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Guide to Gantt Charts

by Diana Ramos on Feb 06, 2019

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In this article, you’ll learn all there is to know about Gantt charts, such as the in-depth definition of a Gantt chart, the history behind its creation, and the benefits in using a Gantt chart across a variety of industries.

Included on this page is a detailed description of the purpose of a Gantt chart, a list of the key components of a Gantt chart, and an overview of the types of Gantt charts used across industries.

 

What Is a Gantt Chart?

A Gantt chart is a timeline view of a project that tracks individual project tasks, dependencies, resources, and remaining work to better understand how a project is progressing, and if it is tracking on time. Gantt charts are composed of two separate axes: the vertical axis indicates amount of tasks, and the horizontal axis indicates time, based on the project’s proposed start and end dates.

Each task within the Gantt chart is represented by a bar that extends across the horizontal axis. The bar, or task, helps to identify which tasks can be completed simultaneously, the date tasks are expected to be completed by, and the percentage of the task that has been completed.

If the bars on the Gantt chart line up, that signifies that the tasks can be completed simultaneously and do not depend on one another, sometimes referred to as parallel tasks. If the bars on the chart do not line up, that signifies that the future task is dependent on a previous task being complete before it is able to begin. These tasks are referred to as dependent tasks or dependencies.

Gantt charts also provide involved parties a look into the proposed roadmap, making it easy to see all project elements from start to finish. Project managers across a wide variety of projects, from marketing campaigns to software deployments, frequently use Gantt charts to manage project tasks, schedules, and resources.

Considered one of the most popular tools in project management because of its usefulness, Gantt charts also help to track the following components:

  • Overall project progress

  • Completion of tasks and activities

  • Amount of work remaining in a project, based on the progress of individual tasks

  • The work phase each project task falls under

  • Team members who are responsible for each task

  • Task duration, based on start and end dates

  • Parallel and dependent tasks

Additionally, a variety of colors, shading, symbols, and other notations indicate the percentage of work completed, milestones, dependencies, and overdue tasks, helping to better depict a project on this visual chart. For example, sometimes asterisks or stars are used to signify an important project milestone so all resources are aware when a milestone is coming, as well as the tasks leading up to the milestone.

How Do Gantt Charts Work?

Gantt charts are used in many industries and roles to visually illustrate a project schedule by plotting each individual task against a predefined timeline. Gantt charts are often leveraged by project managers to organize, prioritize, and track tasks to ensure projects get completed on time.

 

When Should You Use a Gantt Chart?

You should use a Gantt chart in the planning phase of your project, and then maintain it as the project progresses to manage tasks, ensure all resources are available to complete the task, and track overall project progress so that it comes in on time and on budget.

Why Use a Gantt Chart?

Gantt charts help to organize projects, improve overall project visibility, and keep all involved people and stakeholders on track with the help of a clear, at-a-glance view of project details, like status, tasks, resource requirements, and dependencies.

Additionally, Gantt charts make it easy to understand how a project is structured and plan for tasks. There are many reasons to leverage a Gantt chart in your next project, including to:

  1. Determine all necessary tasks, think through the 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 must be delivered on time.

  4. Keep your team informed of project progress or changes, and eliminate the need for constant status updates and meetings.

  5. Simplify complex tasks through the organization of projects into smaller, digestible segments in a visual timeline.

  6. Allocate resources across multiple simultaneous tasks in a project.

  7. Plan project iterations or sprints, specifically in software development.

  8. Track and compare planned versus actual timelines, and ensure they 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.

Components of a Gantt Chart

Within a Gantt chart, there are many important components to include to ensure that you are accurately and effectively tracking your project tasks against a specified timeline. These components include:

  • Timeline: How long a project, including all of its component tasks, should take from start to finish.

  • Activity: The type of project activities to complete, such as software development sprints or marketing campaign launches.

  • Predecessors: Tasks that follow a previous tasks.

  • Dependencies: Tasks that are dependent on another task’s completion before it can begin.

  • Time Estimate or Duration: The amount of time each task should take, signified by the length of the bar on the timeline.

  • Milestones: Key points in a project where significant progress is made or important deadlines are hit.

  • Expected Time: The amount of time a project should take to finish, ideally.

  • Actual Time: The amount of time a project actually takes to finish.

  • Tasks and Task Progress: The components that make up a project and how long each should take to complete.

  • Start Date: The date a project or task begins.

  • End Date: The date a project or task ends.

  • Assignee or Resource: The person responsible for a task or project.

  • Task Relationships: How tasks relate to one another in terms of time and resources.

  • Summary Tasks: An overarching task that includes many subtasks.

  • Planned Effort: The number of resources and amount of time needed to complete a task or project.

  • Percentage Complete: How much of the project or task that has been completed at a certain point in time.

Types of Gantt Charts and Gantt Chart Templates

Gantt charts can be customized based on the unique needs of your project, such as size, department, and industry. You can utilize pre-formatted Gantt chart templates to create the most effective Gantt chart for your project.

For example, software developers may conduct a product launch using a Gantt timeline template that helps them plan and track the development of a new product or an upgrade to an existing one. Similarly, construction project managers will be more interested in a construction project timeline with Gantt chart template since they need to stick to a strict, time-sensitive timeline with many moving parts.

For more information on Gantt chart templates and access to all the templates needed for a variety of industries, visit our Gantt Chart Templates in Excel and Other Tools page.

 

How to Create a Gantt Chart

The key to an effective Gantt chart lies in taking the time to assess all project tasks, identify a workable timeline, and delegate resources and team members to complete each task. To craft the most efficient Gantt chart for your team or project, follow these helpful steps:
 

How to Create a Gantt Chart


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How to Choose the Right Gantt Chart Software

Leveraging a software tool to create your Gantt chart can save significant time and effort as you work to plan and schedule your project and all of its subsequent tasks. However, there are a few key details to consider when evaluating Gantt chart software. Those capabilities include:

  • Integrates with your daily workflow, and easily adapts to your existing tools or processes

  • Includes a simple and intuitive Gantt view that pairs well with project timelines

  • Provides real-time updates to task completions, past due tasks, and overbooked resources

  • Is fully customizable based on your project needs, and grants you the ability to create and modify milestones and prioritized tasks

  • Adapts to all computers, both Mac and PC, and syncs to all cloud services

  • Can be shared among team members and key stakeholders to increase visibility

  • Is easy to learn, use, and view

  • Gives you the ability to import and export files, attach additional documentation, and add comments directly within the Gantt chart

  • Allows remote access and collaboration

  • Provides helpful resources, like video tutorials and online trainings

To learn more about all of the key features you should consider as you choose the right Gantt chart software, visit this page.

 

Challenges with Non-Software Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are most useful when used on an adaptable, easy-to-update software that allows for changing timelines, adding tasks, and collaboration with team members. If you use a non-software based Gantt chart, there are a number of challenges that can occur, such as:

  • The chart is hard to read, understand, and discuss because it doesn’t easily adapt to changes or updates made after creating the original Gantt chart.

  • The chart doesn’t resize or reformat when new tasks or dates are added.

  • It’s harder to label times and dates, or leave notes and attachments directly in the Gantt chart to keep details in context.

  • It makes it difficult to know if you are working with the newest version of the chart because one-off charts may be floating around elsewhere.

  • Collaboration is stifled because there is a lack of real-time access for both internal and external stakeholders.

Tips in Using Gantt Charts

To optimize your project planning and timeline tracking, and ensure you get the most out of your Gantt chart, follow these tips and best practices:
 

Tips in Using a Gantt Chart


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The History of Gantt Charts

The first iteration of a Gantt chart was created in the mid 1890s by Karol Adamiecki, a Polish engineer who was interested in management ideas and techniques. He named this new chart a harmonogram and only published the chart in Polish, which limited widespread use. However, the usefulness of the chart endured.

By 1912, Hermann Schurch, a Swiss civil engineer, pulled from the Gantt chart concept that Adamiecki created in the late 1800s and applied it to construction projects he was involved with at the time. Although the Gantt chart did not yet have a name, this chart plotted tasks against time, and was based largely on the structured approach in German routines to keep projects on track.

Between 1910 and 1915, an American mechanical engineer named Henry Gantt devised his own version of both Adamiecki’s and Schurch’s project schedule. Gantt published this new chart in English, making it available and readily-useable to a vastly larger population.

Gantt sought to make tasks as simple and intuitive as possible for teams and resources, specifically in the manufacturing industry, where projects are heavily dependent on strict timelines and a variety of resources.

Named the Gantt chart after its creator, this type of visual chart gained momentum in high-profile cases. One of the first larger, more important uses of the Gantt chart was during World War I, where General William Krozier, the U.S. Army’s Chief of Ordnance, hired Henry Gantt to increase the industrial production of munitions with the use of an efficient process, like the Gantt chart.

The Gantt chart was then used on other similarly important and time-sensitive projects, like the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931 and the creation of the U.S. Interstate highway network in 1956. A book was even written by Wallace Clark, titled The Gantt Chart, a Working Tool of Management, to describe the Gantt chart and discuss its business efficiency.

However, Gantt charts were not limited to use in the United States. Walter Polakov, a strong believer in the Gantt process, leveraged Gantt charts in the Soviet Union in 1929 as he worked with the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy to craft the First Five Year Plan.

Originally, Gantt charts required preparation by hand on a piece of paper, or using magnetic blocks to signify each of the tasks. Although this was helpful in plotting out a project timeline, it also meant that any time a project task was updated or a timeline was changed, the entire chart would need to be redrawn or reformatted completely.

Since many projects are fluid and undergo dramatic changes throughout its lifecycle, the usefulness of Gantt charts were limited. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when the personal computer was invented, that Gantt charts were more widely and easily used to create complex, elaborate charts.

By the end of the 1990s, the internet promoted even further collaboration, and Gantt charts were able to be created, edited, and shared across teams, departments, and resources, making it a popular feature of many web-based applications and tools.

To prove this point, Gantt charts were identified by Robert Klein as “one of the most widely-used management tools for project scheduling and control” in 1999, solidifying its place as a vital tool for all project managers. And, by 2012, nearly all Gantt charts were being created on software, meaning project managers could easily adjust schedule changes and increase work efficiency without having to reformat or recreate Gantt charts from scratch.

History of Gantt Charts

Who Uses Gantt Charts and Why Are They Effective?

Most often, Gantt charts are used by project managers to increase productivity and efficiency of each project at hand. Gantt charts help project managers to plan product launches, map out marketing campaigns, outline deliverables for a client, and more.

Gantt charts are used in big, small, simple, and complex projects, and they are not industry or vertical specific. Additionally, Gantt charts are not limited by who can use them. Although project managers are the main users, Gantt charts are also leveraged by the following people in a workplace:

  • Managers in operations, scheduling, finance, and marketing

  • Project sponsors

  • C-suite executives, like CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, etc.

  • IT and software development teams

  • Remote teams

Because Gantt charts are so versatile and apply to almost all projects, most people find that Gantt charts help them efficiently plan and track their projects and all component tasks in an easier, more visual manner. And, projects can be managed by anyone on the team, not just a designated project manager, which empowers teams to get work done quicker.

What Are Gantt Charts Used For?

There are a variety of ways that Gantt charts can be used across industries, which is why they are such a popular project management resource. Specifically, Gantt chart can be used in construction, event planning, and software development. Here’s how each industry uses the chart:

  • Construction: Since most construction projects are rigid and time-sensitive, a Gantt chart can help construction teams and PMs create a structured timeline, determine dependent tasks, and identify any risks before they come to fruition, ensuring a project is completed on time, on budget, and within the constraints of the contract.

  • Event Planning: With many variables and tight deadlines involved in event planning, Gantt charts help to manage all coordinating schedules, visualize tasks leading up to the event, as well as day-of tasks, and keep all relevant parties in the loop, like vendors, staff, clients, etc.

  • Software Development: Teams can plan sprints, track deployments, and align every iteration of the project using a Gantt chart that offers a visual overview of all tasks and the necessary resources to complete each task.

In addition to the aforementioned use cases, Gantt charts are utilized across the following industries:

  • Healthcare

  • Government

  • Public Works

  • Oil, Gas, and Energy

  • Finance

  • Professional Services

  • Engineering

  • Architecture

  • Marketing

  • Manufacturing

  • Telecommunications

  • Infrastructure

  • Military

Pros and Cons of Gantt Charts

There are many pros to using a Gantt chart to track project timelines and plan out individual tasks to better understand their relationships. Additionally, Gantt charts also provide:

  • A high-level overview of a project timeline to those who aren’t as involved, like executives

  • A way to ensure that you manage your resources effectively

  • The ability to track tasks and workflow to ensure projects land on time and on budget

  • An understanding of tasks that can happen in tandem, and ones that depend on another for completion.

  • The ability to collaborate on every element and subtask of a project with team members and key stakeholders to improve overall visibility.

However, there are a few cons to using a Gantt chart that should be noted, such as:

  • The chart can be time consuming to set up and align tasks, especially without the right software that allows you to do so.

  • Sometimes, complex projects with more details and tasks makes the chart messy and unorganized, eliminating the ease-of-use and bird’s eye view of a project.

  • It can easily become overly-complex with too many dependencies, tasks, or notes, which may cause a need for separate Gantt charts.

  • Gantt charts are not very efficient at designating task priorities, meaning key details can be missed or overlooked.

  • Used alone, Gantt charts are sometimes not enough. Occasionally, a PERT chart is needed in conjunction with a Gantt chart to effectively list and detail each subtask.

Items Related to Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are an important project management feature that helps both project managers and team members plan, manage, and track all project elements, like dependent tasks, resources, and team schedules. In addition to Gantt charts, there are a variety of other project management tools that help manage projects from start to finish. For a list of these tools and brief descriptions of each, visit our Project Management Tools article.

For more information on each individual tool, as well as templates and best practice tips, visit the following pages:

  • Kanban Boards: A visual work management method that helps teams to view, manage, and organize workflows by dividing up tasks into different stages, like backlog, work-in-progress, and completion.

  • Project Timelines: A way to plot specific tasks on a timeline to keep track of important events and manage schedules, from business reports to school year curriculums.

  • Work Breakdown Structures (WBS): A hierarchy of work composed of project tasks that have been broken down into separate deliverables, based on overall project objective and scope.

  • PERT Charts: A tool to analyze and track tasks involved in a complex project to assess time estimates and available project resources, which is usually used in tandem with the critical path method (CPM).

Improve Project Visibility with Real-Time Gantt Charts in Smartsheet

With many moving parts and strict timelines, successful project managers know to leverage Gantt charts to track tasks, resources, and due dates, and keep projects on track. To realize all of the benefits of a Gantt chart, you need a collaborative tool that helps you manage your projects in one cohesive place and empowers both project managers and non-project managers alike to plan, track, automate, and report on their projects in real time.

Smartsheet is an enterprise work execution platform that is fundamentally changing the way businesses and teams work. Over 77,000 brands and millions of information workers trust Smartsheet to help them accelerate business execution and address the volume and velocity of today's collaborative work.

Use Smartsheet to visualize your projects with interactive Gantt charts that allow you to customize the quantity and duration of your tasks, highlight key tasks with conditional formatting, and turn on critical path to view all tasks that impact your completion date. Share your Gantt chart with team members and stakeholders to improve project visibility and task accountability, ensuring all projects are delivered on time and that no task is missed.

Try Smartsheet to discover why professionals around the world use it to more efficiently track, manage, and report on projects.

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