Managing your allotment garden with Gantt charts

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Gregory Brennan, service delivery manager at WSP, had a rose-tinted view of his allotment when he first took it on. The ‘Good Life’ vision of self-sufficiency and being one with the Earth had blinded him to the amount of planning needed to keep his vegetables alive. 

“I managed to grow a number of things, but a large part of the allotment became overgrown, mainly through a lack of planning,” he says. “It is remarkable how quickly a plot can succumb to weeds if left to its own devices for two weeks.”

Brennan was determined to make the allotment work. The first step was to review the first year and identify where he’d gone wrong. Then it was time to make a plan.

An allotment spreadsheet

It was while putting all of the fruits and vegetables he wanted to grow into a simple spreadsheet, and the tasks involved to grow them, that Brennan realised he needed to tap into this project management skills.

“As the number of tasks on the spreadsheet continued to grow – almost at the same rate as the weeds – it dawned on me that I should be applying project management principles to make the best use of the plot. The more I considered it, and as I started to equate aspects of it to elements of project management, the more obvious it became.”

Projects within projects

Each fruit or vegetable grown was essentially a mini-project in itself, Brennan explains. “Purchase the seeds, prepare the soil, sow, plant out, prune, weed, water and harvest, to name a few. All these tasks have to be completed within a certain window, with enough float to account for the dynamic uncertainty that is the weather.”

On top of that, there were other projects to keep track of, such as fence repairs, building a shed and making a compost bin.

The vegetable Gantt chart

Brennan decided that the best way to manage all of these tasks was to put them in a Gantt chart, which took into account that each task needed to be completed within a certain window in order to be effective. It also helped him to work out what tasks could be done if unforeseen circumstances, such as bad weather, prevented him from doing what he’d originally planned to do. “A Gantt chart became as indispensable as the fork or trowel,” he says.

With his new schedule, Brennan’s allotment started to take shape. “With appropriate planning and the ability to track against a schedule, it has become far easier to keep the weeds at bay and ensure that things get planted in time.”

A veggie risk assessment

Brennan also started looking at the risks involved with growing the various vegetables and fruits on his allotment. There are numerous pests, insects and diseases that can ruin a crop, which Brennan says is “heartbreaking if you’ve spent the past few months (or more) investing time and effort in cultivating a crop.”

There were too many risks to remember, so Brennan put together a risk register to help manage them. The risk register is formatted in such a way to identify the risks specific to each time of the year, and each fruit and vegetable. “I’m learning as I go along, but now I can simply filter those risks that are relevant and mitigate accordingly, again saving time and wasted labour.”

Project management adds to the fun

So, does bringing your workplace skills into your hobby take the fun out of it? Not at all, says Brennan. “The truth is that applying these methods has helped me continue with the plot where otherwise I might have had to give it up. Most of the project management activities took place in the winter when there is less work to be done, and it is definitely worth it when the benefits come through.”

This story appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of Project journal, which is available for free to APM members.

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Image: Alicja Neumiler/Shutterstock.com

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 6th Dec 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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