Thursday, March 7, 2019

Case Study: Custom Gantt Chart Improves B2B Communication

Key Challenges

   Create an advanced Gantt chart visual that displays all relevant construction details at a glance.
   Create an image carousel to display images of construction site progress.
   Enable the visual to scale smoothly to all resolutions.

Finding Communication Middle Ground

B2B projects face communication difficulties that aren’t present in intrateam or even intraorganizational work. The importance of avoiding these difficulties is obvious simply from the amount of time businesses spend promoting concepts like alignment and synergy. What businesses really strive for with these buzzwords is good communication practices, and the benefits of effective communication across teams and organizations don’t need to be extolled. At the core of all effective B2B communication, however, is a firm grasp of how to communicate project goals and outcomes in a way that clients understand.

Our client, a local construction company, was contracted to build office buildings for a large software company. The construction company needed to be able to present their progress to the executives of the software company, and the executives of the software company needed to be able to monitor construction progress in a medium they understood. Visits to the physical site were deemed inefficient by the construction managers, and the construction workers’ own oversized paper Gantt charts were considered cumbersome and ineffective by the executive team. The eventual compromise reflected both parties’ need for a familiar source of information; we were hired by the construction company to create a custom Power BI Gantt chart in order to present construction progress to the executive team.

Going Beyond Out-of-Box Features

While Power BI provides an out-of-box Gantt chart, the construction workers didn’t find the out-of-box Gantt chart hospitable to their needs. Their physical Gantt charts showcased a tremendous amount of information that couldn’t be easily transferred to the out-of-box Power BI Gantt chart. We created a Gantt chart that was big enough for them to identify all relevant details at a glance and provided features unavailable in the default Power BI Gantt chart. Our Gantt chart allowed our client to display project milestones (as is typical of Gantt charts), but it also allowed our client to display a host of contextual details. Construction managers were able to indicate whether certain milestones were flexible or had hard deadlines. A small completion bar showed plan progress and milestone progress. Our client also wanted to include actual images of the construction site with plan overviews. To meet this expectation, we created a separate custom visual called Image Carousel and linked the two visuals.

Ironically, the major hurdle our engineering team had to overcome on this project arose out of miscommunication. About one week into the development of the custom visual, the construction company informed the engineering team that the Gantt chart custom visual was constantly blurry. When our team asked about the screen resolution that was being used to display the visual, the construction manager replied, “very large screens,” prompting our engineering team to adopt the use of SVGs, which scale for resolution. Even this initially proved unsuccessful. It was not until our engineering team learned that the “very large screens” were in fact projectors that they were able to devise a workaround.

Quick Delivery and Continuing Growth

Our team had just three weeks to create the Gantt chart and Image Carousel custom visuals for the construction company. One week was then tacked on to the end of the project for UI and user feedback to be implemented, prompting our client to comment, “The pace of your work was really outstanding!” The success of this project didn’t end, though, with just fulfilled client expectations and improved communication. Just one week later we were approached by a separate client asking for our Gantt chart custom visual. The visual proved so popular that we created a nonproprietary version to share on Microsoft AppSource. To date, our nonproprietary version of the Gantt chart has been downloaded by 50,000 users.