My most difficult project (and why I didn’t use a Gantt diagram to manage it).

Michael VernikThis guest post is by Michael Vernik, CEO and Co-founder of DigiSpoke.
In my previous roles, I was responsible to oversee the launch and maintenance a variety of large websites and applications. Several come to mind when I am asked which was the most difficult task to manage. Here’s one I’d like you to hear.
Customizing game characters
It’s not as cool to choose from prefabbed plumbers dressed in red or green to embark on a brick-crushing, mushroom-stomping adventure today as it was back in 1989 New York. I felt the blood rush through my veins when I was asked to help create and maintain a website that allowed game characters to be customized. Complex, yes. Check. It seems simple on the surface. It is actually extremely complex.
It was clear from the beginning of the planning phase that this project would involve many disciplines and teams. It is difficult to manage web content without a sophisticated application. This project required the cooperation of more than 50 people from 6 countries and over 50 external resources. As we were part of the Marketing department, the vast majority of this work would have to be outsourced to third-parties that required active management by my team.
The tools of trade
We were only as good at project management logistics as our diligence and tools. So when it came to choosing our tools, we looked at many options. Our ticketing system was the core of our operation, but that’s another blog post. The team also needed individual project tracking solutions, and there were many.
MS Project was the obvious choice, but it was not preferred by any of the project managers. Although it had many great features, we found it to be heavy on the bloat. Tools work best if they can do their jobs quickly and get out the way faster.
It can be difficult to get people to use a new tool when it comes to getting them to use it. Anyone who has ever tried to launch a system that requires contributors to indicate start/stop times for their work will know that this takes a lot of effort on everyone’s behalf. These systems are often based on unrealistic visions of the software designer, which is what seminars talk about. They almost never work unless they are based on reward or compensation.
We looked into other solutions for our project in our search for granular task management and collaboration. However, we found a wide range of options. Kanban and Agile systems are great for teams with autonomous goals but they can quickly become unwieldy if they are used for multiple dependencies or parallel task scenarios.
Henry Gantt
Henry Gantt created his namesake charts to visualize project status at the beginning of the last century. They were first used during World War I. They were great for visualizing the complexity of projects and keeping track of status. Gantt charts are still the most popular way to see the “big picture” in the information age.
Gantt charts are often used by project managers based on their experience with technology. Gantt charts are not the same as 21st-century tech and today’s users. Gantt charts have many flaws.
Gantt chart user experience
Gantt charts can get very large when used to plan larger projects. Gantt charts can be stretched to pages by a single task on a critical path that takes several months to complete. Scrolling and zooming are possible when the Gantt chart is displayed on a screen.