Planning your conference using a Gantt Chart

April 27, 2009

in Basics, Planning, Tools

A Gantt chart is a key tool for planning and tracking your conference. In its simplest form it works as a schedule management tool that allows to control the milestones and activities related to your conference by tracking the start/end dates and the people directly responsible for each activity.

If you have an engineering or technical background my advice on using a Gantt chart will seem banal but unfortunately in many projects I have seen in the past years, this basic planning tool has been missing. During the last week the Salone del Mobile (or Design Week) took place in Milan and hundreds of events and conferences have been organized all around the city. I have been involved in some of them, specially in the marketing area, and when I asked to see the work-plan of the project the most common answer was “it is all in my head”. It is easy to understand that the risk of having a plan inside someone’s head is that it cannot be shared with others immediately and the amount of complexity cannot be too much.

There are many specific tools for creating and managing a Gantt chart, the most famous being probably Microsoft Project, but for most cases this is an extremely sofisticated software and you can obtain good enough results using a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers or even Google Docs (more on how to use Google Docs’ spreadsheet as a collaborative tool in a further post).

How to createa Gantt chart for your conference using a spreadsheet (like Microsoft’s Excel):

  1. Make a list all the main items involved (e.g.: Venue, Speakers, etc.) and milestones (e.g.: Project Kickoff, etc.)
  2. Break down each item into the activities required to fulfill it (but keep the level of detail manageable)
  3. If possible, order and number each item and subordinate activities in a logical sequence
  4. On the horizontal axis of your spreadsheet add the calendar dates from the start to the end of the project
  5. Add the start and end date to each activity by filling (with color or a mark) the cells representing these dates. This gives you a graphical representation of the duration of each activity. If you prefer you can add extra columns to specify the starting and ending dates
  6. If you manage a group of people, add the name of the person responsible for each task

A sample of a Gantt chart

A sample of a Gantt chart

Once your Gantt chart is ready, make sure you check it out every day to keep control on which activities should be taking place, if they’re on schedule and take necessary decisions.

If you organize conferences frequently, do the extra effort of standarizing your Gantt so it can be easily reused by you or your colleagues.

Each time you update the chart, write down on it the date of the update so that you avoid confusion between different versions.

Share your Gantt chart with members of your team and your superiors. It is important that everyone involved in the project knows the status of his activity and the relationship with the whole entity. Your boss will be relieved to see that you have a methodical approach to the management of your conference and you will also be able to answer faster to his questions on the status of the project. Though it is best to consult the Gantt chart in its digital form (which should be perfectly updated) a printed version helps to see the big picture on how things are proceeding.

I will come back to the Gantt chart in further posts, so stay tuned through the RSS Feed

Here you will find further details and tools to create your Gannt chart:

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  • http://twitter.com/tomsplanner thomas

    As an alternative to using spreadsheets for Gantt charts we have developed http://www.tomsplanner.com. We truly believe is much more time efficient and much more easier to use. Spreadsheets were not meant to be used for Gantt Charts initially so we found there was no easy way to just simply create a Gantt chart. We just launched and it is still in beta so feel free to sign up and give it a try.

  • http://twitter.com/tomsplanner thomas

    As an alternative to using spreadsheets for Gantt charts we have developed http://www.tomsplanner.com. We truly believe is much more time efficient and much more easier to use. Spreadsheets were not meant to be used for Gantt Charts initially so we found there was no easy way to just simply create a Gantt chart. We just launched and it is still in beta so feel free to sign up and give it a try.

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