Web Project Management Tools

There are numerous tools and techniques for making project management as easy as possible and the same tools are generally used in Web project management. They are usually visual, making them easy to use, and different types are used at different stages of a project to achieve different objectives. Essentially, some are best suited for planning and others for managing the management process itself. Four of the most commonly used are discussed here, and comprise brainstorming (for generating ideas), work breakdown structure (WBS; for describing a project’s scope), and critical path method (CPM) and Gantt chart (for describing scheduling and planning resources). While the CPM is good for developing and testing a plan for robustness, Gantt charts are better for quick communication of the scheduling for a project, because they show tasks-time relationship in a way that is easier to understand. Both can be produced manually or with software.

1. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a random, free-thinking, but powerful technique for creating new ideas and solving problems. It is usually the first important creative stage of project management, but it can also be used at any stage of a project. Because it involves the people involved in a project working together, brainstorming also has the benefits of developing and motivating a team, as well as encouraging creative and free thinking. Although it is random, it is important for it to be structured and to follow brainstorming rules. The project manager, or a designated person, will usually ensure this. The rules are generally that all ideas are welcomed, and no ideas should be criticized; the more the ideas, the better it is; and everyone should try to build on the ideas of others. Ideally, the number of participants should be less than 10 to ensure manageability. The participants should also be diverse in background, if possible, to broaden the scope of ideas, although it is important that they have some subject-matter expertise in order to facilitate manageability.

Brainstorming consists mainly of determining the aim of a session, conducting the session, and acting on the actions decided. The aim of a session would be to solve a problem, which would have been identified prior to the session. To start, the project manager ensures that everyone understands and agrees on the aim of the session and also knows the rules. The aim should be kept simple in order to ensure that the brainstorming does not get too unwieldy. It may also help to present aims in question form. To simplify an aim, it can be divided into smaller objectives, with time limits given to each. A session should not be too long, as this can be tiring and unproductive. If satisfactory ideas have not been found at the end of the set time limit, the session should be postponed and the participants encouraged to think about the problem at hand for the next session.

The brainstorming process itself involves recording ideas suggested at random by participants on something that everyone can see, such as a flip­chart or whiteboard, to ensure everyone knows what is going on and encourage full participation. At the end of the time limit, different colored pens are used to categorize, group, or connect the ideas as necessary to communicate the relationship between them. To help generate ideas, prompters, such as who, what, where, when, and why, may be used. The ideas gathered are then combined and refined, creating new headings or lists, where necessary. A skilled project manager would ensure no ideas are dismissed outright, so that no participants feel their ideas are unimportant, as feeling this way can have negative effects on motivation and team building. Next, the ideas or lists created are evaluated, ranked, and developed into a set of actions/options. How the actions are to be implemented, the appropriate timescale, and who will be responsible are then determined using other processes or tools. Brainstorming can also be individual if the project is not team based. One of the ways the outputs from brainstorming can be represented is with a WBS.

2. Work Breakdown Structure

A WBS is used to organize the elements of a project into a hierarchical structure, which can be represented diagrammatically or/and in a table-of- content (TOC) format. A WBS can be created using a template from previous successful projects, or from scratch, using brainstorming to identify the elements required for a project’s main deliverables, and then grouping them, based on common characteristics, into phases, activities, and tasks that can be organized hierarchically. Alternatively, the major deliverables of a project may be identified first, and then each deliverable may be broken down into smaller more manageable components in progressive levels of detail, until there are only lists of individual tasks. Figure 27.2 shows a partially finished diagrammatic example, and Figure 27.3, the TOC format.

The output from a WBS is typically used to produce scheduling charts and cost estimates. For a complex project, a diagrammatic WBS is usually better suited for communicating its many elements than a TOC-format- based WBS, particularly to clients. On the other hand, a project team may prefer the TOC-format when implementing the tasks.

3. Critical Path Method

The CPM is a network model (a chart) that comprises a series of logical steps that represent the scheduling of the activities of a project. More specifically, it is a model that presents the list of the activities required to complete a project, the duration of each activity, and the dependencies between the activities. Using the model, it is possible to calculate the longest path of intended activities to the end of a project, and the earliest and latest each activity can start and end without extending the duration of the project. This path is known as the critical path and the activities on it, critical path activities. Any delay in a critical path activity will result in delay in the completion time of a project, whereas delay in activities outside a critical path will not. Knowing the activities that can or cannot be delayed gives you a better control of a project. For example, it enables you to concentrate resources on critical activities when there is the risk of a project overshooting deadline, or simply to finish a project earlier than planned. It is possible for a project to have more than one critical path.

The most common way of representing a CPM model as of time of writing is through an activity-on-node diagram, which has all but superseded an activity-on-arrow diagram, usually referred to as a Project Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) chart. In the former, which is also referred to as precedence diagram method (PDM), information about activities is shown at the nodes, usually inside and around boxes, whereas in the latter, it is shown along the arrows that connect nodes. Activity-on- node network diagrams are generally easier to produce and interpret. However, the more information they are designed to communicate, and the more activities there are, the more complex they become. For example, determining just the critical path for the planned activities of a project requires simply making each activity a node, connecting them in the order they are to be done, and calculating the longest path from the start activity to the end activity. On the other hand, to provide additional information, more work is required. Examples of additional information might be float time (slack time) for any activity (which is the amount of time an activity can be delayed before it causes a project to be delayed), earliest start and finish, and latest start and finish.

Before a network diagram is produced, a list is typically created that comprises the information needed for the diagram, such as, for each activity, Activity ID, Activity name, earliest start time, duration, and the activities on which it is dependent. Producing the diagram is then just a matter of placing and arranging boxes that represent the activities in the order of precedence. Table 27.1 shows a list of activities for a small Web project, and Figure 27.4 shows the corresponding activity-on-node diagram. The duration (in weeks) for each activity is shown at the bottom of the box. The duration of each start-finish path is calculated by adding the duration of each activity on it, and the path with the largest total is the critical path. The float/slack time for each activity can also be calculated. The float for every activity on the critical path is zero. For other activities, the total of the activities on a noncritical path is subtracted from that of the critical path, and the difference is the float for each activity on the noncritical path that is not on the critical path. For example, the float for “C” is 2 and that for “D” is 1. The start and finish boxes in the diagram are optional.

For a more advanced version of the diagram, the node boxes are divided into sections for presenting more scheduling information, such as the earliest and latest time an activity can start and finish. How this is done varies widely. Figure 27.5 shows the legend for the example that is used here and Figure 27.6 the activity-on-node diagram.

Earliest start and finish can be calculated using a technique known as forward pass, which involves the following:

  1. The earliest start (ES) of the first activity in the critical path is 1, while the earliest finish (EF) of any activity is its ES plus its duration, -1. This means that, for Activity A (the first activity in the diagram), the ES is 1 and the EF is 1 + 2 – 1 = 2.
  2. For the ES of the next activity, 1 is added to the EF of the previous one. This means the ES of Activity B is 2 + 1 = 3, and the EF is 3 + 3 – 1 = 5.
  3. If an activity has more than one predecessor, the one with the latest EF is used, since the next activity can start only after the latest of the previous ones is completed. So, the ES for Activity F is 9 + 1 = 10.

Similarly, latest start and finish can be calculated using a technique known as backward pass, which involves starting from the end of the critical path and working backward, as in the following:

  1. The latest finish (LF) of the last activity on the critical path is the same as the EF. To calculate the latest start (LS), the duration of the activity is subtracted from the LF, and then 1 is added. This means that the LS of Activity H in the diagram is 19 – 1 + 1 = 19.
  2. For the LF of the previous activity, 1 is subtracted from the LS of the next activity, meaning that the LF of Activity G is 19 -1 = 18, and the LS is 18 – 4 + 1 = 15.
  3. After completely filling all the activities in the critical path, those in the next longest path that have not been filled are filled as described in 1 and 2, and so on, until all activities have been filled. For example, the next longest path in the diagram is “Start -> A -> B -> D -> F -> G -> H -> Finish,” and Activity D is the only one that needs to be filled.

4. Gantt Chart

As should be evident from the example shown of the CPM, a network diagram is not quite intuitive to read and understand. In contrast, a Gantt chart is easier both to create and to interpret. People do not have to be trained to be able to understand them. To produce a Gantt chart, a list similar to the one earlier in Table 27.1 is created that comprises mainly activity ID and name, week number, and duration. The chart can then be drawn on a simple graph paper or created with dedicated software, into which the data is entered and the graph generated. A spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft’s Excel, can also be used.

Figure 27.7, which is the Gantt chart version of the network diagram in Figure 27.4, was created using Excel by simply selecting the number of cells that match an activity’s duration and coloring them. Activities in the critical path are in black and those not are in grey. No calculations are needed to determine slack times for activities that are not in the critical path; it is easy to see them. For example, Activity C has two extra weeks and Activity D, one week, before the next Activity (F) must start. The arrows linking the end of some activities to the start of others were drawn using normal drawing tools and indicate that later activities cannot be started until earlier ones have finished. This is known as finish-to-start (FS) dependency. However, although Gantt charts are easier to create and interpret than network diagrams, they can be more complex than shown here. They can be more detailed; activities can be broken down into sub­activities, weeks into days, and various more types of inter-dependencies between activities and constraints on start and end times can be incorporated. For example, as well as FS dependency, other types of relationship are possible, such as start-to-start (i.e., an activity can only start after another activity has started), finish-to-finish (i.e., an activity cannot finish until another has finished), and complex (i.e., there is more than one relationship between a pair of activities).

Source: Sklar David (2016), HTML: A Gentle Introduction to the Web’s Most Popular Language, O’Reilly Media; 1st edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *