How to tell a proper project manager from a Gantt chart jockey

Much has been written about the essential contribution reasonable project management makes to IT project success. Sadly, the reverse is also true. Absent, incompetent, or insufficient project management is invariably a contributing factor to project failure.

As an executive, who needs the IT project to succeed and is likely the project sponsor, how can you recognize if your active project is being led by a superior, competent project manager or is being managed by an insufficiently disciplined person who exhibits Gantt chart jockey behaviors? The difference will determine project success or fiasco.

You can be reassured or panicked by observing your project manager in action as he or she leads work on the 10 Project Management Knowledge Areas that are common to all projects. These knowledge areas are defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Here’s how to differentiate good from bad project management and determine if intervention is required.

Project integration management

A project led by a Gantt chart jockey is based on a brief, high-level project statement that may be elaborated by allusions to general feel-good themes. A short, project plan illustrates just the approximate elapsed times for planned project phases. The project plan is rarely updated after initial development. Project status becomes a guess.

An experienced project manager leads the development of a:

  1. Project charter that describes the project in some detail and includes a clear goal statement.
  2. Project plan that focuses on the effort required to produce deliverables and is updated regularly.

Project scope management

A Gantt chart jockey views scope-enlarging opportunities as a way to increase project importance by claiming to deliver more value and by asking for more budget. Increasing project size, as scope is added, is more likely to lead to project failure than success because the project will collapse under its own weight.

An experienced project manager is acutely aware that even the most brilliantly-written project charter is full of scope ambiguity. A well-run project, as it progresses, will increase its understanding of scope as a product of system requirements elucidation and detailed design. This work will reveal many additional scope opportunities. The appropriate management of project scope is indicated by the operation of a well-defined scope management process that seeks to contain scope.

Project time management

Gantt chart jockeys see time tracking by task as much too tedious and time-consuming. On these projects, work on deliverables is assumed to have started on the planned start date. Often deliverables are shown as complete when the person assigned to the deliverable says so. As a result, the project gradually falls further and further behind the published schedule due to required rework of deliverables that are later discovered to be incomplete.

A competent project manager leads the work to:

  1. Create a reasonably accurate project schedule by seeking reasonable effort estimates for the tasks required to produce the deliverables.
  2. Ensure a defensible project schedule through the existence of precedence relationships among the deliverables.
  3. Support reliable progress reporting based on time, meaning effort, tracking of the tasks in the project plan.

Project cost management

Gantt chart jockeys tend to create a project budget with few line items and estimated costs based largely on the planned number of elapsed months shown in the original project schedule. The project cost is updated monthly with actual cost. Revisions to estimated cost to complete are based solely on remaining budget. This horrible practice produces a calculated variance amount that is excitingly low and ultimately wildly misleading.

Reasonable project management of costs is indicated by:

  1. A project budget consisting of many line items or perhaps even pages of line items based on effort estimates.
  2. Project cost is updated monthly with actual cost.
  3. Revisions to estimated cost to complete are based on percent complete for every active task.
  4. A monthly calculated projected cost variance amount that is realistic.

Project quality management

Gantt chart jockey projects leave the definition of quality up to the team member responsible for each deliverable. After all, the assigned person is seen as the most qualified to produce the deliverable. Because subsequent deliverables are typically dependent on the quality of predecessor deliverables, quality deteriorates over the course of the project until the project becomes bogged down in massive rework.

Reasonable project management is indicated by quality management that consists of:

  1. A defined quality management process. On IT projects, the process includes a detailed approach to software testing.
  2. Review of deliverables by peers and business staff.
  3. Revisions to the deliverables based on review comments.
  4. A project culture that positions the review process as helpful guidance and not as character assassination of the person responsible for the deliverable.

Alternative actions

Based on your observations, you can be reassured that your project is in good hands, that some project management coaching is indicated or that it’s time to replace that Gantt chart jockey project manager.

How do you think superior, competent project management is best differentiated from inadequate or incompetent project management? Let us know in the comments below, and watch out for part two in this series coming soon.

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.

Featured Download

IT World Canada in your inbox

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.

Latest Blogs

Senior Contributor Spotlight