The Advantages and Limitations of Gantt Charts in Project Management

Smartsheet Contributor Diana Ramos

May 03, 2021

A Gantt chart is a bar chart that outlines the tasks you need to complete a project. This article covers the benefits and limitations of Gantt charts, including when to use them and how to create them.

Included on this page, you’ll find information on the following: when to use a Gantt chart; the advantages of a Gantt chart; the disadvantages of a Gantt chart; and the differences between a Gantt chart, a project timeline, and a project calendar. You’ll also find examples of Gantt charts in various industries.


Why Is a Gantt Chart Important?

A Gantt chart uses timelines to represent the completion of each task in a project. These timelines show how the tasks relate to one other. Gantt charts are useful because they provide an overview of a project’s activities and progress. 

Gantt charts indicate how work on a task can begin only after the completion of a related task. Such information helps managers understand project hurdles and make critical decisions about the best way to move a project forward.


The Advantages of Gantt Charts

A Gantt chart gives managers and workers a high-level overview of the project tasks they must complete, along with a timetable to finish their work. The chart helps you monitor the project’s progress by showing how tasks relate to each other.

The Main Benefits of Gantt Charts

A key benefit of a Gantt chart is its ability to show a top-line perspective of a project. Gantt charts help workers and managers track tasks; managers can also use them to allocate resources wisely in order to finish a project.

Here are some of the main benefits of Gantt charts:

  • It Provides a High-Level Overview: A Gantt chart provides an overall perspective of a project and its timeline — for both those who are deeply involved and those with less participation, such as executives and other stakeholders.

    A Gantt chart is visually appealing and easy to understand. It provides critical information about tasks at a glance, including the order in which they begin and their duration.
  • It Improves Efficiency and Helps Manage Resources: A Gantt chart can help ensure that leaders and workers manage their time and resources effectively. Project leaders can use it to set realistic schedules and allocate resources based on those schedules, including assigning the right people to the right tasks. It can also help project members come up with workarounds for potential problems before a project starts.
  • It Allows for Better Tracking: A Gantt chart enables project leaders and members to closely track tasks, benchmarks, and overall workflow. The chart can reveal possible constraints or issues and allow project leaders and members to adjust accordingly.
  • It Illustrates Overlaps and Dependencies: A Gantt chart clearly communicates how tasks in a project might overlap. It also shows how the beginning of one task can be dependent on the completion of another task. That kind of information allows project leaders to schedule work and provide resources in a way that doesn’t impede the progress of a project.
  • It Boosts Productivity: A Gantt chart allows for collaboration among workers to boost their productivity. The high-level visibility of a Gantt chart helps people stay focused on the tasks they must complete. That visibility also ensures the accountability of all team members regarding their tasks.
  • It Allows You to Balance Multiple Projects: A Gantt chart allows managers to easily track multiple projects. It then enables those managers to balance the work on each project because the chart indicates how to provide the right resources at the right time.
  • It Makes Complex Information Manageable: The visual clarity that a Gantt chart provides can help simplify a complex set of tasks. The chart displays tasks clearly and simply for the people who must do the work. Such transparency enables team members to stay focused and avoid becoming overwhelmed by a large number of tasks.
  • It Helps You Set Realistic Deadlines and Expectations: A Gantt chart lays out all the tasks that a team must accomplish in order to complete a project. The chart also illustrates the relationships and dependencies among those tasks. Such coherent visual communication allows for a realistic view of the time it takes to complete the work. Consequently, having access to such accurate information allows you to set realistic deadlines for each task and for the entire project.
  • It Helps Keep Everyone Aligned, Including Remote Workers: When everyone on a project team (including remote workers and those in other offices) has easy access to the same information, all work on the project remains aligned. The chart improves communication and collaboration among everyone.
  • It Motivates Team Members: A Gantt chart enables team members to visualize their tasks, thereby motivating them to do their work on the project. Team members can view the project moving forward and watch other members completing their tasks. The chart also shows how certain tasks can’t begin until another task is completed. All that visibility enables people to complete their tasks well and on time.

The Disadvantages of Gantt Charts

Gantt charts aren’t perfect. Setup can be time consuming. With large projects, the number of tasks and their details can complicate the chart and make it difficult to understand.

The Main Challenges of Gantt Charts

One of the primary challenges when using Gantt charts is their complexity in large projects. The charts can also fail to represent the complexities of certain tasks and the time your team requires to complete them.

Here are some of the main challenges of Gantt charts:

  • Setup Can Be Time Consuming: Setting up a Gantt chart for a complex project can be convoluted and time consuming. Software can help.
  • They Can Become Complex and Confusing: A Gantt chart for a large project with many tasks and subtasks can become complicated. Adding even more tasks or making changes to the schedule affects the entire chart. When your organization doesn’t use software to help, repeatedly reworking the Gantt chart can become difficult.

    The chart loses some of its value when it becomes too complicated. One of the advantages of a Gantt chart is its ability to depict a project and its tasks at a glance. When the project description expands to cover hundreds of tasks over multiple pages, you lose such an advantage.
  • They Don’t Designate Priorities: Gantt charts focus on presenting the tasks in a project, the order of those tasks, and the approximate time it takes to complete them. The charts don’t show the priority of the particular tasks you need to complete for the project to be a success. With such an omission, team members might not understand those priorities the way they should.
  • They Don’t Offer Much Detail Regarding Task Dependencies: Gantt charts can show how you must complete one task before starting another one. But they don’t provide much detail concerning all of the dependencies within a particular task for a project.

    For this reason, a project team might want to use a program evaluation review technique (PERT) chart in conjunction with a Gantt chart. A PERT chart or graphic uses arrows to indicate the sequence in which project team members must complete certain tasks in order to begin work on another task. (To learn more about PERT and PERT charts, visit “PERT 101: Charts, Analysis, and Templates for More Accurate Project Time Estimates.”)
  • Task Bars Do Not Show the Amount of Work That Each Task Requires: The length of a Gantt chart task bar shows the amount of time it might take to finish a task. But that length doesn’t indicate the specific resources that such a task requires.

    Some tasks with short bars (representing short deadlines) might require significant resources. Some tasks with long bars might require minimal resources. The Gantt chart can be misleading when it comes to representing the amount of work and resources you require. Thus, in order to correctly allocate and monitor resources, you might need to use other tools in addition to the Gantt chart.

When Should You Use a Gantt Chart?

You should use a Gantt chart when your team is embarking on a project that includes a variety of tasks that several people must perform. A Gantt chart can help you move a large project forward more efficiently.

However, there are times when you may want to use a simpler tool in order to show a project overview. These tools include a project timeline and a project calendar. 

Gantt Charts vs Project Timeline

Download Table Showing Differences Between Project Timeline and Gantt Chart - PDF  

You can also use the decision tree below to help you decide whether to use a project timeline, project calendar, or Gantt chart for your next project.

Gantt Decision Tree

To learn more about creating a Gantt chart and get downloadable templates that can help you plan your projects, visit “Free Yearly Gantt Charts: 1-Year, 3-Year, and 5-Year.” To learn more about creating a Gantt chart in Microsoft Word, visit “How to Make a Gantt Chart in Microsoft Word.” You can also check out the following: “How to Make a Gantt Chart in PowerPoint”; “How to Make a Gantt Chart in Google Sheets”; “How to Create a Gantt Chart in Excel with a Template”; and “How to Create a Gantt Chart in Numbers: A Basic Mac Tutorial.”

 To get templates that help you create Gantt charts for a number of projects, visit “Free Gantt Chart Templates for Multiple Projects.” 

For templates to help you create a Gantt chart with dependencies among tasks, visit “Free Gantt Chart with Dependencies Templates.” You can also check out the following links for templates in specific formats: “Free MS PowerPoint Gantt Chart Templates” and “Download Free Gantt Chart Templates in Microsoft Word.”


How Is a Gantt Chart Useful?

Gantt charts help you organize projects, improve overall project visibility, and keep everyone on track. Gantt charts also help managers provide resources when and where they need them. And they encourage collaboration among project team members. 

Gantt charts can help project managers do the following:

  1. Determine all necessary tasks, think through a project plan, and better define the scope of a project to increase clarity.
  2. Identify when tasks need to be completed, and determine predecessors and dependencies.
  3. Discover a project’s critical path to identify the most important tasks that you must  deliver on time.
  4. Keep your team informed about progress or changes, and eliminate the need for constant status updates and meetings.
  5. Simplify complex tasks by organizing projects into smaller, digestible segments along a visual timeline.
  6. Allocate resources across the multiple simultaneous tasks in a project, and assign the right people to the right tasks. (To learn more about resource management, visit “Resource Management Is People Management: Principles, Systems, and Plans.”
  7. Plan project iterations or sprints, especially in software development.
  8. Track and compare planned versus actual timelines, and ensure that those planned timelines are reasonable and achievable.
  9. Facilitate collaboration among stakeholders and team members.
  10. Identify overdue tasks and take proactive measures to mitigate issues.
  11. Shorten the setup, maintenance, and communication involved in projects, both large and small.

Here are three examples of simple Gantt charts that can help you plan and drive forward specific projects in construction, software development, and product development.

Gantt Chart Example Product Development

Download Gantt Chart Example for Product Development - Word

Gantt Chart Example Software Development Plan

Download Gantt Chart Example for Software Development Plan - Word

Gantt Chart Example Construction Project

Download Gantt Chart Example for Construction Project - Word

Gantt Chart Image

For more information on Gantt charts, including their history and how to use them, visit “Guide to Gantt Charts.”


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