If you’re a certified project manager, then you likely use Gantt chart software. A Gantt chart is a good tool to show the bigger picture on a project and work well for people who like things displayed graphically, and that’s why we love them. But not everyone loves them.
Gantt charts have their downsides. Let’s be honest—once you start adding milestones and dependencies, they get messy. Add in resource names, lag times and symbols, and it can quickly become an eyesore that even a project manager struggles to understand, never mind project sponsors who don’t speak Gantt.
Fortunately, there are simpler ways to get your message across. Here are five alternatives to formal Gantt charts that you can use today.
Five Best Gantt Chart Alternatives for Project Management
1. Sheet View
Most people regard Gantt charts as Excel spreadsheets that have a timeline. In a basic sense, that’s true. With them, you can see all your tasks in one place, which is very helpful. But there’s a lot of data behind that graph.
What if there was a way to minimize the bar chart and just have the raw project data visible? You can! It’s called a sheet view, and while not all Gantt chart software has this option, ProjectManager offers the sheet view along with its already dynamic Gantt chart. The sheet view gives you everything you’d want from a Gantt, including assigning tasks to your team, linking dependencies, setting milestones.
One of the features that make the sheet better than all the lightweight Gantt software out there is that you get the best of both worlds. You can view more columns and customize those columns to better suit your project. Then, you can select which of the columns you want to see represented on the Gantt view.
You can toggle between the sheet and Gantt view as you need to. The data is the same on both. If you update one, the other is instantly synced up with it. Our sheet and Gantt view also have more functionality than other Gantt software. For example, you can filter the critical path without having to do any timely calculations on your calculator. Once you’ve settled on a schedule, set a baseline. This saves your plan and lets you compare it to your actual progress to keep you from falling off track.
2. Kanban Boards
While typically useful for different projects than the traditional Gantt chart is, kanban boards are gaining popularity, especially as they go digital and add functionality to project management software. The board view in ProjectManager follows the classic kanban design featuring cards that represent tasks on a board that is broken up into columns that stand in for the different phases of your production cycle.
Managers can use the Gantt view to build out a project, and all that data is carried over to card on the board, including the description, priority, tags, deadlines, subtasks, etc. The columns are completely customizable to reflect your production cycle. Now the manager will have a visual of the workflow. They can monitor progress without micromanaging. If they see the potential for a block down the pipeline, the manager can reallocate resources quickly to keep the team working without costly interruptions.
Teams tend to gravitate towards the board view. It allows them to manage their backlog and then plan together for sprints when they’re ready to execute them. They move the cards from column to column, can collaborate by commenting on the card then get an email and in-app notifications, whenever there’s an update to the task or someone, tags them in the comments. Just like any of the other views on our software, any updates are instantly synced up with the other tools. Everyone is always working on the same current data, whether that’s on the list view, kanban or Gantt.
3. Task Lists
Who doesn’t use task lists? Whether you have an app to track your to-do list or take an old-fashioned approach using a paper list in a notebook, most project managers will find themselves gravitating towards task lists at some point in a project.
Because so many people use them (and if not at work, you can bet all your project stakeholders have used them to plan a holiday, a picnic or a child’s soccer tournament), they are really easy to understand and don’t take any explaining.
You can use any software to prepare a task list, which gives you the flexibility to use something that your stakeholders already find easy to use. A spreadsheet works really well.
List out all the project tasks – use your Gantt chart, if you have one, as a guide to what needs to go on the list. Add a column for who is doing the task, expected completion date and a column to mark the task’s status. ‘Not started’, ‘In progress’ and ‘Complete’ are straightforward status updates to use, and you can also color code tasks using a Red/Amber/Green code if you want to include a visual representation of whether they are likely to complete on time, or the level of risk.
4. Network Diagrams
Network diagrams are like flow diagrams. They show the series of activities that make up a project, in the order that they need to happen. Each project task is shown in a separate box and, like a puzzle, lines join up the boxes in the order that they need to happen. Lots of people have used flow diagrams before, so network diagrams can look more familiar than Gantt charts and they can be easier for the first-time project sponsor to understand.
Having said that, there is some extra information to fit in the task boxes that might need explaining. Typically a network diagram task box also includes dates for the start and end of the task as well as the duration, which is normally marked in days. You can add whatever data you want into the box, like a task identification number, the resource allocated to it, location, workstream and so on, but the more you include, the messier it will look and the harder it will be to read.
Network diagrams work well for simple projects where tasks flow from one to the other in order. The more parallel strands of activity you have, the harder it will be to display on one page. If you need to change one task, you could end up moving dozens of lines to get it all to display neatly again. Best stick to only drawing out network diagrams for straightforward projects and to only have task boxes for summary tasks instead of every individual day’s worth of development time.
5. Dashboards and Reports
Why make things hard for yourself? All the options above require you to do some additional work to turn the project information into something that your project stakeholders can understand. You might find that most of the work is done for you if you use a project management software product that includes project reporting options.
In addition to our online Gantt at ProjectManager, we developed real-time dashboards so you can see multiple views of your project at-a-glance. Unlike other project management software tools, you don’t have to set up the dashboard. We have it all set up for you the moment you log in.
There could be project report templates that will save you some time, but you could also customize what comes out of your tool into a format that stakeholders can use. Status, progress and resource utilization reports could all be available at the click of a button, and if you have the option to tailor your project dashboards, you could give different stakeholders different views which will save you a lot of data handling time.
Once the reports are configured they are saved and available to be populated monthly, or more frequently according to your reporting schedule, so this alternative to a Gantt chart has the smallest regular overhead for the project manager.
Of course, you may end up deciding that a Gantt chart is the tool you want after all. In that case, check out our article on how to make a Gantt chart in 5 steps.
Scheduling and being able to report on your project are crucial. To do that online with a powerful tool that allows you to see on a dashboard view the real-time picture of your project is like icing on the cake. Who’d eat cake without icing? If you’ve been forced to work on projects without an online management tool to give you management over your status, resource and progress reports, then you need to check out ProjectManager.