plans and schedules and reports based on a Waterfall approach, and software development teams were holding their own Scrum meetings, creating Kanban boards, resisting documentation requests, and recommending scope changes during development and testing phases.
Fortunately, collaborative software developers and project managers came up with better ways to present data in a hybrid (Waterfall/Agile) way, and project teams started to adapt. They began to realize they could still create and assign tasks, they could still have a high-level schedule in place and they could still follow a general software development lifecycle (SDLC).
Additionally, they started to see the benefits of an Agile approach. Best practices started to evolve very quickly at this point and project managers started demanding even more integration from their software. Luckily, companies like Atlassian responded. Software-based solutions for project management in an Agile world became common.
The thing that remained elusive were Gantt-based timelines, in all their modern glory, adapted for an Agile world.
As Agile user stories, sprints, standups, Scrum boards, and Kanban boards grew in popularity, the once-favored Gantt chart got lost in the mix. Because it had limited contextual data, it lost some of its magic.
But Gantt charts were not forgotten. In fact, when I came into the ecosystem four years ago I learned “Gantt” was one of the top searches on the Atlassian Marketplace. (I have no current confirmation from Atlassian to support this hunch, but I bet it still is.)
That’s the beauty of the Atlassian ecosystem. The Atlassian Solution Providers and Atlassian Marketplace Partners discover this sort of thing, often with Atlassian’s help. And they build products to meet the need.
Today, you can find a number of Gantt solutions for Jira in the marketplace. You can even find Gantt solutions for Confluence. Plus, you guessed it, some of them have been adapted for the Agile world. They allow you to depict sprints on the Gantt timeline and use sprint start and end dates to place tasks in the right place on the timeline. They use Jira links to depict dependencies. They use story points to determine and draw the task durations and evaluate resource allocation.
In other words, they deliver Agile Gantt capabilities.
At the project portfolio level, most of the complex projects I see can best be described as “hybrid.” That is to say, there are many stories or tasks that can be done in parallel in a purely Agile fashion, and there are some (or many) things that can only be done serially, in a Waterfall fashion. For example, the solution cannot be tested or delivered until the infrastructure (hardware) has been ordered, deployed, and tested. Someone is looking at these things from above. For them, the whole portfolio of projects is the project.
Moreover, many projects have overarching objectives that must be met. For example, many game developers must deliver in time for the holiday buying season. And it’s not just the bits that need to be done. The packaging must be designed and manufactured. The advertising must be created. The products have to arrive in the brick and mortar stores on time. The list goes on. Some of those suppliers and partners may not fit into your Agile framework but they are still part of the project.
The best of the best Agile Gantt solutions can adapt to these hybrid projects.
So, what to do with this information? Head over to the Atlassian Marketplace and craft your own Gantt search, based on your needs. Some things to consider:
With that information, you can craft your search. Here are a few examples.
Let’s say your organization is using Jira on Atlassian Cloud and you’re looking for a Gantt solution that meets the Atlassian Cloud Fortified criterion:
Or, maybe your company has chosen the self-managed Data Center route for Jira and you’re searching for a Gantt app that's in the Project Management category.
Here’s one more: Maybe your organization hasn’t decided to deploy on Cloud vs Data Center yet. Nonetheless, you want to get a sense of what’s available. You’re more interested in Gantt apps that claim to be Agile-compatible and you’re more interested in what’s hot right now.
The items highlighted with red boxes and arrows are just examples of the things you may want to use to narrow your search. You can craft the searches however you see fit.
Full Disclosure: I work for ALM Works. We first introduced an Agile Gantt solution called Structure.Gantt in 2019. It’s an optional extension for the app called Structure. However, the searches shared above include other alternatives. And there are even more below the first row of search results pictured here.
No surprise, things have changed a lot in the last 100-plus years. And Gantt isn’t necessarily just for Waterfall anymore. Plus, you’ve got choices. Be sure to check out Atlassian’s own Advanced Roadmaps, available only for Jira Software on the Premium or Enterprise cloud plans or the self-managed Data Center subscription plan. Then, so you have something to compare it to, craft your own marketplace searches to find the alternatives you may want to consider. Many of them will work on all the flavors of Jira and do not require you to buy into premium or enterprise subscription plans.
Now go be Agile (or not, or both). And don’t let anyone tell you Gantt is a thing of the past.
My colleague Jaramy Conners, a senior technical writer, deserves some of the credit for this article. He wrote a product-specific piece about Agle Gantt in 2019 when ALM Works first added Agile capabilities to Structure.Gantt.
He gave me permission to craft something new using his original work for inspiration and was an editor for this article.
Dave Rosenlund _Tempo_
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