How to craft a strategic calendar?
June 28, 2010 12:53 PM   Subscribe

How to craft a strategic calendar?

I've been asked to try to come up with a format for an 18 month rolling, strategic calendar for my organization (a major research university in the U.S.). My boss wants something like a Gantt chart, so that each "task" is its own category of events (e.g, the "Academic calendar" would have Summer school, First Day of Classes, etc. as bars on the same line). It's the "on the same line requirement" that's throwing me off -- in MS Project, each task gets its own line, so that won't work (and even if it did, it's not very readable).

Alternatively, I have been fiddling with Excel, but it seems like that would be a major nightmare to maintain for a project like this.

Basically, what I've been asked to do, is come up with a calendar format that will--in an easily digestible way--list all the important things going on at the university in any given month, color coded in a couple of different major categories, so that--when reading it left to right, you get a snapshot of events and processed in any given months (or other time period).

Any ideas for how to do this most easily? Is it even achievable? (I'm starting to have my doubts).

Thanks so much.
posted by AwkwardPause to Technology (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Will you have to update it frequently? If not, make it in Excel?
posted by salvia at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2010

Yes, I fear I will have to update it quite often (the thought is to bring it to weekly senior staff meetings).
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:30 PM on June 28, 2010

Having done battle with Gantt in the past and creating charts of this type for massive, multi-year projects, I ended up giving up and going with 7 different calendars in Google Calendar. There is huge flaw though: you can't print it out as a long landscape with year-to-view. If anyone has a solution for this, that could be your answer.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:13 PM on June 28, 2010

What kind of updating? Are there lots of dependencies (X can't start until Y finishes)? Having also done battle with MS Project but not wanting to suggest something else with a huge learning curve, I'm still wondering if Excel or even ... Powerpoint?? ... is going to be your best bet. Hopefully someone else's great idea will educate me as well.
posted by salvia at 4:06 PM on June 28, 2010

Big time lines and software do not fit well at all in my experience. You can be a Project or Excel power user and you still end up with something nobody can understand, and many people will not even be able to read the sucker. The last time I did a big time line I went to the craft store and got 30 inch X 40 inch white foam poster board and a roll of black graphics tape and I typed the text in Word and taped the text onto yellow post it notes.

It looked like it was from the dinosaur era, but people understood it.
posted by bukvich at 4:20 PM on June 28, 2010

I am a huge fan of Dave Seah's Compact Calendar, where each row is a week. This format lends itself to a vertical listing rather than a horizontal one, which may disqualify it for your purposes, but I found that the format actually lends itself to adding a line of text next to a week in a really compact, scannable format.
posted by misterbrandt at 4:46 PM on June 28, 2010

I almost hate to say it, but.... PowerPoint. Create a slide that divides up the time appropriately (months, quarter, weeks) by vertical bars (I use SmartArt) then overlay color-coded initiatives on top of it. So let's say you have Academic Calendar, Fundraising, Charity, and, umm, Something Else. Pick of consistent color for each one, always have them displayed in the same order top to bottom, and you can display the key events on a single line.

Once you get the first one done, it's easy to replicate for the next time. Also, the consistency of color/order helps the viewers immediately know where to look for the milestones they're most interested in. (I would keep the actual schedule in a different format, though. Probably Project.)
posted by sfkiddo at 7:25 PM on June 28, 2010

Also, if the purpose is to report out progress/next activities, you could create a dashboard format (again in PowerPoint). In addition to the timeline, you can have one area for "Accomplishments" (what's been done), "Initiatives Status", etc. It's pretty amazing how much useful info you can get into a single slide.
posted by sfkiddo at 7:32 PM on June 28, 2010

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