In this day and age of complex projects that span geographies, time zones, rapidly changing technology and requirements, having tools that enhance efficiency can greatly increase the chances of project success. Project Management tools that help to better manage resources and budgets and which help to track project progress are a boon for stressed and overworked project managers.
One such tool is the network diagram in project management that gives a visual representation of the workflow of a project, thus allowing users to track the progress of the project at any time. In this blog, we look at the various characteristics and benefits of network diagrams in project management.
Visual aids like project networks have been widely used in project management to help project managers and team members stay clued in on the progress of projects and share it with all those involved in the project.
A project network, also called project activity network, is a graphical description of the sequence in which the terminal events or milestones of a project must be completed. The project network is similar to a flow chart. The terminal events of the network represent activities and deliverables derived from the work break down structure and are arranged sequentially like in a flowchart
Project Networks can be created using techniques like Gantt Charts, PERT charts, and Critical Path Management. There are multiple paths in the project network but each terminal element must lie on only one path of the network.
Network diagrams are used by Project Managers to track the progress of activities during the course of the project. In other words, they represent the workflow of the project. Those involved in the project can get a bigger picture of the activities and timeline of the project. Project network diagrams help everyone involved in the project to visually track the progress of every phase of the project from its inception to its completion. The network diagram is a chart and contains boxes and arrows. The boxes denote tasks and responsibilities, and the arrows denote the sequence in which the tasks must be completed and the schedule.
The network diagram also shows how an activity relates to the other and the sequence of activities to be conducted. The precedence of activities as shown in the diagram is important, as some activities have to be completed before the next one starts.
Network diagrams also help to determine the impact of finishing tasks early or late, on the overall project. Managers can use network diagrams to better allocate resources and schedule their timelines.
But creating a network diagram requires a lot of planning. All activities must be identified and estimated as leaving even one task out from the network diagram can cause a cascading effect on the projected schedule, commitments, resource allocation and cost of the project.
Project network diagrams can be of two types:
As the name suggests, this type of diagram uses arrows to depict terminal elements/activities. The length of the arrows typically represent the duration or time taken for completing a particular activity or task. The tail shows the start of the task while the head shows the completion of the task. The order of activities or their precedence is represented by circles that are connected by arrows.
The diagram may also contain dummy tasks that are used to show the inter-dependency between tasks. Dummy tasks, though, do not represent any real sequenced activity but they are more of check-points or milestones that may need to be completed on the way to moving forward with the next task.
Advantages of the PDM are as follows:
PDMs too, like ADMs are used in project management. The activities are represented by boxes or nodes. The arrows connecting them represent the relationship between the activities. Depending on the precedence of the activity, the arrows represent different relationships. For example, an arrow can be used to show that an activity cannot start before the completion of its predecessor or if both activities can be started simultaneously.
Here are the four ways of developing the diagram and connecting the tasks based on precedence:
The duration for completion of the particular activity can be mentioned over the arrow connecting the activity to its successor.
Advantages of the PDM are as follows:
Being visual aids, network diagrams have a lot of advantages, such as:
While there are a whole lot of advantages to network diagrams, there are also certain disadvantages:
Developing a network diagram is not an easy task, in the sense that it requires a whole lot of homework to be done before being created. Project Managers or others who are involved with every aspect of the project and know the project requirements at a very detailed level are ideal candidates for creating the network diagram.
The network diagram requires the involvement of people responsible for the different activities of the project. A well-done network diagram smoothens out the project path and ensures early identification of issues and bottlenecks.
As mentioned above, the creation of a network diagram requires a whole lot of pre-planning. The following information must be at hand before the network diagram is created:
Network diagrams when created accurately can bring in a whole lot of benefits. Let’s look at the best practices to be followed while making the network diagram.
There are several network diagramming tools available that are precise and make our job easier. Some of them include:
A picture speaks a thousand words! And what could be of more help to a project management team than a picture that helps one understand the whole project?
By providing a diagrammatic representation of the events, activities, structures, and processes, the network diagram helps all those associated in the project to understand the project at a micro level. Project managers especially, have found network diagrams to be valuable tools in managing projects and ensuring their success
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