Gantt charts have been around for a long time, but since they migrated from analog to digital, their ease of use has made them a staple of project management.
What Is a Gantt chart?
A Gantt chart is a stacked bar chart that organizes the work activities of a project on a timeline that shows their duration, dependencies and allows project managers to assign them to their team members. Gantt charts are an important project planning and scheduling tool.
On the left of a Gantt diagram is a list of the tasks, and to the right is the bar chart timeline in which those tasks are placed according to when they occur in the project. Each task is laid out with a start date and an end date. That’s the duration of the task. It is graphically a line between two points.
This layout makes it simple for project managers to see what the tasks are, when each of them begins and ends and how long the task should take to complete. The Gantt chart also shows where tasks overlap, by how much, as well as the duration of the entire project.
What Is a Gantt Chart Used For?
Gantt charts are versatile project management tools that have various purposes. They are used to plan, schedule and monitor projects. During the planning stage, Gantt charts help project managers visualize the project timeline so that they can define what resources are needed when, how to assign workload, and also understand what are the critical path activities of a project.
Then, once all the project activities are included in the Gantt chart, it’s easier to create an accurate project schedule to execute the project plan on time. So, a Gantt chart shows you what tasks are needed to complete the project, and how long they are going to take. But how do you make one to plan and schedule a successful project? The following are the five steps to make a Gantt chart.
Steps to Make a Gantt Chart
There are a few ways to make a Gantt chart. If you want to be a traditional project manager, you can get out a paper and pencil. That might be a good way to start putting your plan together, but it’s not feasible for managing a project, with all its issues and changes.
To make things easier, we offer a free Gantt chart template, which gives you an Excel spreadsheet to fill in the fields. But if you keep your schedule on a spreadsheet, it’s going to be a problem. Excel was created to make easy and visual timelines, but it’s not a project management tool. What you really need is a project management software with a Gantt chart maker feature. We recommend uploading the spreadsheet to our online Gantt chart software. The benefits of that are detailed below.
That said, you still have to go through the steps of collecting all the planning data you’ll need to make a Gantt chart whether you choose an Excel Gantt chart template or a Gantt chart software. Once you go through the following five steps, take a moment to read on. We’ll explain how putting your Gantt chart online into our software makes it a living document that can not only plan your schedule, but help you execute it.
1. Make a Task List
Before you can map out the work you have to have a list of it. This list of tasks must be thorough and complete to be effective. Therefore, it’s advised that you use a work breakdown structure (WBS).
This tool, like it’s name, breaks down larger, complex (or small, simpler) projects down to divide the work into individual activities. It starts with the final deliverable and goes step by step backwards to get the essential steps necessary to get to the project’s end.
As you’re gathering up tasks it doesn’t hurt to look back at historical data of related projects to get an idea of their duration. Also, talking to people who have gone through similar projects, be they inside or outside your team, can help as you move to the next step.
2. What Are the Tasks’ Start and End Dates?
This is when you take the tasks and sequence them over your project timeline. It is possible and even likely that some tasks will be performed at the same time but by different team members.
As you determine what the start date is, your tasks will show up on the bar chart timeline at that date. Then with the knowledge you’ve acquired in the last step, make a time estimation as to when the task will be completed. This creates the two points and the bar between them, marking the time it will take to do the task over the course of the entire project.
This is the first step towards creating a schedule for the project. The duration of your tasks is the time between the start date and the end date. Now you’re cooking with gas. You no longer have merely a task list, but a visual representation of your project laid out over a timeline. This provides an at-a-glance aid to your progress once you execute the project.
3. Add Milestones
Add milestones to your Gantt chart to mark the completion of your project deliverables or work phases. While you want to collect every task, no matter how tiny, you don’t want to neglect the big picture. Gantt charts allow you to break the project up into phases or mark when a large unique section of the project is complete.
Having milestones in a project is helpful. It not only boosts morale to see that you’ve finished a large chunk of the project, but it delineates key events, acting like signposts on the route to your final destination.
4. Identify Task Dependencies
While some tasks can be executed at the same time, others can’t be started until another has finished. These are called task dependencies. If they’re not identified, they can create bottlenecks in your team’s workflow.
There are four types of task dependencies.
- Finish to Start: Task can’t start until the one before it is finished.
- Start to Start: Task can’t start until the one before it starts.
- Finish to Finish: Task can’t end before the one before it ends.
- Start to Finish: Task can’t end before the one before it starts.
Once these task dependencies are identified, create them on your Gantt chart by linking the related tasks. That way you’ll be able to readily see which tasks are dependent on one another.
5. Start Assigning
Once you have your tasks, milestones, durations and dependencies on your Gantt chart, you can start assigning tasks. This is where you give team members work. They are now responsible for meeting the due date of the tasks to which they are assigned.
Project managers can use the Gantt chart to create a project schedule and as a visual guide to track the team’s progress as it works through their assignments. But there’s much more a Gantt chart can do if you’re working with a superior project management software.
How ProjectManager.com Supersizes Your Gantt Chart
Whether you’ve used our Gantt chart template or merely collected a task list in an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet, you can take it to the next level by importing the document into the ProjectManager.com Gantt chart maker. You can import MS Project, CSV or Excel files and your tasks are spread out over a bar chart timeline automatically.
You can then pick and choose which columns you want on the left side of the Gantt chart tool. There, you can add start and end dates, identify subtasks and estimate the duration of each activity. Milestones are added by diamond symbols and task dependencies can be linked.
When it comes time to assign tasks to your team members, you can do so directly from our Gantt chart tool. Then team members can use the Gantt chart view as a collaborative platform when they’re executing the tasks. Because ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software, they can access it anywhere and at any time, which is great for distributed teams.
Team members can also comment at the task level, adding documents as needed. We have unlimited file storage, so they can attach whatever images or handoffs are necessary. If a team member has a question for the project manager or another project member not assigned the task, they can @ them and that person will be notified by email, so they can join the discussion.
Easy Editing & Automations
One complaint about Gantt charts is that they’re difficult to edit. But ProjectManager.com makes changing task durations, adding task dependencies and updating the Gantt chart as easy as drag-and-drop. Just grab your start date and end date and move it to where you want. It’s that easy.
The online Gantt chart also can be automated, so if a task is delayed, the dates of the task dependent on it will be adjusted to avoid any scheduling mistakes. Email notifications can be automated as well to keep project managers and team members updated when tasks are completed. ProjectManager.com fulfills the promise of Gantt charts in project management.
What Other Software Is Used to Make a Gantt Chart?
Today, project managers have access to different Gantt chart templates, Gantt chart tools and project management software. These are the most common choices.
You can create a basic Gantt chart with Excel spreadsheets and bar charts. Here are some pros and cons of using Excel to create a Gantt chart:
- It is an inexpensive solution if you have a Microsoft Office license.
- Your team members are likely to be familiar with Microsoft Excel.
- There are Gantt chart Excel templates that you can use throughout the web.
- Microsoft Excel is not a project management software, so it doesn’t have other complementary features such as time tracking, workload management, task management, etc.
- It is a static document that needs to be updated manually and lacks important features such as identifying the critical path, assigning tasks to team members, identifying task dependencies, among others.
- Every team member that wants to see the Gantt chart needs to download an Excel file, one for each update.
Microsoft Project, or MS project, is a project management tool that allows you to create better Gantt charts than Excel spreadsheets. However it has limitations as well.
- It has other project management features besides the Gantt chart maker.
- Microsoft project Gantt charts are easier to update than Excel Gantt charts.
- MS project Gantt charts have more features than Excel Gantt charts.
- It’s an expensive and hard-to-use project management software.
- It’s not a cloud-based Gantt chart tool, so it requires you to install it on every team member’s computer.
- Doesn’t work on Mac computers.
Google Sheets Gantt charts share some of the pros and cons that we’ve discussed above.
- It is an online tool that facilitates team collaboration and file sharing.
- It has a friendly user interface, and it’s simple to use.
- Allows you to create basic Gantt charts with its spreadsheet and bar charts.
- Google sheets is not a project management tool so it doesn’t have other complementary features such as time tracking, workload management, task management, etc.
- Just as Excel, it only allows you to create a simple Gantt chart that lacks important features such as identifying the critical path, assigning tasks to team members, identifying task dependencies, among others.
As you can see, even though these are the most common ways to create a Gantt chart, they’re not the ideal solution project managers need. ProjectManager.com has the right project management features that not only allow you to create Gantt charts, but also manage your projects from start to finish.
ProjectManager.com is cloud-based project management software. Our online Gantt chart maker gives project managers the tools to control schedule, link task dependencies and track progress with integrated reporting. Team members get a collaborative platform to work more productively. That’s just one aspect of our software, which also has kanban, calendar and list views. See how we can help you manage your next project by taking advantage of our free 30-day trial.