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Using Gantt Charts in an Agile Environment

Smartsheet Contributor Diana Ramos on Dec 15, 2020

Gantt charts can be useful in Agile environments, especially when revising project plans. Gantt charts can also benefit teams, clients, and stakeholders. A Scrum master shares how you can (and can’t) use Gantt charts for Agile.

Included on this page, you will find a step-by-step overview on using Gantt charts in Agile and a free downloadable Gantt chart template. Read a discussion of the Cynefin framework and how it can help. Plus, find a recap of the 12 Agile principles, including which ones Gantt charts can support.


What Is an Agile Gantt Chart?

In an Agile environment, you can use a Gantt chart to track the status of projects. Teams can view, manage, interact with, and quickly revise project plans. 

A Gantt chart in Agile might seem like blasphemy to some. Some Agile project managers — especially those working in a blended environment (using aspects of both Waterfall and Agile project management) — have found a place for Gantt charts. By using sprint planning and Gantt charts in tandem, you can take advantage of the fluid, flexible, and adaptable nature of Agile projects while adding details about deadlines, dependencies, and resource allocation that Gantt charts contain. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Agile project management, learn all about it in this intro to Agile project management article. 

Agile Process Versus Waterfall Process

Waterfall projects use sets of pre-planned phases, where later phases rely on completion of preceding phases. Agile projects work in a series of iterative cycles. Managers select tasks for each iteration using a combination of judgement, resources, and team input.

Agile vs. Waterfall: What’s the Difference?

This diagram illustrates the process differences between Agile and Waterfall project management.

Gantt Charts in Agile Difference From Waterfall Process

How Gantt Charts Work with the Agile Framework

Within the Agile framework, a Gantt chart can show the progress of sprints, determine which tasks to remove from a sprint, track change requests from stakeholders, help organize work, and track time spent on each task.

How Can Agile Teams Use Gantt Charts?

A Gantt chart can be useful as a part of adaptive planning to help teams manage sprints and their assigned tasks. Teams can use the charts to improve collaboration and assess resource allocation.

Managing Tasks in Agile

  • A sprint consists of sets of dependent tasks. You can use a Gantt chart to map dependencies and each task relates to others. During sprint planning, add the tasks assigned to the sprint to the Gantt chart.
  • If a task is in danger of not being completed, you can remove it and all tasks that depend on it from the sprint. Be sure to remove them during the daily planning portion of stand-up meetings.
  • Add the information that stakeholders want directly to the tasks on the Gantt chart. 
  • Color-code each sprint to enable a real-time comparison of the time it took to complete each (and their accompanying tasks).

How to Use Gantt Charts as a Collaboration Tool 

  • Plan and organize work with team members.
  • Note the deliverables for each task.
  • Assign tasks to team members.
  • Attach files to tasks (e.g., bug tickets or issues), so the team has everything it needs in one spot.
  • Add comments and notes.
  • Use the Gantt chart as the basis for creating a dashboard or roll-up report that contains the status and delivery date for each sprint.

Monitor and Review Resource Allocation with a Gantt Chart in Agile

  • By using the Gantt chart to track the time each team member puts into each task, you enable it to function as both a timesheet and an at-a-glance overview. 
  • By adding projected time needed for tasks to a Gantt chart, you allow project managers to see the demand on resources during a sprint and determine if they need to add more.
  • By looking at how long it takes to complete tasks and sprints, you can gauge a team’s efficiency.

Step by Step: How to Use a Gantt Chart for Agile Projects

When you decide to use a Gantt chart to support your Agile project, here are the steps you can take to ease the process. First you’ll need a Gantt chart tool that allows you to easily move tasks from one chart to another. 

  1. Create one task item per feature of the sprint’s product. Repeat for each planned iteration. 
  2. Give each task a start-to-finish dependency with the iteration’s testing period.
  3. Create needed dependent relationships with other tasks.
  4. During daily standups, review each iteration and the features assigned to them. Examine each task’s required time/resources and dependencies. When you need to transfer a feature to a later iteration, move the task to that iteration’s Gantt chart.

Gantt Chart Template for Agile Projects

This free downloadable Gantt chart template for Agile projects allows you to manage dependencies, track change requests from stakeholders, keep abreast of time and resource used (actual and projected), and easily remove tasks from sprints. Create a copy for each sprint in a project in order to move a task between sprints. 

Gantt Chart Template for Agile Projects

Download Agile Gantt Chart Template

Excel | Google Sheets | Smartsheet

You can also download other free Agile project management templates, including a sprint backlog with burndown chart, user story, and project charter timeline templates.


How to Blend Agile Methodology with the Gantt Chart Approach

When deciding whether to blend Agile with a Gantt chart, a basic approach is to determine if the chart helps clarify or confound the work it is tracking. If it makes management easier, use it. If not, don’t. This is a trial-and-error process, but the effort can be worthwhile.

Some see the Agile framework and Gantt charts like the Millennium Falcon and the U.S.S. Enterprise, never to inhabit the same space. But Gantt charts can comfortably overlap in some areas of Agile.

The Cynefin Framework

A route to discovery uses the Cynefin framework because it can help you decide where Gantt charts make sense. Cynefin was developed at IBM in the late ’90s and early 2000s to give decision makers a method for grounding their perceptions.

Cynefin talks about the relationship between causes and effects and divides activities into four quadrants:

  • Obvious: Best practices already exist, and the relationship between causes and effects is well known. Obvious events are knowns. The best approach is sensing, categorizing, and responding.
  • Complicated: The relationship between causes and effects requires analysis or applying expert knowledge to choose from a variety of possible courses of action. Good practices are available. Complicated items are unknowns. The best approach is sensing, analyzing, and responding.
  • Complex: Suss out cause-and-effect relationships after the fact; these events require significant analysis. There are no right answers, only a number of choices that might have positive outcomes. Emergent practices are available. Complex items are unknown unknowns. The best approach is probing, sensing, and responding. 
  • Chaotic: Cause-and-effect relationships are unknown. The goal is to quickly stop the metaphorical bleeding. You may discover new practices. The best approach is acting, sensing, and responding.

In the center of it all is disorder. Cause-and-effect relationships don’t really exist, and you may not realize this is where you are. People fall back on what’s worked in the past, which probably won’t succeed here. The best approach is gathering information, which can help you move into another domain.


How Agile Charts Fit into the Cynefin Framework

Gantt Chart in Agile Cynefin Framework

Art Snyder, scrum master and Agile coach

Art Snyder

According to Art Snyder, an Agile coach for 19 years, practices that fail in the obvious and complicated quadrant would be ripe for using a Gantt chart. He says, “When we think about obvious questions, plan it and do it, this is where a Waterfall-type environment type is a fairly appropriate approach. We can create a plan, and we can do it. Some problems are obvious and they're simple, so we can easily plan them out, do the plan, and find dependencies. When we get into the complicated [quadrant], we might also leverage Gantt charts, try to figure out our dependencies, and so forth.” 

Gantt charts may also work in some situations in the complex quadrant. Snyder adds, “When we get into the complex [quadrant], we think about the right environment for a scrum to actually occur — where we might have goals that we're trying to reach. But how we're going to do it isn't necessarily known because things emerge as they come along. We can probably get into two-week planning and so forth, and we could probably still lay it out into a high-level plan.”

Organizations that want to use the Cynefin framework to determine where to implement Gantt charts will need to evaluate tasks, sprints, and projects to see which would benefit. Coding features for an app, keeping track of time, and tracking stakeholder change requests fall into the obvious quadrant. Conducting user research and tracking bugs fall into the complicated quadrant.


The 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto

The 12 principles of Agile describe how the framework works. In practice, you can use Gantt charts with some of those principles.


Gantt Charts and 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto

Gantt Chart in Agile 12 Manifesto Principles

According to Art Snyder, these principles “stress individuals and interaction over processes and tools: working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and responding to change over following a plan.” 

Gantt charts can support these principles:

  • Principle 1: Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery. Snyder shares, “The idea [behind principle 1] is let's start thinking about slicing our work vertically so that we have a small piece of working software instead of, oh, we got the design done for the whole system.” You can use Gantt charts to track testing progress, feature development status, and other details related to task completion.
  • Principle 2: Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process. Use a Gantt chart to track stakeholder change requests and the alterations they drive.
  • Principle 3: Frequent delivery of working software. Regarding the third principle, Snyder advises, “Somebody might just want to say, ‘Is this feature done?’ Well, you could clearly show that on the chart.” A Gantt chart can list the requested features that have been completed and those that have been shifted to another sprint to keep the process moving. 
  • Principle 8: Agile processes to support a consistent development pace. Gantt charts can track the rate of feature completion, time applied, and sprint schedules to ensure the pace is sustainable for the team.

Agile Gantt Chart Examples

Here are some Gantt chart examples for an Agile sprint. The first is tracking feature status, and the second is time put into a sprint. 

Example: Feature Development in an Agile Chart

Gantt Chart in Agile Example Feature Development

Example: Time Tracking in an Agile Chart

Gantt Chart in Agile Examples Time Tracking

Benefits of Using Gantt Charts with Agile Methodology

Using Gantt charts in an Agile environment can provide several benefits to clients, stakeholders, and teams. They can improve communications; share status, ownership, and progress; and provide a visual representation of dependencies.

Overall Benefits of Using Gantt Charts with Agile

Though Agile and and Waterfall require different mindsets and focuses, Gantt charts can help Agile teams track time, communicate status, and forecast resource needs for both. Teams can do even more with Gantt charts:

  • Create a shared vision for the entire product and project that can span teams
  • Create a shared understanding of the high-level product roadmap
  • Identify local ownership of schedules and dependencies on the team level
  • Align myriad work styles, both company-wide and at the team level
  • Handle uncertainty better
  • Create short, fast feedback loops
  • Visualize fixed deadlines
  • Forecast progress based on what’s actually happening
  • Use as an alternative to burndown charts

Benefits for Clients and Stakeholders Using Gantt Charts with Agile

Clients and stakeholders can benefit from Gantt charts in an Agile environment. They can use the chart to keep tabs on progress, as well as view milestone dates and dependencies. In more detail, here are some ways to use Gantt charts in Agile to benefit clients and stakeholders:

  • Create a schedule with concrete dates that lets stakeholders visualize the time and effort each feature requires
  • Share the Gantt chart with team members, internal stakeholders, and clients to keep everyone informed and up to date
  • Identify team responsibilities, project milestones, and expected product releases with ease 
  • Share with clients the expected completion date of project components
  • Inform clients of when testing begins
  • Present a clear roadmap of the final product and accompanying milestones 
  • Support higher-level planning by showing each development stream’s relation to each other and to the schedule

Benefits for Internal Teams Using Gantt Charts with Agile

Teams that use Gantt charts in Agile can see some benefits regarding project overview, planning, and status communication. 

In greater detail, teams that use Gantt charts in an Agile environment can expect some of these advantages:

  • Visualize components of an upcoming sprint, and help outline later iterations
  • Highlight dependencies between tasks
  • Enable teams to do their own planning and provide input on how they’d like to approach implementation
  • Provide testers with a ballpark timeframe of when they’ll be needed and what they’ll be testing
  • Customize each project based on prioritized dates and client’s needs and desires
  • Use a Gantt-backlog combination to drive conversations with stakeholders on how their requested changes affect overall timing 
  • Set task priorities and understand resource constraints
  • Foster collaboration and transparency
  • Understand the optimal task order based on dependencies and predecessors

Challenges of Using Gantt Charts with Agile Methodology

While Gantt charts can provide some benefit in a pure Agile environment — especially in a blended environment — they may not be worth the effort due to some hurdles.

Here are some challenges you may encounter when you try to incorporate Gantt charts into Agile:

  • Gantt charts have limited use in the classical sense of Agile development.
    • They don’t allow developers to react to changing requirements as quickly. 
    • Working software is the sign of progress in Agile, so having a progress chart is redundant. Snyder says, “The only true measure of progress, as we claim to say, is working software. Oftentimes, Gantt charts measure output instead of outcomes.”
  • Updating Gantt charts quickly enough to keep up with the fast-paced Agile environment is tough. You would need to update charts almost continuously to keep pace with Agile projects, which may be unnecessary work.
  • Updating Gantt charts adds a lot of overhead for a single team working on a single product.
  • Agile already provides alternatives to Gantt charts, like burndown charts and progress boards, that may work better.
  • Using a Gantt chart may give the illusion of certainty. People may think they know things when they should be asking questions.
  • Gantt charts come from the Waterfall project management, where a plan tracks means goals, not end goals. Agile focuses on end goals. Snyder explains, “In a Waterfall world, following the plan and meeting the plan was kind of our goal, which becomes a means goal instead of an end goal.”
    • Gantt charts focus on the schedule rather than on the work; Agile is more focused on the work, as explained in the four values of the Agile Manifesto
    • Gantt charts may proscribe how things are done, which goes against the core focus of Agile

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