When planning projects, you need to consider a lot of variables that can be challenging to account for. As a project manager, you know that creating a timeline and workflow that’s as accurate as possible is key to successfully meeting deadlines and keeping all stakeholders happy. Understanding all potential risks and roadblocks that could extend your timeline is tedious, but breaking your project down into individual tasks can make the process easier.
That’s where arrow diagrams come in. Arrow diagrams let you break a larger project down into smaller tasks, and then outline each one based on task dependencies so you can get a better idea of your timeline. For each task, you can better understand issues that could potentially push back your timeline, and then plan your time and resources accordingly. An arrow diagram is also a visual tool that can help bring more transparency to your project planning process, so team members remain on the same page.
In this article, you’ll learn what arrow diagrams are, why they’re important, and how you can implement them in your project planning process. While we can’t promise you’ll be able to predict every potential issue in every project, we can promise you’ll be able to create a more defined workflow that enables better problem-solving and decision-making moving forward.
What is an arrow diagram?
An arrow diagram is a visual tool that allows you to view the relationship between your project’s tasks. By providing a detailed sequence of all involved tasks (big or small), arrow diagrams can create a realistic workflow that accounts for foreseeable delays, roadblocks, or bottlenecks within your project.
The arrow diagram uses arrows and circles to develop this visual workflow chart and outlines the dependency between activities. For example, if you have two tasks you can do simultaneously, you’ll stack them within the arrow diagram. However, if you need to complete one task before another can begin, you’ll link them with an arrow, one behind the other.
Arrow diagram is just one of many names used to describe this type of chart. Others include:
- Arrow Programming Method
- Activity Network Diagram
- Activity Chart
- Critical Path Method Chart (CPM Chart)
- Node Diagram
“Arrow diagram” is a part of our Project Management Glossary — check out the full list of terms and definitions!
Why are arrow diagrams important?
Arrow diagrams can help solve several problems for project managers. For starters, they show the predecessor and successor tasks for every other task within your project. Predecessor tasks are those that need to be done before a given task, while successor tasks are those that follow a given task. Being aware of these tasks can help create an accurate timeline for the project, generally represented in a range of hours, days, or weeks. With each task laid out and dependency relationships defined, you’re also able to better account for potential issues within your project. Plus, you’re more empowered with respect to resource allocation decision-making. However, the most significant reason arrow diagrams are important is that they help define a project’s critical path.You can use an arrow diagram to find the critical path of a project, which is the longest possible time from its inception to its completion.
Understanding a project’s critical path is crucial because it allows you to give stakeholders an understanding of how long things may take. While every project manager hopes to meet their final deadlines ahead of schedule, using the latest possible completion time as a starting point allows time for potential errors without derailing your completion date.
Types of arrow diagrams in project management
There are two types of arrow diagrams you might use in project management: activity on arrow diagrams (AoA) and activity on node diagrams (AoN). These two types of arrow diagrams are similar in how they’re created but their primary focus differs.
An activity on arrow diagram (AoA) focuses on events, whereas an activity on node diagram (AoN) focuses on tasks. Although both diagram types can be useful in project management, AoA diagrams are more commonly used when developing project workflows and critical paths.
Activity on arrow diagram
An activity on arrow diagram is the most commonly used in project management because each node represents tasks within your project. The arrows connecting the nodes represent how long each task takes based on the length of the arrow. Therefore, the longer the arrow, the longer a given task takes. The downside to an AoA diagram is that it only shows finish-to-start task dependencies instead of all four dependency types.
Activity on node diagram
An activity on node diagram is also called a precedence diagram because it shows the relationship between different project activities. In an AoN diagram, you can be more detailed in your planning by outlining all four types of dependencies — finish to start, start to start, finish to finish, and start to finish. When outlining your AoN diagram, the nodes represent activities while the arrows show how the various activity connect with one another.
Regardless of which type of arrow diagram you use, understanding the best practices for creating them can help you achieve better results.
Best practices for creating arrow diagrams
Utilizing best practices when creating your arrow diagrams can help you achieve greater transparency and higher accuracy in your workflow estimations. Here are a few best practices to consider:
- Be as detailed as possible: Although you don’t want to overcomplicate your diagram, being as detailed as possible can help you create more realistic timeframe estimations. Including enough detail can also help you identify potential resource problems ahead of time so you can allocate additional time, people, or tools, as needed.
- Make your diagram clear: You want all stakeholders to be able to read your arrow diagram without you needing to explain what it says. To this end, avoid unnecessary industry jargon or abbreviations. If you need to use industry jargon, include definitions either on the side of your diagram or in parentheses next to the word in question.
- Be consistent: As a visual tool, arrow diagrams rely heavily on the shapes (or nodes) and arrows to relay a message. Be consistent in the shapes, sizes, and colors you use in your diagram to create a clearer, more coherent visual aid.
- Get a second set of eyes on your diagram: It helps to have someone look at your arrow diagram after you’ve completed it. A fresh pair of eyes may be able to identify errors or areas where other potential issues could arise.
Pairing these best practices with a project management platform can help you create arrow diagrams that are even more efficient, transparent, and accurate.
Map processes and procedures with arrow diagrams on monday.com
Although the creation of arrow diagrams isn’t available on monday.com, our project management software has various features and capabilities that can make the process easier. For example, you can outline your projects in detail using a Gantt chart or kanban board. Add tasks to your list and rearrange them based on precedence or priority before transferring the information to your arrow diagram. Having a virtual workspace for your planning and brainstorming phase can help reduce errors and give you an actionable, detailed workflow you can use once your project has launched.
Detailed project tracking via customizable dashboards can instill more confidence around creating future arrow diagrams by providing detailed information on how your team did (or didn’t) adhere to your estimated critical path. Key performance metrics allow you to see where your team performed best and where they ran into issues — all valuable learnings you can consider when moving forward.
Of course, monday.com’s Work OS provides several key features that don’t directly assist with your arrow diagram creation but save time that can be spent focusing on these visual aids. For example, our Work OS allows you to automate everyday tasks and routine approvals so you can focus on what matters most. workdocs also allows real-time collaboration between your project’s team members and creates storable, printable, and shareable work documents.
While the above has hopefully given you a reasonable understanding of arrow diagrams and how you can best apply them to your project management efforts, we’ve covered a few key highlights in the FAQs below.
Frequently asked questions
How to make an arrow diagram
To make an arrow diagram:
- Create a comprehensive list of all the tasks required to complete your project.
- Determine the correct order in which you should complete the tasks.
- Diagram the network of tasks horizontally, with the earliest tasks to the left and concurrent tasks stacked on top of each other.
- Recheck your work and add any “events” or problems that may impact your workflow to your diagram.
What is an arrow diagram?
An arrow diagram is a visual workflow tool that you can use to determine a project’s critical path and define task dependencies. Arrow diagrams also allow project managers to define any foreseeable issues within the project and plan their deadlines accordingly.
What process is represented by the arrows in the diagram?
The arrows in the diagram represent how much time a task or activity will take. The longer the arrow, the more time it will take.
Create more effective plans and schedules with arrow diagrams and monday.com
As a project manager, you can use arrow diagrams to help create more realistic timelines and greater transparency within your project. You can also use them to determine your project’s critical path, which is generally the safest useable option when giving timelines to stakeholders. Although monday.com doesn’t offer arrow diagrams, we do have several features and capabilities you’ll find helpful in the process. In addition, the monday.com Work OS can also help you create a flexible project workflow that you can use once you’ve launch your project.