Gantt Chart For Dissertation Project Management

How to make a simple Gantt chart

13 September 2011by Jonathan O'Donnell

In every grant application, I want to see a simple visual guide (a Gantt chart) that shows what you are planning to do. It is the perfect time to plan your project clearly. It shows the assessors that you have thought about your research in detail and, if it is done well, it can serve as a great, convincing overview of the project.

Clearly, these charts are hard to do. If they were easy, more people would do them, right?

Here are five steps to create a simple guide to your research project.

1. List your activities

Make a list of everything that you plan to do in the project. Take your methodology and turn it into a step-by-step plan. Have you said that you will interview 50 people? Write it on your list.  Are you performing statistical analysis on your sample?  Write it down.

List of tasks for “Simple Privacy”, a one year project

Check it against your budget. Everything listed in the budget should also be listed on your uber-list? Have you asked for a Thingatron? Note down that you will need to buy it, install it, commission it… What about travel? Write down each trip separately.

2. Estimate the time required

For each item on your list, estimate how long it will take you to do that thing. How long are you going to be in the field? How long will it take to employ a research assistant? Realistically, how many interviews can you do in a day? When will people be available?

  • Initial meeting: about 3 weeks to find a time.
  • Desk audit: 4 months.
  • Draft key elements: about 1 week each.
  • Testing: about 1 week each, but can start organising as soon as first element is drafted.
  • Write up: 2 months.
  • Final report: no time, really – just need to find a time to meet.

Generally, I use weeks to estimate time. Anything that takes less than a week I round off to a week. Small tasks like that will generally disappear from the list when we consolidate (see Step 4). Then I group things together into months for the actual plan.

3. Put activities in order

What is the first thing that you are going to do?  What will you do next? What will you do after that?

In the comments, Adrian Masters provided some great questions to help with this stage:

  • What do I need to do by when?
  • What do I need from others & when?
  • How do I check that I am still on track?

One by one, put everything in order. Make a note of any dependencies; that is, situations where you can’t do one thing until another is started or finished. If the research assistant is going to do all the interviews, then the interviews can’t start until the research assistant is hired.

Where possible, you should eliminate as many as possible dependencies. For example, if you can’t find a decent research assistant, you will do the fieldwork yourself (but that might mean that work will be delayed until you finish teaching). It isn’t a necessary step to getting your time-line in order, but it is good project management practice.

In the comments, Amy Lamborg pointed out that you might want to work backwards. If you have a fixed end date, you might want to “…build back towards the project start date, then jiggle everything until it fits!” If you want an example of this, have a look at the post “Work backwards“. It is about writing an application, but the principle of starting with the fixed end date and working backwards still applies.

4. Chunk it up

Now that you have an ordered list, and you know how long everything will take, you need to reduce the list without losing any specificity. At the same time, if you are combining tasks, you might want to add a bit of time as a contingency measure.

  1. Meet with partners: 3 weeks.
  2. Review data protection regimes: 4 months.
  3. Draft three key elements: 3 months.
  4. Test three key elements: 3 months, with some overlap.
  5. Analyse test results and report: 3 months.

How you divide up your time depends on your project. If it is only one year long, you might list items by month. If your project is three years long, then you might list items by quarter. If you are planning over five years, you might break it down to six-month periods.

5. Draw me a picture

If you use project management software to manage your project, and you are comfortable with it, then use it to produce a summary of your project, too.

Most project management software (e.g. like Microsoft Project) will allow you to group activities into summary items. Chunk your tasks into major headings, then change the time interval to your months, quarters, half-years, or whatever you have chosen to use.

Or you can just draw it up with word-processing software (which is what I always do), spreadsheet software, or even hand-draw it.

Example of a Gantt chart

Frankly, I don’t care – as long as it ends up in your application!


Also in the ‘simple grant’ series:

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Planning a research project such as a dissertation is really simple if you think about it. Unlike in project management, most of the tasks come one after the other, not in the same time, making it a lot easier to see through. On the other hand, most of the tasks need to be performed by none other than yourself, so there's really no one else to control. You can make things even easier by moving the tasks about when needed or adding comments and icons to them. Feel like rewarding yourself after a completed chapter? Add a little cake icon at the end of the box for extra incentive. Yum!

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Making a good impression on your tutor (so he will accept the proposal you botched together last night) and keeping him happy throughout the process is vital for your success. That's why we made sure that Tom's Planner great for sharing, online or offline. Show him the research project timeline you created in Tom's Planner (watch him get blown away), keep him informed in real time on your progress, wherever you are, or export the schedule to the desired format in case of personal consults. Schedule your dissertation project the easy way: with Tom's Planner. Be sure to check out our blog as well, where you'll find lots more useful tips and tricks about writing and scheduling dissertations.

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