Network diagrams are a great way to give a holistic view of a network in a way that is easier to digest than merely expressing how things work and connect verbally or in writing.

Overview: What is a network diagram?

A network diagram can be most simply defined as an illustration that shows the interconnectedness of various nodes, groups, or systems. Once, network diagrams were thought of as being fairly exclusive to illustrating computer or telecommunications networks. They have since been utilized for all types of project management.

4 benefits of a network diagram

There are some major benefits to network diagrams that should not be overlooked:

1. Ease of analysis

A network diagram offers a big picture of a network, allowing one to view the interconnectedness of its various aspects. This provides the opportunity to view and analyze the whole of a network quickly and easily.

2. Quick catch-up

Network diagrams allow for someone just hopping onto a project to digest information about the network quickly, without having had to memorize all the details prior.

3. Reference

It serves as a handy, always-ready reference tool.

4. Productivity

Research has shown that data expressed visually aids in comprehension and retention. It stands to reason that network diagrams could boost productivity in your team and minimize stress.

Why are network diagrams important to understand?

You should understand network diagrams for the following reasons:

1. Visualization

Understanding network diagrams helps you and your team be able to visualize the activities that are part of a project.

2. Context

Having a grasp of network diagrams allows you to contextualize aspects of a project like task duration, sequence, and dependency.

3. Time Management

Being able to understand network diagrams provides you and your team with a tool that can help in time management on a project.

An industry example of a network diagram

A non-profit is launching a massive fundraising campaign that has a great number of activities involved that are dependent on one another. The team leader holds a meeting and creates a network diagram so that the entire team can understand how the activities are connected and all of their individual roles in ensuring the success of the project.

3 best practices when thinking about network diagrams

Here are some key practices to keep in mind if you want to create network diagrams for a project:

1. Have an understanding of how to create the two main types of network diagrams

There is the arrow diagram method, which is also known as an “activity network diagram.” This type of network diagram uses arrows to represent the project activities. The other is the precedence diagramming method, which is much more common. In this type of diagram, boxes or nodes represent individual activities, and arrows represent their interconnected relationships.

2. Using the arrows in arrow diagramming

  • The tail of an arrow represents the beginning of an activity.
  • The tip of the arrow is the completion of an activity.
  • An arrow’s length signifies an activity’s duration.
  • Each arrow connects two nodes.
  • In an ADM chart, the only relationship illustrated is finish to start.

3. Using the arrows in precedence diagramming

In precedence diagramming, each box or node represents an activity. This allows for the arrows to represent various relationships between activities instead of just finish to start. Here are the relationships you can represent with the arrows in precedence diagramming:

  • Start to finish: an uncommon dependency that is used when one activity cannot finish until another one begins
  • Finish to finish: when two activities are required to be completed at the same time
  • Start to start: when two activities can begin at the same time
  • Finish to start: when an activity cannot begin until another is complete

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about network diagrams

1. What are some benefits of network diagrams specifically related to project management?

  • Identifying potential time delay risks
  • Better planning and scheduling due to the sequential arrangement of activities in the project
  • Easy identification of critical activities
  • Visual representation of project status
  • Ability to track progress

2. Are there disadvantages to network diagrams?

Some aspects of a network may be too complex to represent visually in a simplified manner. Creating a network diagram also takes resources that may not be available or could be costly. There is also the possibility of human error in creating the diagram.

3. Are there any defined rules in creating network diagrams?

  • You need to clearly define all project activities as well as their start and completion points.
  • A logic diagram illustrating the sequence and interconnectedness of activities is required.
  • The estimation of time to complete the various activities needs to be as accurate as possible.

Network diagrams for project management

Organizing a project can feel chaotic, and it can be difficult to get the entire team on the same page. Creating a network diagram that everyone can always come to for reference makes a project that requires a lot of interconnected activities simpler and run more efficiently.

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