Network Diagrams for Project Management: Meaning and Skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 20, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Multiple project management tools are available to assist you when planning and executing projects. A network diagram is a helpful tool for visualizing your project's key functions and overall timeline. Learning what network diagrams for project management are can help you manage other employees' tasks better. In this article, we define network diagrams for project management, discuss their benefits, highlight their types, examine best practices for using them, and review essential project management skills.

What are network diagrams for project management?

Network diagrams for project management are a visualization that represents the plan for a project's completion. Project management professionals use network diagrams to depict their project's workflow, including the order of project tasks and their relationship to other responsibilities. Network diagrams typically use boxes or nodes to represent each specific task related to a project and arrows to illustrate how the tasks connect. Project management professionals usually create network diagrams before starting a new project. They may update the network diagram continuously while a project is underway.

Related: Why Project Management is Important (and Tips for Success)

Benefits of using a network diagram in project management

Using network diagrams in project management can have many advantages, including:

  • Identifying critical tasks: A network diagram can help project managers, employees, and others involved in the project determine the most crucial responsibilities or steps.

  • Understanding individual responsibilities or roles in relation to the whole: When multiple people or departments work together on a project, some employees may find it challenging to understand how their tasks relate to the entire project. A visualization tool, such as a network diagram, can provide an easy way for professionals to understand the relationships and dependencies between their role and the whole project.

  • Monitoring tasks dependent on other responsibilities: Once the project is underway, project management professionals can use the network diagram to track tasks as they begin, get delayed, or reach completion. This can help project managers anticipate or prevent potential hindrances, such as when a delay in one task affects the timeline of other responsibilities.

  • Helping with project planning and management: Designing and maintaining a network diagram can help ensure that you understand the project's scope, goals, requirements, and tasks. It also assists with various other aspects of project planning, such as resource allocation, quality management, and project timelines.

  • Creating or revising the project schedule: Network diagrams can help project management professionals design realistic project timelines that consider all relevant factors, such as technology, personnel, and other resources. A project manager can also update and share a revised version of the network diagram with others if the project schedule changes.

  • Demonstrating ideas or progress to stakeholders: Key project stakeholders, such as investors or company leaders, may request regular updates on the project. A network diagram gives these critical stakeholders a straightforward method to understand the project's primary tasks or goals and how much progress employees have made toward completing them.

Types of network diagrams in project management

Here are the two primary types of project management network diagrams:

Precedence diagram method

The precedence diagram method (PDM) represents each task as a box. The arrows on a PDM visualization represent the relationships between these tasks. A PDM network diagram can depict the following relationships between tasks:

  • Start to start (SS): Nodes or boxes connected by SS arrows indicate that employees can begin and conduct these tasks simultaneously.

  • Finish to start (FS): If activities connect with an FS arrow on a network diagram, it indicates that the first activity can't begin until the completion of the second activity.

  • Start to finish (SF): Project managers may link some tasks on a PDM network diagram by an SF arrow. This means that employees can't complete the first task until the second responsibility begins.

  • Finish to finish (FF): An FF arrow demonstrates that these tasks are to reach completion at the same time.

Related: What Is an Agile Project Manager? (With Crucial Skills)

Arrow diagram method

With the arrow diagram method (ADM), project management professionals use arrows to illustrate each project activity. The arrow tail represents the start of the task, and the arrow point depicts its completion. The arrow's length shows the expected or actual duration of the responsibility. On an ADM network diagram, the nodes or boxes represent the start and end of each specific task and help employees understand the task sequence.

In general, most project managers today prefer to use PDM over ADM network diagrams. Knowing how ADM diagrams look can still help you if you're tasked with designing or reviewing one for a current project.

Best practices for using network diagrams

Here's a list of best practices you can use to create quality network diagrams:

Make a project plan

Before creating your network diagram, create a tentative project plan. A network diagram can help you during the initial planning stages of a project. It's typically useful to consider some of the primary components of your project before making the network diagram, such as what the primary tasks are, which tasks are dependent upon each other, and what the project goals or requirements specify. Make a tentative project plan or outline that identifies factors like your key tasks, dependables, resource allocation, and schedule.

Design a sketch

Create a sketch of your network diagram before designing the final copy. Designing a rough draft of your network diagram can help to ensure that your final version is accurate and includes all the necessary project elements. Consider asking a project stakeholder, such as a company leader or colleague, to review your sketch before you design the final network diagram.

Understand the design

If you're planning a project using a network diagram as one of your tools, make sure that you understand the layout of network diagrams before you create one. Learn about the two types of network diagrams and the design requirements for each. As you draw the diagram, focus on making it as easy for others to understand as possible. Give yourself plenty of room to create the various nodes and arrows, with enough white space between them.

Draw your arrows straight rather than curved and minimize overlapping arrows. Try to use arrows that point from left to right, as this is the direction most of your employees read. While some project managers prefer to draw network diagrams by hand, others might prefer to use software tools or templates to help them create their designs.

Related: What is a Project Management Plan? With Tips and Examples

Essential project management skills

Here are some essential skills that you can consider developing if you are interested in working as a project manager:

  • Communication: To effectively communicate with clients and team members, project managers possess excellent communication skills. They require this ability to communicate their vision, objectives, ideas, and concerns effectively.

  • Leadership: For project managers, strong leadership abilities are vital. They enable leaders to supervise and coordinate work, inspire and support their teams, and outline a clear direction for completing a project effectively.

  • Organization: To guarantee that processes function smoothly and under shared objectives, project managers possess good organizational abilities. While this involves the capacity to multitask, it also includes the ability to prioritize activities, compartmentalize projects, and document them for future reference and access.

  • Budget management: One of the most critical roles of project management is to develop a workable budget and to keep it under control throughout the project's lifespan. Typically, project managers require experience to identify areas of cost overruns and the measures necessary to reduce the expenses.

  • Negotiation: It's vital for a project manager to have effective negotiation skills when engaging with suppliers, clients, and other stakeholders. Additionally, you can use negotiating skills while collaborating with your team to ensure that everyone understands the team's strategic goals or to resolve interpersonal issues within the team.

  • Team management: It's important for a project manager to organize a team while connecting their ambitions with the organization.

  • Time management: Each project is time-sensitive, which implies that various activities require completing in a short period. It's vital for project managers to develop a project schedule and adhere to it throughout the project's lifespan.

  • Risk management: Although risks aren't always obvious, they are an inherent part of each project, which is why a project manager can benefit from the expertise and aptitude to identify potential risks and implement a risk-mitigation strategy. It's also important that they pose difficult questions to their team and constantly verify schedules, decisions, and dependencies.

  • Problem-solving: Project managers can collect data, balance the related advantages and disadvantages, and then create the optimal solution. Strong problem-solving abilities enable project managers to take a systematic approach to resolve issues and reach a favourable outcome.

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