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Project management

How network diagrams can boost your workflows

DJ Waldow 5 min read
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If you Google image search “network diagram,” thousands of results come back, yet not surprisingly, not all of them are related to project management.

Note: if you Google image search “network diagram funny” the results are a bit more … well, funny.)

Typically when we refer to a network diagram, it has to do with computer or telecom networks — routers, devices, firewalls, hubs, and so on.

A network diagram as it relates to project management is a similar concept, minus all the computer/telecom terminology.

What is a network diagram?

A network diagram is a visual representation of the workflow of a project.

More specifically, a network diagram — as it relates to project management — is a graphical way to view dependencies, tasks, and the critical path of a project.

A network diagram is sort of like a series of interlinking critical paths where a task’s milestones regularly cross over with the milestones or subtasks of other jobs.

A generic network diagram can look like this:

(Image source)

No matter the definition you choose, a network diagram is an integral component of a sound project management plan.

In this blog post, we’ll show some examples of network diagrams, detail the software that exists to make network diagrams come to life, and share how makes all of this … simple!

When should you use a network diagram?

When should you use a network diagram?

A: Always
B: Never
C: It depends
D: Only if …

If you guessed D, you are a winner!

Only use a network diagram if … you care about visually tracking the progress of each activity in your project.

Only use a network diagram if … you want others on your team to be able to graphically see the status of your project each step of the way.

Only use a network diagram if … your project management team is invested in better understanding the workflow of your project.

Only use a network diagram if … you are interested in visualizing the various relationships between tasks.

In other words, if you are a project manager or part of a project management team, a network diagram is your friend.

Use it.

What are some examples of network diagrams?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a step back and talk about the Critical Path Method (CPM), a scheduling methodology that helps determine the most efficient path possible for projects.

CPM helps teams understand the logic behind tasks and calculate task duration.

Executing CPM is a pretty straightforward, 6-step process:

  1. Build a list of all project activities
  2. Create a sequence of activities (be sure to factor in all critical dependencies)
  3. Estimate individual activity duration
  4. Build a network diagram
  5. Finding the critical path, aka the longest path to complete the project
  6. Determine potential slack … how long you can delay a particular task without affecting subsequent activities

For more on the critical path method and analysis, check out this blog post.

As you can see, the network diagram comes into play in step #4 of the Critical Path Method.

And when it comes to project management network diagrams, there are three “flavors” … three ways to draw a Project Network Diagram:

  1. Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM)
  2. Arrow Diagramming Method (ADM)
  3. Conditional Diagramming Methods

By far, the most popular/most used method is PDM. The PDM consists of the following components:

  • Predecessor and Successor Activity (represented by a node)
  • Activity (usually drawn on the node)
  • Milestone (often depicted by start and end dates)
  • Arrow and Dependencies (the arrow represents the dependency)

One of the best examples of a network diagram is PERT, aka Program Evaluation Review Technique. PERT is a visual representation of a project, represented in the form of a network diagram.

The nodes (circles In the image below) show the predecessor and successor activities.

Milestones are depicted by the numbers in the nodes. Note: in a fully-completed PERT, you would see actual words/tasks/milestones instead of numbers.

PERT chart

PERTs are often used for larger-scale projects that require a high-level plan. For PERTs, dependencies are more of a focus compared to the time to complete.

Read also: Creating an activity diagram

Network diagram software: What are some options?

It’s 2021. There is no need to use pencil and paper anymore … unless that’s your thing. We won’t judge.

The more efficient, more flexible, more scalable way to create a network diagram is to use software.

While certainly not the only network diagram-building software on the market, we (biased, sure!) strongly believe that is the best solution.

With, you can use an easily customizable template to generate a Gantt chart in minutes. From there, you can drag-and-drop tasks and edit durations directly on the visual timeline.

You are well on your way to creating a network diagram.

We recommend starting with one of our project timeline templates:

Screenshot of monday project timeline template in use.

It’s the perfect board to lock in basic (yet necessary) variables as well as tasks, dependencies, and durations.

From there, you can edit the pre-set activities to better align with those tasks that work for your specific project.

And now … further customization: Add a Gantt or timeline view!

Screenshot of adding a Gantt view to a monday board.

Customization, personalization … here we come!, your answer to building network diagrams

Think of as your one-stop-shop, a place to manage everything in one workspace.

Our software is easy to use. Get started quickly with hundreds of visual and customizable templates — or create your own — in a matter of minutes.

When it comes to building network diagrams, has you covered.

But don’t take our word for it. Test out today. Sign up. Download a template. 14-day free trial. No credit card necessary.

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DJ is a freelance writer specializing in all things words. He's a father of 4 (including twins), husband to one, and an alum of the University of Michigan. DJ is a self-proclaimed giphy master and #HashtagAddict.
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